The Community Garden

by longtallyarn

The kids and I joined a community garden. We have been members for a couple of months and it has been great for our family. For what I consider a low yearly fee, we get a share in the produce that happens to be picked on any day we show up to work. It might be a little more complicated than that, but not much.

The biggest motivator for joining was my own gardening failures. I wanted to see how people can grow anything successfully in our clay-y soil with our hot and humid summers. And I have learned a lot:

  • I have learned what slug eggs look like (kind of what you would expect- semi transparent, brownish, and squishy).
  • I have learned that even though the community garden is on a site with better soil and less shade than mine, the raised beds are the magic element. I would like to build my garden beds up a little higher than their current 4 inch height so they will hold more soil amendments.
  • I have learned how to tell when eggplants are ripe.  The beautiful shine disappears and the surface becomes dull.
  • I have observed that when you plant several varieties of beans all around the garden some may be destroyed by pests but others thrive.  It seems like the yard long beans and other climbing types are doing the best while some of the bush beans have been totally decimated.

The community garden is marginally kid proofed. One thing I appreciate is that people don’t get upset at the kids for getting into stuff. The rule seems to be that if something is accessible to them, it’s fair game for exploration.*

The garden is fenced all the way around and the highway is some distance away. There are chickens (egg membership is for an additional fee but chicken socialization is open for all) and they are friendlier than ours. Some chickens let the boys pick them up and carry them around.

There are several other young children who come to the community garden work days and my kids enjoy the opportunity to socialize with young kids, adolescents, and adults.

The garden workdays are on days my husband works and I am looking for something to do with the kids. On Saturdays, for example, I could spend the morning at the house, scolding at those little darlings to “get off the bookshelf, get out of the fridge, don’t jump on mommy’s bed in your shoes (yes my standards about that have relaxed), don’t go near the road, don’t get in the car and…honk the horn, leave the lights on, spill water, lock mommy out, blah blah blah.”  Yes, the community garden provides a more relaxed atmosphere for us all.

So far we have come home with lettuce and other leafy vegetables, peas, strawberries, basil, blackberries, beans, potatoes, and eggplants. I am always pleasantly surprised when I get my share of the loot.** It’s always a generous allotment to enjoy for snacks or an element of dinner that evening. Very fresh, and organically grown.  I am eying a bed full of watermelons and hoping to be working on the day they are picked.

The best part for me, though, is the feeling of community. Every year that we live here my circle of acquaintances gets larger but my community stays small. I like to think that community gardening has enlarged my community in ways that church, career, and online meetup groups have failed to do. Other garden members have been so welcoming to our family! I’m still learning people’s names but other members recognize us and say hi when they see us; they are smiling, too, so I know it’s not a bad impression we are making. People are happy to share their knowledge and resources with the group. We enjoy the fellowship on work days and at social and fundraising events. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a part of such a cohesive organization.

The community garden is going through some changes in the coming year. We are losing our lease on the plot of land and core members are looking at options such as investing in land as a group. Fingers crossed that the cost does not rise dramatically or the location move far from my home! I envision us continuing to participate for a long time in the future.

*nobody wants them to pick ALL of the strawberries or let the water out of the tank, so I still have to be somewhat aware of what they are doing.

**I had a negative community garden experience in our neighboring city where I went out and volunteered (picking ocra, a prickly painful job) all morning and came home with only a few squishy unflavorful cucumbers from bushes far past their prime. It seems that community garden sells their good produce at the farmer’s market and allows people to help out for the “experience” of gardening. I never went back.