Recently I was very delighted to receive email from Becky, a second cousin of mine in Utah, suggesting I might be interested in a little book called Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. She said the book was a charming story of a group of varied urban people coming together for the purpose of creating a community garden. She thought that might appeal to me, and, as I discovered, she was quite right.
Seedfolks, in a surprisingly streetsmart vernacular, tells the tale of the unfolding and spontaneous creation of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio. The story is told through the voices of each of the participants, so one is treated to the particular lens through which each person views the experience, and deftly the stories begin to overlap and weave together as any actual garden might do. The tiny Vietnamese girl who plants the first seeds in the garden, a secret and solitary act, she thinks, is viewed by an elderly neighbor, an Eastern European woman, from an upstairs window. Gradually other neighbors discover the garden activity and lend their own voices and points of entry. Ultimately each finds his or her inspiration, connection and place in the garden, as gardeners everywhere understand, until something bigger and better than any one of them might have created on his or her own unfolds. More importantly, bridges are built between cultures, transcending prejudices, fears and misinformation to create a better understanding, and ultimately, a stronger community in which to live. It appears this would be a very timely book, indeed, as we witness leadership setting the tone for that very important step in our history: to rise above difference and embrace our common interests. Timely indeed.
I found it very interesting that simultaneous to reading Seedfolks I heard from a friend of a community garden that existed in Mendocino. The plot thickened when I discovered after a couple of phone calls that a piece of property I had recently found myself drawn to was, in fact, the garden itself. It is located behind a Native American museum/art gallery I sometimes visit. In spite of the numerous times I’d been there, one particular afternoon I suddenly noticed a fence at the back and rather than going into the museum, I walked toward the back and found myself peering through a rather tattered fence, where children had clearly torn back the wire in order to have access to what they must have considered a shortcut to wherever they wanted to be going. Rather captivated, I stared into what looked like the remnants of a very large garden. Strange, I thought. What had they been growing? And who? It had obviously been the subject of much work, but now lay in apparent disrepair and neglect.
Well, that’s about to change. In part I was viewing a Garden in Winter, so no wonder its state. But also, as with many community projects, let’s just say it’s had its history. It is now firmly under the umbrella of a non-profit organization called Cloud Forest Institute which is able to offer it the insurance it needs to continue, and enough guidance to have secured the promise of an experienced, committed Hispanic-American man who has worked the garden previously, who knows most of the participants and will see to it that it moves along smoothly.
Upon learning that the garden I had been peering at through the fence was the place I was now seeking I was happy to have the reason to now further explore. I went to a house nearby the garden as I was instructed and met a lovely young Hispanic-American woman named Fabiola who immediately walked me over to the gardens with her precious little daughter, Pearl, as she told me what she knew of its history and what current plans were. Here is what greeted us as we entered the large property. (Wouldn’t you know it?)
As above, so below.
Apparently Fabiola’s parents have been very involved in the gardens, and Fabiola walked me back to her parents’ large plot where two very tall thick stately rose bushes, one red and one pink, had been planted and stood watch over their onions, garlic, leeks and strawberries. The ground has been prepared for many more things to come. I was particularly moved that the mother had also planted a long row of cactuses, reminiscent of her native Nayarit, along one end of her garden, acting as a reminder, no doubt, of her own early years in a garden in Mexico, but also serving as a deterent from those who might want to enter her plot. Here was one such garden sentry:
I’d be thinking twice before entering, wouldn’t you?
The other twenty-two plots lay in various states of being. Some were full of foxtail (eeeooouu), plantain, lots of mature onions, a thicket of California poppies, a long raised bed of strawberries, and two very long board-sided boxes from a former participant, now moved away, leaving behind her many many irises, left to chance and their own destinies.
But it is spring. I’m anxious to see how this project looks midsummer. I will surely return and admire the hard work and determination of this little community’s efforts to create what is happening in towns all over the country, as we turn our attention to growing food. The return of the Victory Garden, some are calling it, coupled with an energy conscious public looking for practical solutions to the rising costs of carting foods half way ’round the planet, all so unnecessarily. Eating locally, again and at last.
The most promising sight for me in the community garden at Cleveland Lane was this…
…a perfectly executed “empty” plot beckoning a vision and dream of the plot’s owner. I can’t wait to see what he creates in that verdant space. Can you?
Love and garden blessings,
Footnote: Cousin Julie sent this inspiring Ohio link 10/27/08:
Posted on May 7th, 2008 by Kathryn
Filed under: Book Notes