Essay On My Vegetable Garden

I asked my newsletter subscribers to submit an essay on the topic of what it means to them to have a vegetable garden.  I was hoping to get various perspectives to share with you, and indeed I received a few inspirational compositions, as well as some photos of backyard gardens.

From Cheryl Brondstotter:

For many years as a bus driver, I drove past this little farm on Glen Arbor Road and noticed a hand–painted sign for heirloom tomatoes pointing down towards the end of a long driveway. Season after season, I would say “one of these days I’m going to see what’s down that drive.” And time, being the elusive rascal that it is, slipped by until the Spring of 2008. And then I retired and visited Cynthia (with Manuel’s help) for a tomato cage class down that inviting blacktop.

A remodel many years ago left me with lots of broken concrete, various sizes of lumber, and a sincere hope of re-using these leftovers in a beneficial way. Voila! Add an 8’ by 4’ straw bale perimeter container bed, a premier visit to the Love Apple Farm and I embarked on my first ever vegetable garden. With stone, wood and straw, I had a 3 Little Pigs garden!!

Being in the “banana belt” of Santa Cruz, I’m still more coastal than not. Hence, my medium sized tomato choices did much better than any of the others. The wonderful heat of June passed into the fog doldrums of July and August. Lots of green fruit manifested by the 4th of July, but then a long stall happened until the warm sun at the end of August, early September.

Tomato Love….Stupice, Earl’s Faux, Paul Robeson. My family loves me, my friends are SO receptive, and fresh mozzarella hides behind anything un-Caprese and basil. I can’t wait until next year. Everything grass-like will be eradicated from my yard. Raised bed gardens will replace it; with lots of room for new heirloom varieties, Love Apple classes, and a few new ventures into the unknown. The inspiration I received from Cynthia and her vision of sustainable living has motivated me to attempt a REAL all-encompassing vegetable garden, keeping my family stocked on an annual basis. Many new beds will appear before the call goes out for 2009 Love Apple tomato seedlings sale. I’ve progressed from the 3 Little Pigs to When Pigs Fly Farm. Reach for the sun and be prepared for the warmth. And revel in the warm, red, ripe juicy wonder that is a love apple tomato.

Thank you, Cheryl.  I love it when people rip up their lawns and decide to dedicate their entire small spaces for edibles!  Now, this one from Damara Ganley:

Permaculture's founder Bill Mollison is often quoted as saying, “If you set out to solve the worlds’ problems at some stage you will become a gardener. If you set out to become a gardener at some stage you will see that you are working to solve the world’s problems.”

I think that this is because at the center of what we call humanity is a garden.  A sacred place where our relationship to the earth is unquestioned and where our connection to our truest nature can be forged. To garden is to honor the seasons, to honor our bodies, to honor the cycles of living. In many spiritual traditions, paradise or other spiritual realms are depicted as a garden. In all cultures some form of gardening is a necessity.  Whether it be in large swaths of farm land or in tending to available wild plants, the earth provides our physical, social and spiritual sustenance through a garden.

In my life, my garden has meant home. It is where I seek to learn how to be a better human being.  It is where peace and purposeful contemplation can be found and cultivated. It is where change and challenge is expected and met with careful consideration and conscientious action.  It is where my internal world is found reflected in the outer landscape – a bit messy, well-meaning, growing under good conditions, wilts when forgotten, expresses with color and abundance.

The truth is I worry about the planet and climate crisis and biodiversity and wildlife endangerment so much that I often feel a sense of paralysis.  But then I go into my garden and I see the growth and I watch a butterfly sip from the dew on a borage leaf and I feel a deep sense of renewal.  As writer Minnie Aumonier has written, “When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden”.

Many thanks for your continued inspirations.

And thank YOU, Damara.  Your beautiful words have inspired me right back.  Now, schoolteacher Larry Volpe tells how he connects with his students and their parents through his school garden:

I started gardening with my students ten years ago, shortly after I started teaching fifth grade.  Nothing gives me more joy than to spend time gardening with the kids and their families. Over the years it has allowed me to form very special relationships with the community I serve.  Many children are tireless and cannot get enough. These kids can apply this hard working ethic, which many get from seeing their folks working in our garden, to many life skills, including succeeding in school.

I teach at Seven Trees School in San Jose in a low-socioeconomic neighborhood made up mostly of Hispanic immigrants.  When I started teaching I quickly noticed that the non-English speaking, immigrant community I served was reluctant to come to school. I had very few parents coming to Back to School Night, and even less would come to various other school functions. Working in the garden has changed this to the extreme. When other teachers get fewer than ten parents coming to Back to School Night, I now get over twenty. Parents coming to school is extremely important to the academic success of the child. Gardening with my students is one of the activities that has allowed me to become a more effective teacher.

It all started with a few tomatoes and now it has bloomed into over fifty tomato plants among forty or so varieties of organic heirlooms. Summer is filled with watering, caging and caring for the plants so that they produce loads of luscious fruit for the families once school begins in a few weeks. Working in the garden over the summer gives the kids something to do and it allows me to stay in touch with some kids whom I love dearly.

Once the harvest begins so does the feast. The kids get great joy from eating the tomatoes right off the vine. Most of them have never seen so many colors and sizes of all the different kinds of tomatoes. They love to compare and choose their favorite kinds. Many kids bring home tomatoes to meet their families' needs and they use them in their traditional dishes.  Some parents show their appreciation by sending back fresh salsas for the teacher to enjoy. If I am lucky they will send me some enchiladas. The best part comes when they invite into their home to share a meal. This is by far the best part of my job! While there, I bond with the kids, help them with homework and ask the parents to show me how they make their homemade salsas. The tips I have witnessed in the culinary arts of cooking with tomatoes the “Mexican way” are such a beautiful thing.

Now the days are filled with prepping the beds for the winter garden. Garlic, onions, leafy greens along with the cruciferous vegetables will soon be thriving in our garden just as we are about to harvest our of the kids' favorite events!  After a very informative winter veggie class at Love Apple Farm, I now have a few dozen 4 in. pots getting ready to put into the ground. The kids ask me every day without fail, “Are we working in the garden after school today?” Like I said, they just can’t get enough. While this is way more fun than lesson planning and prepping, to mine and the students’ dismay, a few days a week I just have to say no.

I would not give up my position in the community for anything. It is a very fulfilling part of my life that I would not trade for the world. I look forward to many more years of gardening with my students and sharing the food and culture with their families.

Wonderful, Larry!  I know you must go above and beyond the call of duty to maintain that garden and reach out to your community.  I'm sure you're changing the lives of many of your students.  Fabulous!

Images are from Cheryl Brondstotter's garden.

In school, we had learnt about the value of growing vegetables in our own gardens. At that time, prices of vegetables at the market were soaring and many of us tried to grow our own vegetables.

At the side of my house, there used to be a vacant patch of land. I told my parents about turning it into a vegetable garden. They liked the idea and gave me their full support. I managed to get my brothers interested in the project and, together, we cleared the land of weeds and wild grass one Saturday. After school each day, we dug the soil, watered it and applied cow manure.

A week later, we planted seedlings of long beans, brinjals, tomatoes, chillies and lady's fingers in neat rows. We put up a shade of dry coconut leaves to shelter the young seedlings from the merciless beat of the afternoon sun. Within a week or so, the seedlings had shot up, sending out new shoots. I was quite excited.

In six weeks' time, we started harvesting some of the vegetables and put them in baskets. I felt truly happy and proud when I presented the freshly picked vegetables to my mother. They seemed to taste more delicious than the market produce.

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