Monday, April 11, 2016

Community Gardening for One

8 April 2016

A cold day in the spring kept trading rain for snow then rain again but then in the middle of the afternoon, bright sunshine broke through and it seemed like a good time to check in at the community garden to see if any tools needed repairs. Friday afternoon at 3 isn’t when most people go to the gardens and a cold, rainy day is probably not the best time for planting or digging in the dirt but the last time we were working in the garden, several of the wheelbarrows needed some minor repairs. With nuts and bolts, drills and an air pump to inflate the tires, I went off to the garden thinking I could make a few repairs before people needed the tools over the weekend.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was a new mound of mulch and a small mound of stones in the parking area. Daffodils were blooming along the paths and in some of the raised beds. The trees that had only begun to bud in March were in full bloom and had small leaves in the cheerful green of a long spring.

The shed was full of tools stacked right up to the threshold and there were more wheelbarrows in good repair than had been there before. I checked the legs and the handles and noticed several new bolts and some pieces of wood that had been added to stabilize the parts that had been loose earlier in the spring. It was immediately evident that the community garden takes care of itself and it finds the tools it needs to keep going. It had been a couple of weeks since Mother Dawn had said that the tools needed some repair and someone else heard and responded more quickly than I could. Seeing the shed so full of tools and specifically seeing new bolts next to old rusted bolts and hand crafted repairs showed that there is great skill in this community and that the community uses its skills to enhance everyone’s opportunities.

I looked at the list of tasks that is always taped on the inside of the door and noticed that most of the tasks right now involve weeding and spreading mulch. Several tasks are about rearranging and moving some heavy things. I tried to find a task that I could do alone since I hadn’t seen anyone else in the gardens so far that day. 

I decided to mulch the area around the picnic table that is next to the grape arbor. I moved 8 loads of mulch as the day turned cold again and began to snow and rain. Walking back and forth from the arbor to the mulch pile gave me a good look around the garden. I said “hi” to people waiting for the bus. A few people walked by and watched me work and one man walked by throwing a ball for his dog to fetch. I worked alone and felt the centrality of this location in this community. I was in the middle of everything and everywhere I looked, even on this cold day, I could see the neighborhood filled with people. I wanted to stay but just as I spread the 8th load of mulch, it began to snow hard so I put the tools away for the day.

It was good to be in the community garden alone, to see the evidence of the community that is always active and changing. Observing what had been done since I was last there probably revealed more about how many people come together to work in this space than I could have gleaned had the garden been full of people that day. The task I did choose to do was one of the only ones that could be done alone in the garden. I was grateful that there was a solo task available but I also realized how rich the garden is for cultivating. It is not just cultivating what is grown but the opportunity to help another person shoulder a difficult task is grown in that space too. I grew in perspective that day. The passing of time and the progress of change revealed the impacts of a community that while not standing and working with me in the garden that day, was most certainly present and active in that space.


  1. I would have never thought to go to the garden alone, because I would be afraid that I was doing something wrong and hurting the progress rather helping the progression of the growth of the garden. I'm glad you made the bold decision to go by yourself and see a whole new perspective on the space. How would you say this relates to the topic of places and spaces that we discussed about in class from the reading from the Development Dictionary? Good for you to go there on a cold, snowy day by the way. I don't think I would be able to withstand the cold for that long especially if there was no one else there to motivate me to continue working and to stay longer.

    -Team County Market

  2. Thanks for the encouragement and questions. I suppose it is possible that I did do something wrong! I don't know for sure. Good point about going there alone and finding a way to participate with no in-person guidance. I found that the list on the shed door had projects that I didn't know how to complete. For example, "Remove garlic chive outside of any bed (looks like onion)" was straight forward as a direction but as I began to look for garlic chive around the beds, I wasn't sure I was identifying it correctly so I decided not to do that task.

    In response to your question about space and place, I was totally flooded with the convergence of space and place while I was there and I'll point to a few immediate relationships I felt with the Wolfgang Sachs Chapter, One World, from the Development Dictionary.

    When I have been in the Randolph Street Community Garden before this class and related to this class, I have always been more "spatially" related to the garden than connected to it as a place. I have donated money through the go fund me program and shared the go fund me webpage with my friends repeatedly to try to raise more money for the garden. Clicking on a website was something I did very far away from the soil and people who would eventually turn the funds into garden plots, fruits, vegetables and the sharing of ideas.

    I have had friends deeply involved in the garden for a season or two while they lived here for school who still felt like they were more spatially related to the garden than connected to the place and the community because of how they approached the garden as a learning experience. For example, some sought to learn community gardening practices and have since moved to other cities where they have used that more "spatial" and "distanced" observational experience to begin new community gardens. In these new gardens they are forming thick identities of place.

    When I have visited this spring, I have always been with other class members who are new to the space and relate to it similarly to how I do or I have been alone. Here, in this blog, I deal with my experience "spatially" insofar as I have had time in the place, looked around and tried to understand its rhythms and the practices of people there but I am not yet tied to the garden and the rhythms of the growers and helpers who have been building the place for years yet. I project my narrative into cyber-space and continue to have an outsider perspective as I describe only the very narrow sliver of understanding I have gleaned from maybe 10 visits to the place over the past year.

    In the Sachs chapter, he says "Having a memory, relating to others, participating in a larger story, calls for involvement, requires presence."

    I think in my blog post, I recognize that there are far more meaningful and deeply engaged presences in the garden than my own. I came in curious but also with a vanity that I might "help" by fixing some tools. I arrived prepared to do that only to discover that no one was waiting for me to come fix anything. The garden carried on and the community took care of itself. That taught me much about my ego and how much I have yet to learn about this community and its rhythms. No one wants me to help, the garden needs participants.

    It also retrained my thoughts about how to write a blog post. Only with humility should I go forward trying to describe what I see or do in the garden. My vision is not clear, my understanding is not perfect, my retelling of the garden's story is not truth, it is observation from a spatial perspective of a place that has thick roots that I am welcome to come to know but only through time and participation will they be revealed.