Saturday, July 19, 2014

Whatever Happened to the Community Garden

Before the blog went silent I had shared how I was venturing into leadership at a community garden, Jolly Grove. I shared how we were preparing the land, getting it ready for it's inaugural season. It was 2010.

So much has happened in that time. Jolly Grove was a Land Bank property, owned by the Land Bank, leased by the garden. It had about 20 families, a children's garden, and donation plots that provided food for the South Lansing Kitchen. We were in the planning stages for our third season, I had just gotten approval to expand to reach out to the refugee community nearby, when we got word that the property was going to be developed. It was a bit disheartening. When the head of the Land Bank came to me and said, "Sarah, I think I have a property you are going to love for a new garden." I was skeptical. I knew the time commitment to start up a garden. I knew the labor involved. But still a part of me was curious so I went to see this new land. 14 acres in the middle of the city, mostly forest, some of it had been cleared for a housing development and then was shut down. Brush had grown up.
 It looked like A LOT of work. Yet it was charming too. It had a ditch running through it. I saw potential.
 With much encouragement from my mother, and a commitment of support from our three previous sponsors, we decided to go ahead and form this new garden. In April of 2012 we broke ground.
 Two acres of land were cleared, while keeping the natural integrity and habitat in the remaining 12 acres.
 As seen from Google Earth in May of 2012, I present to you Webster Farms Community Garden.

Part of the discussion earlier in the year had been my desire to reach out to the Bhutanese refugees nearby. I had helped a few move and a close friend was building relationships and shared the need for land, the longing to grow food for their families.
At the same time a church of Burmese refugees had approached the Garden Project wondering if there was land for their church to have a garden.
In the end we reached out to both communities.

Oh the work, there was so much work to be done. We moved all of the materials from Jolly Grove to Webster, the fence, the shed, the pallets and raised beds. Then we had to work at clearing the roots and debris from the land. After that came water solutions, we had to get creative. Then the fence. The fence was a must! We have a wide variety of wildlife in the woods and powerlines. We have seen deer, raccoon, a badger, groundhogs, rabbits, squirrels, coyote, opossum, as many varieties of birds and amphibians. Slowly, the fence went up, the electricity was turned on. The fence has improved over the years as we try to keep out the critters. Here is a signage on the fence, communicating in three languages that the fence is electric and do not touch.
 Language. The first year that was a tricky barrier. We learned a few things very quickly. One, panni means water. Second, Namaste, the Nepali greeting as we were enthusiastically greeted. Third, those over the age of 35 struggled in their English as those under 35 especially the teens and young adults spoke excellent English as seven of their nine subjects were taught in English at the refugee camps. Out of pure need, I learned to speak Nepali. It was important for me to communicate to my gardeners who were quickly becoming my friends. Whenever I did not know a word, I would ask, write it down and practice it over and over. In my dreams I would say the words over and over.  I am still learning Nepali but I have grown tremendously with my vocabulary near 500 words. Between my broken Nepali and their broken English, we can communicate. The Burmese language is much more difficult as there are 300+ dialects and even Burmese struggle speaking with each other. Thankfully they are all one church so we can communicate to the Burmese garden leaders and they can share with the whole community. This year we are noticing great improvement in their English skills as they are communicating more and more.
 Resourcefulness! It amazes me. They do not run out to the store for trellises, they make them and they are beautful.

So the garden grew, it thrived. As did all the gardeners. That first year we heard so many stories. Many of them were farmers when they were still in Bhutan, this coming back to the earth was a homecoming.
 We learned culture. I learned the meaning of human suffering. The Bhutanese went through an ethnic cleansing were the men were beaten, tortured and imprisoned. Which lead to their fleeing the country and finding refuge in Nepal where they lived for 20 years in refugee camps.  I learned perspective.

The garden has been good. We have a Children's Garden were I run weekly Kid's Club. I teach them about nature, we go on adventure hikes and check out what is living in the ditch and among us. We plant, weed, water and harvest the fruits of our labor. Here is a picture from 2010, the Kids Club harvest party.

We are now in our third season, with everything growing beautifully. Even if we still have rabbits and groundhogs trying to intrude.

And the work still continues. This year we built a rain catchment shelter.
 And a land bridge/culvert over the ditch.
Things are always changing and there is always work to be done but some things are forever.
This is a place of beauty, growth, culture, love and respect.
This place is gloriously good!

You can check out more pictures on our facebook page:
Also, special thanks to my mother for her unbending dedication to this garden. She is known to all the gardeners as Ama, Mom! Also to our partners, The Land Bank, The Garden Project and SLCDA. Without them this would never have been possible. And lastly to this year's Americorp member, Brian, whose hard work is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

1 comment:

Quasar said...

Very Nice!