The Carlisle Mosquito Online
Friday, March 21, 2008

Putting ‘community’ in community gardens

Aahh, spring is at hand and this young man’s fancy turns to food. (“Food sex” and “food porn” generally come later as the burgeoning harvest overwhelms the refrigerator!) But, certainly spring brings forth an insatiable craving for real fresh food, the likes of which have either become unavailable or less affordable in the recent past.

Months of seed-catalogue perusing on cold, dark, private mornings or those mornings propped up on the well-worn weekend pillows have whetted the appetite for horticultural novelty plus a return to some of the tried-and-true favorites in the garden.

So it is that as the spring thaw settles in and the skunk cabbage pops up in the abundant wetlands around town I experience an increase in salivary activity contemplating the meditative evenings to come, grubbing about in my tiny home garden, swatting mosquitoes, and hoping that, despite some benign neglect, something really good will be ready in my garden every night when I come home.

I often think how nice it would be if gardening were more of a family affair insofar as there would be a cooperative nature amongst gardening families, not unlike a Chinese or Indian dinner whereat all entrees are shared experiences. I do not like pot-luck very much, but having a coterie of like-minded folks who had particular gardening interests or talents would be very nice.

For instance, there are certain crops which one might not particularly like to grow. Either one’s thumb is not green enough to be successful, their soils are too shallow or too wet or they don’t really like to eat whatever that particular crop might be (viz. turnips: I think it would be quite nice if someone else would grow a few for my wife).

From a more practical point of view, I do not have enough growing space to really do an adequate job of rotating my crops. If five or six like-minded souls could get together and plan a rotation through their collective gardens, everybody could have pretty much every crop they needed, their soils would be better nourished/less depleted and soil-borne pestilence could be kept in check.

  In short, this idea of a community garden is much more comprehensive than what we usually experience today – lots of folks doing their thing for themselves in communal isolation. How much more joyful might it be if the “community” interest in the community garden lasted all year?

For one, the variety of cultivars would explode and bonhomie might become bountiful as families shared the excitement and provender from each other’s gardens because they grew it in concert with one another. I imagine a family whose particular interest in greens broadened the palettes of the other gardeners instead of each family seeding the same two or three strains of leaf lettuce – why not five or fifteen varieties over the season? There are dozens of other examples of how such a cooperative enterprise might enhance the experience of each participant and this community.

  The communal experience should also extend throughout the year as the cooperating families met to not only share in the bounty of their joint efforts while sharing dinners but also in sharing the resources necessary to preserve some of the harvest (freezers, canning ability, make-do root cellars) and crop selection. There might be a community table at the farmer’s market which could be cooperatively staffed so that not every producer had to be on hand to hock their own goods every weekend (which are more often than not similar in variety to their neighbor’s).

  Variety is the spice of life and as summer heaves into sight, getting a little variety on the dinner plate will be a most welcome experience. But it need not all come from the sweat of any one brow. It would be so much more fun if the work was actually shared (not just the experience). If five households divided up the horticultural palette, there would be better production from each garden and the “community” in a community garden would become an actuality instead of an artifice. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito