Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Goodness of Gardening: Renewing our Spirits and Urban Spaces

 by Endless Summer

The Need to Refuel

First, let me say a big thank you to Nomad for allowing us to continue this community here in this space he so graciously hosts. And thank him for giving me the opportunity to communicate with the community through this post.

The 2016 election has brought us a set of challenges unlike most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Daily, we see Trump and the GOP rend the fabric of our democratic society, and the pace and breadth of the assault threatens to overwhelm us. Trumpression is real, and most of us have expressed it here in our comments. So I asked Nomad if I might write a post with the intention of uplifting the community, and he obliged.

Resistance, no matter the form it takes, requires fuel. Whether it’s marching in protests, calling and writing lawmakers, attending organizational meetings, it takes a lot out of you. It’s fatiguing, not to mention infuriating, to have finished a round of phone calls to lawmakers, only to check twitter and see another abomination unleashed on us. It’s been just over 100 days and I’m exhausted. I know y’all are too, so let’s refuel.

I think of refueling, or some say self-care, as feeding the soul; the things we can do each day that bring us joy and generally make the world a better place.

Gardening: Staying Connected

 I love to garden, and my garden is a place of joy and solace for me. I was blessed with grandmothers who both took joy from gardening, in very different ways. My maternal grandmother was a farm girl from Georgia. She grew up planting and picking cotton. 

On her own farm, she had a large vegetable garden and fruit trees. Her gardens fed and nurtured her large family. When I think of her I think of sitting on the porch on a hot summer night shelling bushels of peas with my cousins and sisters. 

I think of holding a hot fried pie, the insides bursting with fresh peaches we had picked and peeled not an hour ago, scooped out of a cast iron dutch-oven, bubbling with oil. I think of food, always fresh. 

We hauled watermelons, hot from the red clay, up to the house to rest in a tub of ice until she split them open and we took that first bite, cold red juice dribbling down our chins. Her gardens were full of nourishing, delicious food. From her, I learned how to plow with hand tools, how far apart tomato plants need to be, how to check for boring beetles in fruit trees, how to pick plums without bruising the ends.

My father’s mother was a different kind of gardener altogether. A lover of plants and flowers of all kinds. Her yard was an enchantment of boxwood lined paths between which peaked luscious and exotic blossoms. An amateur botanist with the greenest of green thumbs, I swear she could pick up a dead stick, put it in the ground, water it and make it grow.
From her, I learned the names of plants, and how to take cuttings and wrap the ends, how to graft them to root stock. How to water potted plants with tea to keep the soil from compacting. How to prune correctly to encourage blooming and keep fungus and mold at bay. Roses, gardenias, bromeliads, ginger, jasmine, her yard smelled like heaven.

Gardening is a way to stay connected to the earth, to acknowledge the cycle of life, to celebrate seasons. Things grow at their own pace, there is not much we can do to hurry the sprouting of seeds, and not every seed will sprout, not every plant lives or thrives. Weather, bugs, diseases, all take their toll, but there’s nothing quite like watching your garden come to fruition.

“Do all the good you can”

So for me, gardening is a good thing that I can do, connecting to my past, connecting to the earth, sharing with friends and neighbors. My yard is a combination of flowering plants and mini-farm, and I am lucky enough to eat out of my garden almost every single day. And a thought stays with me, one I’ve had from childhood, what do people do who don’t have gardens or yards?

When I went off to college my friends jokingly called my apartment The Jungle. I brought my plants with me, from cooking herbs in the kitchen window to African violets on the bedroom sill. Potted palms and philodendron filled the corners and baskets of spider plants and ferns hung from the ceilings. I need my greens. And so I still think about people who live in places where green spaces are hard to find.
On July 28, 2016, Hillary Clinton, quoting a tenet of her Methodist faith, said:
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” 
These words by Hillary on the night of her acceptance speech are what I have tried to keep in my own heart since the night of what I consider a tragic election.
One of my favorite things about this quote is the acknowledgment that each of us is differently abled, in different circumstances, with different gifts. And while this saying may not have been intended to have anything to do with gardens, it does encourage us to bloom where we are planted.

I enjoy hearing from this community, in comments, about the good that you do. Nebraska Native counsels traumatized children. Eclectic Sandra helps feed elderly, home-bound folks. Buffalo Gal single-handedly kept a community library open without funding, and volunteers at a food pantry. Whether we’re rescuing kittens or creating wildlife habitat in our yards, or working for a cause, everyone here has a moment of joy to share, an act of kindness and mercy and goodness that fuels our souls. 

My intention is to bring our attention to good and positive things going on in the world right now, and to offer a post where we can share good and positive things and lift each other up. So let me introduce you to MUFI.

Michigan Urban Farming Initiative

The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) is a Detroit-based non-profit that is busy doing all the good they can. MUFI describes itself as “America’s first sustainable Urban Agrihood.”

It’s a ground-breaking concept—an urban neighborhood centered around a farm, surrounded by housing and businesses. MUFI is run completely by volunteers and receives capital through corporate grants and fundraisers. Since 2011 they have been able to reclaim almost 3 acres of urban blight and convert it to sustainable agriculture. An orchard of fruit trees and a 2 acre garden provides free fruit and vegetables to more than 2000 residents of the neighborhood.

The program was founded by Tyson Gersh and Darin McLeskey, two young men who met as students at the University of Michigan. What started as a small community garden has grown into an immensely successful program, credited with bringing in about $4 million in investments to the neighborhood.
In an interview with Crain’s Detroit, Gersh articulates the newest incarnation of his urban farm: 
“The role of MUFI is not simply to use vacant land to feed food-insecure individuals, but rather to position itself as a driving force in rethinking how urban spaces are developed and to model the many ways that urban agriculture adds value to modern urban spaces.”

I have tremendous respect for those who can take something very unlovely and transform it into something both useful and beautiful. Where possible, MUFI will repurpose useable structures or foundations, usually for water projects. Future projects include acquiring a Community Resource Center that will house both a commercial certified community kitchen and an education center.

Tackling urban blight, conserving water, creating green space, community outreach in nutritional education, fighting food deserts and bringing people fresh, nutritious food: MUFI is doing all the good they can, for all the people they can, in the place where they can. It’s good news. It inspires me to do more, in my own garden, in my own community. When I think of people in densely populated cities with minimum green spaces getting to experience the kinds of home grown deliciousness that I did on my grandmother’s farm, I can’t help but smile.

So how about you? What is your good news today? What is the good that you can do today? How will you bloom?

If you are interested in learning more about MUFI, you can view videos from their youtube channel by clicking on this link.