“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.”
-Alfred Austin, an English poet
Alfred Austin surely wandered through an English garden in his day and sipped tea, while his eyes feasted on perfectly pruned roses.
I too have strolled such English gardens, and admired them so. Maybe I even gasped at their expanse and lush delicacy. Yet I cannot recall those English gardens feeding my soul…not the way it was fed in the four hours we spent at the Community Garden beside the Salvation Army on Texas Road in Atlantic City.
Sure New Jersey is nicknamed the “Garden State” but, despite its great expanses of farmland, many chuckle and think that it’s just the name of the Parkway referencing some day of yore-when Jersey wasn’t crowded with roads and identical sprawling suburban neighborhoods. But even for those of us who know the gardens of the Garden State, Atlantic City is an uncommon city to find one.
It was Election Day, all 4 of my kids were off from school. I was nervous about the election and the uncertainty that comes with democracy. I had only been working on the Goji team a little over a week, when I saw the Community Garden Day pop up on my Google calendar. I didn’t know any details, but I figured let’s just go see what it’s all about. We can always leave.
When we arrived, it was a half hour after the start time, so all of the volunteers were working. Like worker bees in a beehive, each seemed to have a job and were engrossed in it. We walked in and I asked someone what we were doing and he said pulling apart these mounds of dead plants and soil. Hmmm…perhaps bringing a shovel or 4 would have been smart. I wondered why I didn’t think of that, and before the thought had fully landed, someone handed one of my children a rake. A little boy handed my little girl a shovel he had finished working with. My other two boys and I got down on our knees and made shovels out of our hands.
The rake nearly poked some eyes out. The little green shovel instantly sent soil flying through the air. My other kids fought over an adult shovel and I moved in to mitigate turn-taking …and we were off. 10 hands working in the soil. Sun on our backs. It didn’t even matter when we found out we were moving the soil counter to the plans. We adjusted with little pause and just started pushing soil the other way.
The sun was warm, felt even warmer from our work. We stopped for a drink and into the garden walked a family who lived about a block away. The father just asked what we were doing and within minutes his little two year old boy and my three year old girl and two other young children sat in the soil and started digging with their little hands. Once tired they moved on to dropping rocks and sticks into a metal grate on a door.
The kids ages 1-9 worked side by side, barely talking but moving in busy synergy. The boy’s 12-year-old sister gravitated to the adults, chatting with us about the garden at her school and her new shirt that she mused that she probably shouldn’t have worn that day.
We got to talking about the pile of half edible produce on the table. My son pulled off a piece of kale to eat and she looked interested so I offered her some. Then her father and mother tried some and we discussed the best way to cook it. I began separating the edible leaves for them to take home with them. Then we started to notice the colonies of insects that had made these dying vegetables home.
Fascinated, we pulled the leaves apart, and with encouragement she let the insects crawl on her hand, after she made me try it first! We were surprised how many we found as we shook the kale onto the table. The orange and black insects were neat as they laid on their backs and rotated little pieces of kale around and around with their legs. We speculated several reasons for their actions.
Then a volunteer rounded up the kids to help with spreading green sand over the soil. The kids oo’d and ah’d when they heard that green sand was around during the time of the dinosaurs.
Many hands made quick work, soon it was time to spread the leaves. The kids’ laughter was infectious when Grant started a little leaf fight. We had been there for hours by then, but the kids had not once complained or asked when we were heading home. They delighted in the task at hand.
Usually gardens won’t bear fruit until after a long winter, but not this one. The fruits of our labor were right there for the picking. Instant gratification.
What better way to spend Election Day in today’s tumultuous world? Grounding down into the earth. Planting the seeds of the future; seeds with the power to fill your soul, build community…
And transform us all into something so delicately beautiful; ready to fly.