When I decided Sunday to return to the Cleveland Community Garden about which I’d written last spring in conjunction with a book review, what transpired was not what I’d been expecting. In my mind I was arriving bearing gifts–a large plastic bag full of sheaves of arugula branches, each bearing multiple dried pods of delicate seeds. I wasn’t sure what reception I would get to the idea of arugula among a primarily Hispanic group of gardeners, but I was willing to offer them in the spirit of one gardener to another, knowing I was introducing the possibility of a winter of vital and yummy salad greens. I pulled into a tree covered dirt parking area about a half block from the gardens.
I decided to walk first to the home of a woman living close by who I knew had family members involved in the garden. I found her at home with her family. She remembered me, as did her small daughter, Perla, whom I invited to accompany me to the gardens, which she shyly accepted, possibly intrigued when she heard me ask mom for permission to photograph her! This must have been it, in fact, as I stepped across the street to shoot a flowering tree and when I returned mom was braiding Perla’s hair into two long braids. I found this very endearing.
The only folks on site when we entered the garden were a young man and his young wife who had come to work in their garden plots, which I soon learned were spectacular. After offering the couple several branches of the arugula, I indicated my interest in what they were growing.
Enter the surprise! As I walked around and admired their harvests I realized that beyond the tomatoes I clearly really didn’t know what I was looking at! It seemed there was almost nothing in this abundantly green jungle of a garden that would find its corresponding brother or sister in my garden! Closer inspection revealed various chiles, not something I have ever cultivated, and I quickly realized here was a real opportunity for some learning. Fortunately the young couple was happy to oblige and over the next 40 minutes or so, humbly and lovingly took me under their wings and walked me around and educated me on what a Mexican gardener has growing happily in his garden!
Lupita, the wife, picked a tomatillo for me, and peeled off its husk revealing the small green tomato creature inside, which I noted immediately was slightly sticky. She patiently explained that they cook the tomatillos first in water, then chop and use as the primary ingredient in their green salsa.
Beginning to enjoy the lesson, they took turns pulling back the leaves of various plants to reveal various chiles hiding underneath, then teaching me the name and often the use as well. The chile guero is not that hot they assured me. On the other end of the spectrum is the chile arbol, a small black pointed chile that grew straight up from its branches. Look carefully!
Next was a chile I knew: chile poblano, which you probably know is used to make chiles rellenos, which I used to make when Antonia was a little girl.
Turning a corner I mercifully saw something I recognized–some kind of bean! It turned out to be rosa de castillo. Now that was new! Lupita shyly and kindly helped with their display.
Rosa de castillo
At this point Lupita drew me to an adjacent garden, marked with this little hanging flag.
In this section I found foods I was more familiar with and delighted to see! Lupita pulled back some leaves to reveal this tempting watermelon (sandia in Spanish).
And close by were these familiar melons.
Lastly Martin pointed out a raggedy plant at the edge of a bed, looking for all the world like a weed. However, I recognized it as a plant Jack at the Farmer’s Market had just introduced me to–purslane, or, in Spanish, verdolagos. We would do well to learn to include in our diets.
Being guided about by this lovely young quiet couple I became aware I was now fully engaged in the kind spirit of the Mexican people that I have been blessed to know and appreciate during many years of my life. This young couple, who spoke little English, took time out of their Sunday to help a stranger. They recognized my interest and sincerity and took that into their hearts and responded in kind. They are so representative of the kindhearted Mexican people I have met in my travels, and I felt incredibly blessed to be spending this time with them. As our time to part came upon us, they returned to their car parked nearby and suddenly were gently offering me a bag of vegetables which they had obviously picked just prior to my arrival. I graciously and heartfully accepted, with tears in my eyes. Here’s what Martin and Lupita sent home with me on Sunday afternoon:
A full bowl. A full heart.
Muchissimas gracias por venir. Que te vaya bien.
Besos y abrazos,
Posted on August 5th, 2008 by Kathryn
Filed under: People at Work