Monday, May 25, 2009

I'm renting a farm!!

farm n. A tract of land cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production

What was I thinking? I already have a garden at the back of my house, several small plots carved out of the lawn that over the past three years have gradually increased so that it is no longer a lawn anymore. I realized the green grassy part the cats love to sit in and my bare feet love to walk on is slowly disappearing. Do I really want to make of my favorite summer sitting place a mini-farm?

Exactly five blocks down the street, behind the soup kitchen, sharing land with a church, is the Friendship Community Garden. I passed by this garden at summer's end last year and was astounded at the number of abandoned, weed-choked plots with hanging, rotted tomatoes and neglected, shriveled peppers. Who would take the time to cultivate the soil, plant and start a garden--and then simply leave it to die?

Only eight people came last week to sign up for a garden plot in the community garden this year. Eight! The monumental lack of interest in taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity, to me is staggering. Here you can have, for a mere $10 [Cdn.] per year, a 15' X 15' plot of enriched, tilled earth that gets FULL sun; a key to the shed, with free rakes, hoes and shovels; barrels full of water available and all the help you need if you have never gardened before. For $15, you can have TWO plots.

Imagine, your own little "farm"--a mere 10-minute walk from your house, where you can grow and harvest your own organic vegetables. How many people living in tin shacks in poverty-stricken countries while their children scavenge among trash mounds for objects to sell to buy food--or dwellers in urban high-rises surrounded by concrete--would give anything to have access to such land. It's not fair, that such opportunities exist but the people who could most benefit by them won't ever get the chance, and the ones for whom they do, simply aren't interested.

My mate asked me if I was sure I wanted to tackle three separate gardens this year--the one at home and these two huge plots in the community garden. "No problem," I said, envisioning the long, neat rows of carrots, beets, cucumbers, chard, radish and lettuce on my newly rented mini-farm.

On Saturday I stopped by to locate my plots, which I marked with some Tibetan prayer flags. One fellow gardener had already planted his onion bulbs and cucumber seeds and was watering them. Another--a 90-year-0ld man!--was stooped over his plot, digging and scraping. Yesterday I spent two and a half hours getting the ground ready for planting and realize it is going to be far more work than I had ever imagined. Every bone in my body ached and I haven't even put the seeds in yet. I can understand now why some might want to just give up. You have to really really want to do this, to make it work.

The advantages to having this second, larger garden:
(1) It's possible to grow more vegetables there;
(2) the soil is richer than in my back yard;
(3) the water barrel's always filled and their shed has more and better tools than I do;
(4) it's located further away from the dastardly Wayagamack paper mill whose noxious fumes and toxic air-borne particulates float daily over the river towards my sector.
And so for all these reasons, I am determined to keep renting these two plots and give it my all.

My main crop will be Swiss chard. It's very rare that you find it in the supermarkets here. On Wednesdays, sometimes at Panier Sante you can find chard imported from California, and at Metro market, sometimes chard produced regionally (but it always seems too limp and lifeless, and is expensive).

There is nothing so great as plucking vegetables directly from the garden, while they're still "live" and eating them fresh out of the earth. So much better than sprayed, irradiated produce that sits in a crate or refrigerated truck and travels thousands of miles to get to you.

I've only been gardening for six years. Before that I knew absolutely nothing about it. People would go on and on about their gardens and I found it boring. About dirt, for example. The Ph balance, acidity, nitrogens; fertilizers; natural ways to discourage bug takeover; but especially about dirt--I mean, really, what is so fascinating about DIRT?

And now I am one of those dreaded people, ha ha. The soil is really important. You don't just throw something into the ground and it grows....


Mitso's Accidental Garden

One summer in Greece we were staying in the countryside and I watched my then father-in-law sweating and swearing over his garden, at which he worked endlessly, planting things in neat, symmetrical rows with the utmost care--and the curses that ensued when the crop did not turn out as he expected.

Meanwhile, a short piece down the road was grizzled old Mitso, sitting on his ramshackle porch swigging ouzo. His method of planting was to (and I actually watched him do this) literally scoop up and throw a bunch of seeds from his chair on the porch and toss them into the air, letting them land where they may. What eventually came up was a little patch of cucumbers here, tangled in with some radishes, followed by a big dusty bare spot there, next to a hilly mound of weeds; some more hilly humps of peppers over there, with an occasional onion mixed in; and there by the fence a tomato plant sharing space with a raspberry bush bordered by the most gorgeous wildflowers---really, it was very hodgepodge and all the more ironic because Mitso's peppers were far nicer looking than Yorgo's (my father-in-law), a fact that grated Yorgo no end.

Mitso, the accidental gardener. We think his garden flourished despite his seeming disregard--because he sang to it. He was always singing, Mitso . They were compatible, he and his land. I can still see him, there on his cluttered veranda, the devilish squint in his eye, waving his hand toward his lumpy, prolific terrain.

I stand corrected. Dirt IS important. But singing to Life, perhaps even more so.

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