Actually, I believe this garden is what kept me from blogging last year. I put all my creative energy into it (oh, and into growing a baby). It was a gamble, since the site is a few miles from us. I decided it was worthwhile because it was a) on the bike path and somewhat near the Max line, b) on my way to school (where I was temporarily laid off, but worked over the summer anyway), and c) within visual distance of Zenger Farm, where Shannon and I got married. My goals were to have a place to get out of the city, which feels stifling for a country girl in the summer, have a creative outlet for my free time, and enjoy digging in the dirt. Harvesting was an afterthought, though it sounded fun, too.
Portland community gardens are hard to get into. This one was brand new, donated land by the Furey family, for both a community garden and a CSA spot for Zenger Farm. There are something like 30 plots, mostly 20x20 feet, which is quite large. The land was once a farm, so the soil is incredibly good for planting. It had been a fallow field for years, watched over by Frank, the resident pheasant who still reigns.
I originally thought the garden would be my project, but as soon as I started, Shannon wanted in. And of course, he wanted to do things HIS way. This was not what I was looking for, but I saw through our bickering an opportunity to connect over something important to both of us. It has led to many an argument, but we are better for our gardening together. Last summer, we built, sowed, and grew the most bountiful 20 x 20 garden I have ever seen. Other gardeners had some good stuff too, but ours meant more to us, of course. We built two slightly raised beds (our first project together involving lumber), and lots of mound beds. We designed it to be a green haven with various heights that created some shade, our favorite foods, hummingbird, bee and ladybug habitat (and mice and frogs, and rabbits), and a place for sitting in our plastic adirondack chair.
I think this creativity, on some level, led to the most creative project anyone can enter into. After planting all the broccoli in our tray (18-20 plants) in various spots all over the garden, I discovered that the smell of broccoli made me want to gag. Yep, we got pregnant in July, as everything was in full bloom and fertility was in the air. I continued to make the trek, and aside from the broccoli, this was one of my happy places, where I could reflect on what changes were coming and just do some good hard work.
Now, with a community garden comes a community. This one was real in the sense of being quite random, based on who lived nearby, who heard about this spot, who was passionate or curious. As I said, this garden was in deep southeast Portland. Off 122nd and Foster, which, if you don't know the area, is pretty poor. Driving up 122nd you will see car dealerships, strip clubs, convenience stores, and plenty of baby-daddies with pants falling down pushing a stroller or walking somewhat near their baby-mama pushing a stroller, as well as a few people who've lost their teeth to meth. The neighborhoods are more personal, but there are plenty of people struggling to get by or doing the best they can with what they have.
In our garden, we have a few retired folk, one woman who lives around the corner and gardens compulsively in every open space she sees (this year she has planted flowers along the whole outside perimeter of the garden as well as in an old bark-mulch pile), a few people who are unemployed, a few families who want their kids to get in the dirt, and a few aloof folks whose stories I might not get to know. We all learned from each other the first year. Our neighbor to the south just stuck plants in the ground directly from the trays, without separating them, and said to my organic husband "I don't know about this whole organic thing!" (a requirement for the garden, mind you). So he learned from us and we learned how to be more diplomatic. Another opportunity for diplomacy was when a few gardeners got the idea that Zenger Farm's CSA, right next to our plots, was planted for everyone in the neighborhood to just take what they wanted. "It's for the community". We hopefully helped save their investment and plants for the people who had bought shares of the CSA. And we learned a lot from other gardeners as well. One of the best ways to learn was to merely walk along the paths and see what others were doing. Some came with years of experience, and some had never planted a seed in their lives. And those who opened up had amazing stories. Our neighbor to the west came from Vietnam as a refugee, and was one of the few refugees I have met who believes that sharing her story is an important part of healing. Our neighbor to the east was a retired grandfather/war veteran who cared for his grandson from infancy to school age, five days a week to keep a semblance of family going. And our neighbor to the north was Frank, the pheasant who let his presence be known every time we visited, with his shrill and demanding call, and then he showed off his family as they grew up in the fields and plots of the land we were borrowing.