Troy Gardens Journal Collection
By Marge Pitts
About Troy Gardens by Anna Rabin
"Troy Gardens is a three-acre garden on Madison's northside with over eighty families who speak four languages--English, Hmong, Khmer, and Lao. The garden has been in existence for over twenty years. Five years ago the state decided to sell the land to developers as 'surplus land'. We learned of this sale through a chance phone call but were never officially notified. A group of aghast citizens came together with the Northside Planning Council, the Madison Area Community Land Trust, the Community Action Coalition, the Urban Open Space Foundation, and the University of Wisconsin to create their own development plan, which preserves the community gardens and includes open space, a cohousing project, edible landscaping, and a CSA farm. The City of Madison's Common Council approved the plan, and the state granted us a fifty-year lease with the option to buy. The Madison Area Community Land Trust and the Urban Open Space Foundation are currently in the process of purchasing the land. Dorrie Brooks made a documentary about this process called Ours to Decide. She describes the video as "The story of a community, an alliance, and a piece of land everybody wants."
About Marge Pitts
"I'm a 42 year-old small town girl from WI who has never lost her tomboy habits of rambling across the countryside with her dogs and digging in the dirt. I volunteer a foolishly large amount of time and energy to the nonprofit organizations that are working to both save and create Troy Garden. I write the column to express how my deep connection to nature teaches me emotional and spiritual lessons that I need to learn. The garden, in fact all of the natural world that I am able to touch and see, belongs to me as personally and completely as a favorite song or a beloved prayer. Likewise, it belongs to other people in exactly as personal and complete a way, although they may be finding comforts and lessons from nature quite different from mine. Thus we each have a sense of proprietorship over this piece of green earth which we each need and love for our own reasons, but no one of us has ownership. This paradox of loving proprietorship absent of exclusionary ownership fascinates me. It gives us a "selfish" reason to cooperate and to communicate respectfully with one another. I think it might be the secret to saving the world."
New columns will added here every so often.
I couldn't write about the joys of gardening this spring while my friend Larry was dying.
Larry loved gardening-we had that much in common. But when you sit at a man's deathbed and watch him use up his last iota of fortitude against the infamy of his body's demise, it leaves you empty of words to describe the harmony of nature.
Oh, I got my garden planted, in a tough new plot that hadn't been worked before, despite a death vigil that lasted the entire spring. It's so meaningless, I frequently thought, while hauling compost uphill in a rickety wheelbarrow, raking my rows over until they were straight and smooth, looking at the dirt etched into the whorls of my fingertips. Why is he fighting so hard?
Because there was no way he could recover anything that I watched him lose-his speech, his train of thought, his ability to walk to the bathroom. Yet he struggled ferociously.
I marveled at the futility of his effort, when I was alone in my plot tossing rocks into a central pile, and building a low boundary out of the hard clumps of dead roots that my soil offered in abundance. Why doesn't he just quit?
I brought him a bouquet of spring flowers from my yard, to add to the formal bouquets presented like talismans by tongue-tied visitors. My flowers-nodding narcissus, bleeding hearts, audacious poppies-seemed raucous compared to the stiff, tame carnations and baby's breath cinched with matching ribbons. Like our conversations, I thought, our free-wheeling conversations. My bouquet looked like the fun we used to have; it looked like the way I laugh. Larry outlasted my spring bouquet, but he didn't last long enough for my summer radishes, or my green beans, or my fine red tomatoes.
Why is he struggling? I pondered while I lashed bamboo poles together with twine, to fashion a plain but elegant plant support system running the length of my rows. How can it be natural to fight so hard?
My answer came eventually. The last time I saw Larry he was relaxed and dreamy. The fight was out of him; replaced by calm wonder. He looked at me curiously, as if seeing me out of context. He already had his sights on the next phase of existence, where pain and toil are as obsolete as gills on a frog. I left him in his peace. I had found a peace of my own; because Larry's fight wasn't just over, it was complete.
