“I come to the garden for peace, and I find it.”
That was the last sentence in an email I received over the summer from one of our community gardeners. In the midst of so much isolation and distance, fear, stress, and uncertainty, I heard similar sentiments from many gardeners. I also witnessed extraordinary kindness and generosity as gardeners pitched in to support the Community Food Distribution Project, to help keep Tuesday Market open and safe, and to perform many tasks that keep the Grow Food Northampton Organic Community Garden healthy and beautiful.
We welcomed over 80 new gardeners this year, adding a bunch of new plots for folks who suddenly found themselves with unexpected time on their hands, loss of income, and the need and desire to grow their own food. Many folks had the same idea, so for a while it was difficult to find seeds and plant starts. Then a late frost in June wiped out many tender new crops. The wonderful Western Mass Master Gardeners Association donated hundreds of seed packets, farmers made starts available at low cost, and gardeners shared with each other.
I’m not saying the garden is Utopia. We have disagreements, disappointments, tensions, just like any community. But that’s the key – we are a community.
One thing that gardening has taught me is that community means so much more than just the people. It also means the land, the creatures, the air and water. Living and working in community means cooperation with nature, weather, soil, and seasons, as well as with each other. It means honoring those who came before us on the land: the indigenous communities who farmed in that swoop of the Mill River for centuries before Europeans colonized it; the Abolitionists who demonstrated that textiles and sugar can be commercially produced without the labor of enslaved people; the farmers who raised generations of families on the land before it came under the stewardship of Grow Food Northampton. Each left their mark in our memories and on the land.
Now it’s our turn. How do we steward this rare and fertile resource in a way that honors the past and guides us to a future in which we can grow our community in ways that serve justice, equity and sustainability? As caretakers, how do we attend to the gifts of this land so that it remains open, healthy and productive for generations to come?
Some pundits are telling us to vote as if our lives depend on it. I suggest we should also vote as if our land depends on it. Our lives and land are part of a network that responds to every depredation, and also to every kindness. We gardeners have faith that each bucket of compost will enrich the soil and help our crops over time. We know that water is life. We know that the creatures we were taught by chemical companies to fear and loathe are the very creatures we depend on to aerate the ground and pollinate our food.
Recently I received an email from a new gardener wondering what to do with the millions of ants in their garden plot. “Celebrate!” was my answer. So here is my celebration of our garden community: We grew food, kindness, peace, and for me, a great deal of hope during a challenging season. Thank you all!
Community Garden Manager