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Community Gardens

July 2, 2010

A benefit of living in Arlington, as opposed to our surrounding Northern Virginia cities, is that there is an abundance of community gardens. Because South Arlington is mostly apartments and smaller homes, decades ago the county put aside land for collective urban farming. Last year, I jumped at the opportunity to co-garden with a fellow Kenyon alumn, and now a fellow co-worker. She had a baby and started a new job at my school, and the thought of gardening was too overwhelming. Whereas, I had my summer of no job or grad school, and I was dreaming about my future baby, so I needed a constructive distraction. However, I didn’t know the first thing about veggie gardens, and I have been known to kill flowering plants in a day. Aided by my mother, a fantastic gardener, and friends who already had plots there, I worked three days a week to get a plot the size of my living room into shape. I planted a large variety of greens, a plethora of herbs, two beds of tomatoes, a range of peppers, squash, melons, and two pumpkins in time for Halloween. I really enjoyed all the sweat and labor that went into making my own fresh food. Gardening became my therapy where I dug out my frustrations and relaxed smelling my knock-out roses.

Well, this year, my co-gardener and I were stripped of our garden, because the community isn’t so much of a community. Now, granted, we handed in our fee a little late– and I am completely comfortable with the consequences of that. However, what I did not enjoy last year was the extreme pressure put on by the garden regulars. These were a handful of people who looked at rules rigidly, and treated others with an insider/outsider approach. Additionally, your plot got graded weekly, and if there were a little too many weeds, you got an infraction. I had several, some deserved and some not deserved. I would have to run to the garden and weed as much as possible. And because our plot was at the entrance, I lived in fear of being judged. I could write my entire dissertation on the power and politics of community gardening. In summary, it wasn’t a particularly relaxing way to spend my summer; the entire thing became such a headache.  I was grateful for the opportunity, but I was actually relieved when I found out the bad news. I don’t want to feel that way about making my own food. I want to enjoy it and let it flow with my life, not become the obsessive center.


Right now, I am reading  Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer and I love it. The memoir highlights Novella Carpenter’s move to Oakland and how she built a large garden on top of an abandoned lot on her street. Now, the major plot of the book is how she raised chickens, ducks, and turkeys to later serve for dinner, but I ignore that portion. Instead, I am so interested in how Novella falls into her garden and builds a community around it. Her community does not have rules and regulations. In fact, she lets people go into the garden and pick what they please. She finds pleasure in the experience and the sharing, and that is what I hope to do someday.

This summer, I went back to container gardening, so much easier with Serafina around. I mentioned that on Mother’s Day we started a new family tradition: we planted. Our mini-community garden now has Basil, Tomatoes, Peppers, Rosemary, Thyme, and Italian Parsley on our back balcony. We are supplied with the essentials in cooking, and the ones I know I can keep alive.  Some day, when we get a house with a backyard, I plan on making a small portion of it to be our own vegetable garden– for the kids to build community around good food. And well, I am so much better at not killing plants when they are food.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2010 8:34 pm

    Psst! I think I see your basil about to flower. If you pinch those little flower heads off, it will keep the plant sending energy to the leaves and prevent them from tasting bitter.

  2. July 2, 2010 9:56 pm

    Not to worry, that was the before picture. the after picture, where I snapped the flower was not as good 😉

  3. July 3, 2010 11:32 pm

    I wish I had time to do some gardening: our community garden down the street from us was totally full by March! I usually plant in our backyard, but Baby H took up a little more time than I thought he would…I should at least plant some herbs in my planter on the deck (it is so much easier): thanks for encouraging me to get back into it! Fresh herbs are the best!

  4. July 28, 2010 1:43 pm

    Container gardening is so convenient. Even though I have a house with a back yard, I find gardening in pots on our patio is the most convenient way to use what you grow… a step outside, you pinch and collect what you need in a heartbeat. Keep going with this! Love the photos too!

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