Within an hour I was in the garden, hoisting a bale of straw on my shoulder, marching it uphill to soften my brutal plot. Pain and toil may strike us as meaningless. Medicine and commerce have apparently eliminated the need for them. But the pain of losing a life, and the toil of working a garden, contribute deep tones to the harmony of love that makes us human. Larry and I had that much in common.
I mulch. When the mower mows around Troy Community Gardens, he leaves a fortune in mulch lying there, free for the raking. I bury everything except the vegetables with several inches of long cut grass. Mulch discourages weeds, but more importantly, a blanket of mulch makes my garden rows look comfy cozy, like the tidy barracks of a summer camp.
Other people don't mulch as generously as I do. Some hoe their plots regularly, fighting weeds in an ongoing battle. This doesn't appeal to me. Nurturing the good plants with a blanket of straw seems more satisfying than smacking the bad plants out of the earth with a hoe, though it takes as much effort. Some gardeners tolerate an alarming quantity of weeds, co-existing with the vegetables like all God's children under the sun.
A laissez-faire attitude doesn't satisfy my lust for control. I like to leave Nature alone, but this is Gardening-as different from Nature as a painting of a sunset is different from a sunset.
Fortunately, there are as many ways to grow vegetables as there are to paint a sunset. Each plot in Troy Gardens is an expression of one gardener's personality and experience. I may be a smothering control freak, but my vegetables are good! The weeders wind up with muddy shoes and a slick pile of dead weeds, but their vegetables are good, too. And the tolerant gardeners, hunting for their vegetables among the weeds, find good ones they like as much as I like mine.
The best thing about Community Gardens is the boundaries around each plot; beyond each border is the realm of another gardener. Everyone here embraces his or her own gardening philosophy, whether it's ingenuity, labor, or benign neglect.
The Asian family in the large plot next to mine has constructed a fortress of tall thorny sticks and colored string around their land. On taller sticks they have hung old shirts belonging to different members of the family. They all worked together one long afternoon constructing this little village of phantom people intended to frighten the deer, who delicately step out of the woods at sunset, looking for their place at the banquet.
What the deer see here is a confusing fence of strange vertical branches and unexplainable straight lines of twine. And inside, where a great variety of food is growing, the hanging shirts of the children, parents, and grandparents who work in the plot during the day are filled with the breath of the nightly breezes.
Clearly, this place at the banquet is occupied by the spirit of a human family. The deer recognize human spirit when they see it. So do I.
I made friends with my garden neighbor's boy. I was visiting my plot after walking my dogs around the back of this miraculous 35-acre property of community gardens, meadow, and bird-brimming hedgerow that will never be ruined by development. I was thinking, Can it be that after so much has gone wrong in this world an urban open space like this has been saved?
I was pulling weeds and swatting mosquitoes in the steaming humidity of a hot evening. My terrier, trustworthy and mature, lay panting in the tall grass. Only the tips of his ears showed.
The neighbor boy's mother was working like a mule, hauling compost around in a wheelbarrow. The boy, a tike no more than two, was merrily engaged in trotting over the soft earth in his bare feet, occasionally stopping to cram another tiny handful of soil into the breast pocket of his overalls. He bounced into his mother's way, causing her to lose momentum with the wheelbarrow. She spoke sharply to him in an Asian language, but then relented and laughed at him.
I sat on the comfy mulch between the rows of my plot, watching them. I smiled at the sweating mother, and she politely smiled back. My little dog interpreted my lapse from weeding as an invitation, and he emerged from the tall grass to join me. When the boy saw the dog he dropped his handful of dirt.
"Doggie!" I said.
The little boy barely knew his own language, much less mine, but this situation was perfectly unambiguous. He hurried over to us. Delicately he touched the dog's shaggy fur. Then he reached into his breast pocket, pulled out a handful of soil and stretched it out to the dog's nose. My dog graciously sniffed it. Several crumbs stuck to his whiskers.
The boy squealed with delight and did a little barefoot dance. Then he reached back into his pocket and pulled out some soil for me.
