As a boy, I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in South Florida. My family’s yard looked like most of the yards in the neighborhood- with a small front yard, a small back yard, a few small trees, and a pool. That changed when my father decided to dig up a patch of grass to plant a vegetable garden. In our garden we planted radishes, carrots, a few tomato plants, and a few pepper plants. I have fond memories of planting seeds in the warm soil and harvesting vegetables for salads at dinner time. I don’t have any memories of weeding the garden, though, and I guess that’s probably why my Mother decided to replant sod in our garden plot after just one season.
She did not throw away the left over seeds, however. So, when my brother and I found the seeds in the garage, we rounded up a few neighborhood friends, and began to plant our own surreptitious gardens in vacant lots and neighbors’ back yards. Needless to say, we never weeded these secret gardens either. We did wonder if our neighbors found carrots growing in their flower beds, though.
Many years have passed since I planted these first gardens. I have been to college and I have worked at many types of jobs, but I have recently returned to vegetable gardening. Last year, my girlfriend and I fenced off a quarter of an acre of horse pasture on her family’s property using discarded tennis court fencing. We then, purchased our seeds by mail, tilled garden beds, and started building a compost pile. When spring arrived we began to plant greens, lettuce, and peas. When summer arrived, we planted tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, cucumbers, herbs, and flowers. Soon we had a garden full of small plants.
Our battle with the weeds also began earlier in the summer. Because we had decided to grow our vegetables organically we could not rely on herbicides. Much time was, therefore, spent mulching, hoeing, and pulling weeds by hand. Luckily, we had help. Linsay’s brothers, mother, step father, and grandmother helped in the garden, my cousins came and helped out, neighbors came, friends came, and friends of friends came. These people wanted to have a farm in the neighborhood, they wanted to get their hands in the soil, they wanted to show their children where their food came from, they wanted to meet their neighbors, and they wanted to feed their families fresh, healthy food.
I have come back to gardening because planting seeds, caring for plants, and sharing vegetables with others are very satisfying. I have even come to enjoy weeding.
I believe that small farms and fresh, local produce are at the heart of a healthy community.