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O’k Gardening….


Spears, Bulbs and Pickle, ©`O’k, 2011


O’k Garden notes, Traverse City, Michigan

June 1, 2011

In order to have a Community Garden we need to gather a community of people, and so we plan to host a series of monthly Community Garden Gatherings to both mobilize our on-site gardeners, as well as encourage other folks in Tc neighborhoods to consider beginning their own gardens, to do the same.

I’ve been a community gardener since 1980, when I was a college art student, living in an apartment in Lansing, Michigan. That adds up to 31 years, and I can hardly believe it.

This summer, I’ll write a few garden notes each week and share thoughts about my experiences as a community gardener. I’ll also like to share some of the of results of a survey that was written by and given by students in the Tc/NW MI Permaculture Design Course, last winter to a handful of our 2010 barns property Community Gardeners.

I’ll begin by sharing both one of the survey questions and the percentage of responses:

What did you gain by having a Community Garden experience?

90.9% More time outdoors

63.6% Healthier eating

63.6% Connection to the land

54.5% Positive use of my time

36.4% Met new people

36.4% Improved gardening skills

36.4% Increased my feelings of well being

18.2% Gained a “sense of community”

9.1% Made some new friends

Numbers are an interesting language for me, and not one that I tend to use very often. But with the task of next steps for our Urban Farming Collective project and Little Artshram mission, and, with great respect for the folks who participated, and those who use the “number language” I see great value. This question and the responses, are especially telling of a possible need to grow and move beyond what has obviously been and will continue to be beneficial, singular experiences for gardeners; to perhaps an opportunity to deepen and connect “to a sense of community and making new friends”.

Does that sound silly or too touchy feely? A sense of community and making new friends? To me it sounds like a darn, good idea, which is easier said than done, in these virtual world times.

Mostly through volunteer efforts, Little Artshrams’ organization has put in several years of design and development for the community garden on the barns property and now also sponsors a tiny, little garden on Front St., as well. Even when space for a community garden is provided, managed and shared it doesn’t mean that we easily practice and immediately re-learn some of those forgotten skills of being together and sharing land to benefit ourselves and our families. We are creatures of habit, and the “habit” of our post-industrial world has been to consume and take over; and now we are all waking up to the reality that we must re-learn conservation, and what “limit to growth” means.

My teaching ground, providing a perfect classroom and place to relearn and practice those skills, has been several community gardens, in both Lansing and Traverse City, and also the woods and forests where I grew up in Central Michigan, and where I now live in Northern Michigan.

All of the garden plots I’ve rented have been laid out in so many square feet, which also replicates a fenced-in, land-owning and property line system. Nothing like the random, guild-growing forests. Whether I’m conscious of it or not, even the most well-meaning of us, still operate within a paradigm or thought-system that we are to be separated, and that fences are good and necessary especially where deer and other wilder than human life-forms roam. I don’t necessarily disagree when it comes to protecting the garden that I plant. But we also set ourselves up as gardeners and earth-loving caretakers, to think of ourselves, only connected by choice. It’s one of those tricky things that a non-fixed, big-brained species must deal with. Bless our well-meaning, big-headed, individual hearts and feet!

At the community garden, we encourage everyone to respect the boundaries between neighboring plots. But, we are also believers of promoting the “Mother-Earth reality check” that there is indeed a large, wide net cast over us, connecting us all in a community garden. Pretty much, it’s not to be ignored.

And, also, not to be ignored is the humbling part of that reality check, which despite all good and loving “mothering” intentions, the truth is that a net is woven with “many holes, gaps, and even a few tears in it”…(quoting in part author, Lousie Erdrich). Which of course also, means many hands make light work, and also many hands make much work!

So what is this BIG work, when all we wanted was a little piece of ground to grow food on because we live in the city, or our yards are full of shade from magnificent trees, or perhaps covered with concrete and asphalt? Well, community gardening creates a pretty BIG family, and the good news is we don’t have to get along, and the bad news is we don’t have to get along. So what is the plan? How do we share land and garden together?

Through our Little Artshram work, I’m learning to encourage, as both guide and working agreement, a reference and reverence to nature as our teacher or mediator. As a gardener I’m learning to mimick and plant a garden as naturally occurs in this greater, wide Mother-Earth net, with fantastic results. Likewise, we can organize community projects and gatherings with a framework of principles and ethics to guide us, similarly, remembering that we are part of nature working, not separated from it.

We can become better gardeners or “soil-managers”, get a grip on our desire for “quick results” and also help temper our tempers during difficult times, while choosing to respect and honor what perennial plants teach us about time and growth patterns.

Here’s an easy to remember growth-cycle lesson passed on from one of my teachers: “First year, sleep; Second year creep; Third year leap”.

It seems like, if we humans are willing to go into our “plant-minds” and we keep applying that growth-cycle in seasonal rounds….which means the cycle repeats and repeats itself…..we will become more deeply connected, in a self-renewing, self-fertilizing system.

Community gardening can humbly teach us we are all beginners, taking advice and direction ultimately from a little plot of earth on a planet that we are privileged to share with a few, million other plants, animals and other species.

Three Peas Plodding, © `O’k 2011
Speeding Squash, ©`O’k 2011