Soberly he offered it. I held out my hand and he poured the dirt in. "Thank you," I said. "Good soil."
The boy grinned, his round face luminous as the full moon. Suddenly he emptied his breast pocket of dirt, handful by handful, into my cupped palms and onto the ground. Soon his pocket was empty, and we both laughed. Then the boy spun around, and in a twinkling he had slipped under the string border of his family's plot.
He turned and looked at me once more. I said, "Bye-bye!"
I glanced at the mother; she had been watching. You have a good son, I thought, and a good garden. She gave me a quiet smile, and in that moment it felt like we could be sisters.
Can it be that after so much has gone wrong in this world our future looks like this: a young boy, an old dog, two grown women, and the sharing of the good soil of a community garden?
Gardening is over for now. Stakes are pulled, the gardens plowed. There are no more individual plots, only a flat expanse of black earth.
I'm not sad. I'm tired. I don't remember the lust for digging I felt in the spring, the thirst for the smell of compost, the zest for the rake. Gardening roots a person in time as well as space: now is not the time for toil.
Now is the season for roaming. Troy Community Gardens are more than just plots some people work. The property is also 17 acres of open space--long grass, mulberry bushes, and trees-and a fine path mowed all around it. One day, if the unique coalition of citizens, land-use foundations, and the University succeeds, this bit of Earth will evolve into a place where people will come to learn about urban agriculture and prairies. But there will never be houses back here.
For now, this lovely meadow belongs to me, my neighbors, and our dogs. In this season, the souls of the plants have receded into their roots; above ground they give no resistance to trampling. The insects have laid their eggs and expired, or found hiding places from which they will not emerge to bedevil us.
The sun has turned his punishing hot face to the south. And when Earth puts on her hard shell of frost, my dogs and I will be free to walk wherever we wish, even over water.
Something about rambling in the open spaces puts me in an altered state. Whatever is on my mind can play itself out, and new ideas come to me as if on the breeze. From Troy Gardens, we can walk all the way to Cherokee Marsh, Lake Mendota, or Warner Park, without ever trading a footpath for a sidewalk. We always walk in a great circle, without retracing our steps, beginning and ending at our front door.
Once I had a vivid dream in which I found myself walking with a group of women over land that had no fences, roads, or manufactured boundaries. We traveled in a straight line in the direction we wished to go, like crows. The landscape was varied but presented no serious obstacles, as we were used to walking, and good at it.
In the dream only I knew how the landscape would be different in the present time. When I woke up, the memory of the dream seemed almost as real as the memory of a real walk. I felt grateful those dream women had allowed me to come along.
Now when my dogs and I wander across the urban open spaces, successfully avoiding pavement for long distances, I invite those dream women to come along with us in our time. "See," I think to them, "we haven't lost everything. Look what we have here!"
Ready and Waiting
There is very little to write about the Troy Gardens this time of year, less to do. The only thing I can grow now is icicles from my roof. My house looks like some snarling toothy beast, inhabited by cabin-feverish humans and dogs. The Community Garden plots lie around the corner, silent, blanketed, flat. My dogs and I visit, but formally. I stay off of my knees and do not disturb the sleeping soil.
Next year more plots will be made available at Troy Community Gardens. That means there will be more people sharing my neighborhood garden space. I welcome them. I welcome you, if you will be new to the Troy Community Gardens this spring. In a garden, on shared land, in a city: this is one place human beings belong. I await the growing possibilities of the coming season.
* * *
This spring, several conflicting commitments which I had foolishly loaded into my life, like ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack, erupted and bounced around in chaos until I slowed down, reorganized, and dumped the ones I can't carry. Thus I missed an installment in this journal, which I regret.
But writing, like gardening, is a forgiving avocation that looks always toward the future, to the next thing you'll produce. And soon Troy Community Gardens will lie plowed and drying in the swelling sunshine, blank slates for the individuals who work them.
I took a double plot this year. My responsibility stretches forty feet by twenty feet, and with nothing coming up yet it looks mighty vast. When I was a novice, aroused and impatient from looking at pictures in seed catalogs all winter, I rushed to get things planted. I proceeded willy-nilly, cramming seedlings into the ground too close together and in no particular order. By August I had a jungle on my hands. Harvesting was an awkward ballet of crawling, twisting and reaching, like a sea otter in a dense kelp forest, minus the underwater gracefulness.
I operated like a crazed consumer at a sale table, hustling and grabbing as if the goods might run out.
How little faith I had, how little knowledge of the way nature is. Because, as I realize now, everything wants to grow, no matter what you do. Every living thing is programmed to succeed, to produce; and every life will succeed unless thwarted. Imposing order upon the garden simply means using your intellect to thwart the forces that would thwart your plants.
But everyone at Troy has his own order. For many, especially the Southeast Asians, order means using long sticks, kept over the winter in large bundles outside the garden, as fenceposts and plant supports. Tied together with string, sometimes enhanced with chicken wire, the sticks are the first things to pop up the very day the gardens open. Non-uniform, organic, and decidedly low-tech, the stick structures are the skeletons of robust growth to come. My Southeast Asian neighbors use the same techniques as they did in their homeland a world away. I suppose that seeing their plots take shape every year makes them feel at home here. I hope so.
An American guy the next plot over is building a fine plant support out of metal pipes, and using plastic sheets over the soil to warm it. He told me he got his ideas from a good book.
He has bags of soil amendments lined up neatly, awaiting implementation; but he uses no chemicals. He's taking great pleasure in following the book's instructions, and his plot has a certain clarity about it that reflects the way this particular gentleman likes to view the world.
Me, I'm a tiller. I have a handy little tilling machine that revs up and grinds the soil into Bisquick in no time. Hoe me no hoes, this machine does it all! I use it to build 40-foot long raised rows, with sufficient aisle space between to accommodate my knees and butt.
Now my plot has form; it looks like a Communist propaganda poster from 1940. Surveying my work, I feel like Twentieth Century Earth Woman in overalls and a sweat-soaked bandanna.
Maybe our gardens aren't primarily about growing food. Maybe the most important fruit of Troy Community Gardens is diversity, the hearty self-expression of unthwarted human beings.
A Perfect Season
How strange it is to find oneself in the middle of a perfect season. This summer, nothing bad has happened. Can't complain about the weather. The puny attempts of insects to ruin tender plantings have been futile. Ha! Vegetables are invincible, when the rains fall gently and frequently; when the sun shines hot and bright; when the human visits twice a week to pull weeds, pinch suckers, and drip with admiration.
In midsummer of a perfect year, time stops. Like a dog panting hard on a cool floor, the world is both throbbing with life and completely idle.
At this point there is nothing to do but relax, sit back in your row with the few small weeds that can't compete with your huge growing vegetables, and listen to the day sounds of Troy Community Gardens.
* * *
A pair of redtail hawks has raised a baby in the tamarack trees just west of the gardens. I have heard the family screaming at each other since April. "Hunger! You belong to me! This is our territory!" Such is the nature of their communication.
Now the juvenile has fledged. His awkward, obvious flights draw the attention of blackbirds, who launch terrible attacks against him and his parents. The young hawk is full-grown, but he doesn't know how to hunt yet. So he screams all day long from the top of a tall dead tree. The whole neighborhood can hear him. His parents seem to be wearying of their responsibility; sometimes they try to chase him off, screaming wildly. Yet they can no more resist feeding him when he shrieks than I can resist stroking my dog when he puts his head in my lap.
One day the young hawk will figure out the hunt, and stop crying for his parents. But his parents are mates; when the time comes they'll make another baby. And as for me, when my dog raises his head no more, I'll get another. I'll be as true to my nature as the hawks are to theirs.
* * *
A blistering hot afternoon. I'm working my garden up one row and down the other. On my knees, barefoot, straw hat pulled down low. Sweating so freely I feel nude, as if my clothes have melted. I can smell the living soil on the uprooted weeds, the tang of the tomato plants I'm pinching, and the watery mineral smell of my sweat.
Two plots away a boombox is playing traditional Asian music while a woman and a boy work. The music is discordant, and seems to have no beginning, middle, or end. I can't understand it with my mind, but then I'm not using my mind in the garden today. I'm using my body and my senses, and with these I know that the music, the heat, the work are as perfect as Eden.
Like Eden, the afternoon passes away. But the memory, like the archetype, remains whole and perfect in my mind. Which, alas, I must resume using.
Now we're at the time of year when garden bounty kicks our booty. Harvest, I am your slave.
It wasn't like this in the spring. I was emperor of this garden then. I decreed the configuration of the rows, proclaimed which vegetables would be planted and where. Benevolent despot, I overturned soil for its own good. Singlehandedly I defeated horde after horde of barbarian weeds. I fed my subjects sweet rich compost so they would have a lush life, culminating in the production of perfect fruits and tubers, of which I claimed 100% for myself.
But the situation has changed. The garden is pumping out produce just a bit faster than I can gather, preserve or eat it. The tomato plants, my lovely ladies for whom I pinched suckers so they would retain a nice figure, and delicately tied them their arms onto supports so their baby fruits wouldn't touch the dirty ground, these sweet exotic creatures I started from seed-they're guilt-tripping me! The vines are like char-women working themselves to death to feed their children. Every day more life is lost from the vine, and the tomatoes grow fatter and redder. How can I not keep up with this harvest when the tomato plants are killing themselves to give me fabulous, abundant fruit?
So my home looks like a laboratory full of jars. Heavy equipment, the canner and the dehydrator, and bags and baskets of ripe vegetables stand around the kitchen waiting for me to come home from work.
My dogs are despondent. When we walk, we only go to the garden. When I'm home, I'm at the counter doing something with vegetables. Vegetables! At least, if I were doing something with meat, some could fall on the floor to make canine life more interesting.
Why did I plant potatoes? Which are incredibly cheap at the grocery store (albeit not blue or yellow, like the ones I planted). Which, although easy to plant, require strenuous hilling halfway through their life, and the unsavory task of squashing Colorado potato beetles until your fingertips turn yellow. Which are, now that the vines have killed themselves to produce the spuds, at this point underground. I have to dig them up! Dig to plant, dig to hill, dig to harvest. And beware: I must dig gently and carefully, or risk spoiling them before they ever get near the butter and sour cream.
In the spring I could dig as hard as I wanted!
What is my problem?
Perhaps for me creation and hope are more interesting than production and wealth. The empty spring plot and my huge desire to plant it are more stimulating than the autumn cornucopia and my duty not to waste it.
That's it. Wow.
In spite of whatever sublime self-discovery gardening has brought me, I'm still a biological being. I eat. And I consider it one of the great blessings of the gardener's life, to be able to eat the fruits of self-discovery.
The final plowing of Troy Community Gardens signals winter, opening a bodacious hole in my routine. Suddenly I have more time than chores. When a free afternoon yawns its daylight ahead of me, I make eye contact with my dogs. They snap to attention. I look out the window. They jump off the couch. I reach for my coat. They stretch and curl their tails over their backs. When I take the ugly brimmed hat off its hook, they know I'm not going away without them.
Bedlam ensues: loud joyful barking and dog toenails clacking on the wood floor. I wrestle the big dog into his harness. And then we're off.
I walk the world with two dogs, a big collie mutt with silky black fur, and a small white terrier. The big one, Japhy, is ardent in love and aggressive in conflict, so he wears a dog harness and a long leash made for horses. I tumble along behind. When we're on the leash together, we're of one mind-sometimes his, sometimes mine. The little dog, Pig, is old, slow, and intellectual. He toddles, deeply concerned with every smell within ten inches of the ground. There's no point in leashing him on the trail.
Pig's concentration and freedom from the leash render him nearly oblivious to Japhy and me, and vice versa. Except for occasional backward glances to be sure Pig's still thirty feet behind us, Japhy and I are on our own. Wild woman and wolfish dog, hot-wired by a leash.
We patrol the open spaces around Troy Gardens. The trails belong to us, like a favorite song. We go over and over them; we can't get them out of our minds.
Sometimes we startle a deer and send her bounding over the landscape like a dolphin over the sea. Japhy lunges like a quarter horse. In two seconds he hits the end of the leash; then I take the plunge.
He pulls me faster than I can run alone. I feel the thrill and speed of the four-legged. Japhy feels the dead weight of human discretion, when I slam on the brakes before we hurtle into the underbrush. All compromises should be this exhilarating.
While we wait panting for Pig to catch up, I have a chance to admire the scenery. Grand thoughts pass through like wheeling birds, but usually I return to looking at Japhy, his sharp teeth and bright tongue, his soft ears resting or coming forward, his sleek flank and graceful brush of a tail. He looks back, and waves his tail at me. Yeah, he says through the leash, I know.
Some say that higher thoughts belong only to people, anything else is the fond anthropomorphism of lonely homo sapiens. But I know differently.
Once a flock of geese passed over the three of us on their way to Cherokee Marsh for the night. They flew so low their melodious honking rang in our ears. We could feel the powerful swish in the air when their big wings rowed over us.
My mouth fell open as I looked up, mesmerized. As the birds passed over, I felt tingly and blessed.
Then I looked at the dogs. They were frozen, looking up in wonder exactly like me.
Sometimes Creation plays a harmony so close it feels like unity, like when a flock of geese flies low over a wild woman and two awed dogs.
I Got It!
I'm slowly starting to get to know my Asian neighbors at Troy Community Gardens. They're ingenious, hard-working gardeners; I respect that. They seem friendly, which fertilizes my curiosity. And we certainly share a common ground at Troy.
Now that I've been at Plot 35, Troy West for three years, I'm getting better at recognizing my Asian neighbors by face, and by plot; but still we don't speak the same language. So I have to find other methods to be neighborly.
This spring I helped pound the stakes that mark the plots. On that cold, misty day, a husband, his wife and her sister joined us volunteers with our clipboards and diagrams of the plots. The wife hardly spoke English, but she persisted with me until I realized that she wanted to change plots so she and her sister would be together in adjoining plots. I got it!
Her request was easily accommodated. As soon as I pounded the stake marked "Vang" in the right spot, she and her sister immediately began hauling flats of transplants and their tools into their shared garden, and they settled down to some hard work. Her husband, a jovial sort, spoke English a bit better. "My wife," he said to us by way of explaining her adamancy, "she tell me this morning: I must garden today!"
I got it. No one can stand in my way either, on a day when I must garden.
* * *
I was hauling an overloaded wheelbarrow of compost up the aisle to my plot in late June, when the weather is freshly hot and many people are sweating with gusto in their garden plots. As I grimaced with exertion, I caught the eye of a young Asian man ahead. I smiled big, friendly as a dog, and then I tripped and disappeared behind my wheelbarrow. The load careened to one side; I barely saved it as I scrambled to my feet.
Oh, the pain, the bruise I was in for! The man, startled, made a step forward in case I needed help. But I could only laugh-slapstick is a universal language-and the man laughed too. We both got it!
* * *
One evening, as I sat in my plot practicing my beloved pastime, I heard strange musical sounds coming from the Children's Play Area. I could glimpse a man sitting there, when the breeze moved the tree branches. But I couldn't identify the strange repetitive sounds or see what he was doing.
As darkness came, I saw that man and another, both middle-aged Asians, finally leaving the Play Area. They each carried a musical instrument that looked like a bamboo bagpipe, with the body of a violin. I've never seen anything like it. But the men looked like old friends, practicing their beloved pastime, on a piece of this green earth that felt like it belonged to them, and they belonged to it. I got it!
After all these years of finding peace, love and understanding among my vegetables; after all these seasons on my butt in the mulch, drinking in what I thought was the bottomless benevolence of Nature: I've been rudely awakened. Confronted by a Nature neither benevolent nor beautiful. Violated by innumerable munching, metamorphosing barbarians gorging, resting, and squirting out eggs on the tender flesh of my dear vegetables. Bad, bad insects!
Droves of cucumber beetles turned my squash blossoms into mosh pits. As they stepped on each other's heads crawling about for a fresh spot to sink their mouth parts, the invisible bacteria swimming in their saliva moved into the plants' delicate vascular systems and blocked them. Twenty-foot vines seized and wilted overnight, and like a frightening subculture of amoral party animals, the rave would move on to another plant the next day.
Colorado potato beetles ate my spud vines as completely as a herd of goats, sans footprints. I could hardly imagine a creature whose babies are uglier than the adults, but the larva of this pestilence is a fat, segmented, yellow hump with a mouth at the front, a point at the rear and creepy black spots along the sides. A tsunami of disgust drowned me every time I squatted over my potato hills to survey the abomination in progress-potato beetles in every stage of maturity, from shiny yellow egg to fat yellow hump to rotund yellow beetle, grazing in perfect confidence and peace on plants that once belonged to me.
I could go on. I could mention squash bugs, the color of asphalt, whose folded wings make a shield upon their backs. I'm not sure exactly what harm they do, but the way they loiter by the thousands under every plant, stupid and primitive, made me definitely not want to sit down in my garden and commune with Nature. I crushed one once and it squirted fluorescent green paint, and that unnerved me for good.
I thought of using pesticide dust, bleach solutions, sizzling acid, hydrogen bombs to kill, kill, kill! But, no. If I wanted poisoned vegetables, I could buy them cheaply enough at any grocery. I thought of running home as fast as I could, taking a boiling hot shower in case there were any on me, getting a day job and quitting the natural life forever, like the people in sitcoms.
But God knows that would never work. So I let the bugs be. I continued to visit my plot regularly, but instead of snuggling on the comfortable bosom of a complacent Mother Nature, I forced myself to look at the real Nature crawling all over my food source. I watched until disgust became a small pebble of irritation instead of an exploding air bag of catastophe. I observed until fascination took root. I opened books and perused the art of organic warfare. Next year, a battle, with the same insects but now an awakened gardener, begins.
Now Troy Community Gardens are plowed flat and empty, and all the drama of the growing season-good and evil insects, heroic rain arriving just in time, to be or not to be a mulcher-is finished, until the curtain rises with the sun next spring. Like most people who live where the earth provides seasons of growth and seasons of rest, I take the opportunity of long cold nights and short cold days to step away from my beloved chores and ponder, what the heck does it all mean?
Why do all these strange and diverse people spend so much time at Troy Gardens? As a born cheese-head, I may not be diverse, but I sure feel strange. At least half of my Troy Garden neighbors came from the other side of the world, relocated as a result of wars that I never did understand. Many of my fellow gardeners here have brown skin, or drive sport utility vehicles, or have children to chase after, or are old, or young.
Why have these people come to so many meetings? First, when Troy Gardens were threatened with nonexistence, these rag-tag gardeners came to emotional and frightening meetings attended by Representatives of Formal Organizations, whose missions may or may not have been to preserve what we gardeners so deeply need Troy Gardens for. And now when its future is assured, thanks to these organizations whose missions we've begun to trust, we goofy gardeners bring our language-barriered, child-encumbered, multiple-vernaculared selves to more meetings-with the incredible goal to fashion consensus in running our community gardens ourselves!
The nerve of us! To challenge the difficulties that are as plain as the differences on our faces: the weakness of being so many, of requiring consensus amid diversity, of having to work jobs and tend to children, of coming and going in a thousand different directions all the time. This ain't as easy as growing beans, you bet!
But I sense, among everyone who has had a hand in saving Troy Community Gardens, a huge longing to trade despair for hope. And among those of us who have our hands in Troy Gardens literally, up to our elbows in the soil that feeds us, our extremely different motives met by this one open place: I sense a kinship deeper that any superficial differences. And I have faith-that if we can learn to grow beans, we can learn to share this green earth in peace.
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