It started when I planted garlic in my front yard. You see, my backyard is full of shade trees, so the only logical place to plant vegetables on my rental property is the front yard. Luckily, I live in a college town, on the student side of the railroad tracks, so ripping up front lawns to grow food goes over well. No homeowner's association is going to be suing me.
When you grow vegetables in your front yard, though, your gardening is on display for the whole neighborhood. This openness, this crack of vulnerability, has created a space for me to build bonds, to build my little community. People walking by stop to chat about vegetables, about a favorite grandma/uncle/cousin who used to garden. People stop to ask questions about what is growing or want advice about how to grow their own. Friendships, like the plants, are nurtured in this green, growing space between my front door and the sidewalk.
In the fourth grade reading classes I teach this summer, we read The Cricket in Times Square. This classic children's novel is all about forming unlikely friendships. In one class period, I ask students how did you meet one of your friends? Then, I share this story.
One day Chen, who lives in my neighborhood walked by my house and saw my garden. "Very nice garden," he said. The next day he walked by again and this time he noticed the garlic growing in my yard. "No can buy here," he said pointing to the garlic. "We have in China, but you can't buy it here in the stores." The garlic was young, still green. It was the size of gigantic scallions. The bulbs hadn't formed yet. He was so interested in the garden, I gave him a tour (it's not hard to convince a gardener to show off her labors.) I also sent him home with a bag of green garlic.
A few days later, Chen was back with his friend Lan. They stopped by on their evening walk to admire my garden. Perhaps it reminded them of China, or perhaps they, like me, have a passionate love for all vegetables. From this, a friendship was formed as we began talking about food. It was decided that Chen would teach me to make Chinese style noodles.
From my garden, I have harvested an unexpected and delightful new friendship with two generous fellow food lovers. This week I spent an afternoon with Chen and Lan making Chinese noodles (will post the details soon) and drinking tea. And, if you've read The Cricket in Times Square, know that I was in as much awe over the Chinese food Lan and Chen made for me as Mario was when he and Chester Cricket visit Sai Fong for dinner! I'm sure this is just the beginning of the many food adventures we'll share together. All of this came from a few cloves of garlic and some vegetables seeds planted where most people just have lawns.
I started my garden because I care deeply about the food I eat. I want my food to be organic, not grown with dangerous chemicals that could harm me or the animals, soil, air, and water around me. And I don't want my food to have traveled more miles than I have in the past week. I want food that is fresh, flavorful, and fits my budget. I want the pride that comes with turning a seed into a carrot or watermelon. I want to be outside and watch how the garden unfolds, grows, changes, and dies a little bit each day. I wanted all of these things when I began this garden this spring, but I didn't realize that I would get so much more than that.
This garden has rooted me, quite literally, in place. I have met my neighbors and have had meaningful exchanges because of this garden. I have built a small community of food lovers, gardeners, and curious passerbys because of a shared interest in this garden. I have inspired neighbors to plant a few vegetables of their own. And, I've had the opportunity to share the bounty of the garden. As it produces copious vegetables, I am delighted to pass the abundance forward.
Sure, it's just a vegetable garden, but it's also a whole lot more.