The Little River Market Garden is made up of two small urban lots and they have been strategically designed to be managed as a one man show, but the truth is, from the beginning I’ve had volunteers helping with everything from starting seedlings to weeding to putting up fences and mulching. Sure there are many aspects of the garden I do manage on my own, specifically the planting and harvesting, nevertheless when it comes to big and heavy jobs volunteers have provided priceless amounts of help, not to mention company, conversation, enthusiasm and perspective. Almost everything is done by hand in my gardens, partly due to the small scale, the low production budget and my conscious choice to grow food with as little use of petroleum as possible, hence there are times when volunteers make a big difference.
Being an urban food garden has many advantages (and disadvantages, but that’s a whole other post). By growing food in the city we are practically neighbors with the people who will buy and eat it which automatically decreases the amount of gas used to truck the food around. Being in the city also places us close to a dense community of people who are interested in visiting, volunteering and learning from the gardens. This aspect of growing food in the city has been a surprisingly important factor for me, not only because of the help I’ve received, but more importantly because of the people I’ve met.
Anyone who has spent time weeding in groups knows that it is a great way to get to know people. I’ve thought about this quite a bit and come to the realization that weeding, as with most other garden activities, contains a perfect combination of social lubricants which prompt an almost therapeutic sense of freedom to converse. Generally speaking, even very different people can easily have an interesting conversation for hours. For one thing there is no eye contact during garden tasks, which I believe allows people to relax and feel as if they are speaking anonymously, similar to what I imagine church confessions to be like. I often find myself articulating personal feelings effortlessly, like a stream of consciousness, to a complete stranger and vice versa, many times I’ve been surprised by how people open up to me in the garden. It’s an amazing thing which oftentimes leads to friendship if not a satisfying sense of connecting to other human beings; which by the way is something commonly lacking in a farmers daily life (but not so much with urban farmers).
Over the past few years I’ve met an incredibly diverse group of people in the garden and some of them have continued to volunteer for long periods of time. Of coarse they all have a history, an interesting background, job and travel stories, school experiences, goals, interests and dreams. I asked a couple of them to write a little something for this post because I wanted to introduce them. Today you get to meet Tiffany and Michelle.
“My name is Tiffany and I’ve been volunteering at Little River since February of this year. Working at the garden provides me with a direct link to food production that is integral to my life, as I am very interested in food politics and sustainable agriculture. Every time I go to the garden I learn something new; getting this close to the process of growing food is incredibly educational. I’m not just learning about how to grow a good veggie but about local history, native and non native south Florida plants, if bananas like chickens (they do) and the challenges of running a responsible small business. South Florida is a challenging new region for me, as I have a bit of experience growing in more conventional climates. Ive never seen soil as alive with critters and crawlers as Florida soil! Every weed pulled is a small crisis, an explosion of insect residents that rush in every direction to find new shelter; and more often than I’d prefer that shelter is found inside my shoe. The climate here in the summer is so hot, wet and humid that its pretty much impossible for traditional European vegetables to grow but its amazing to see the local and tropical plants thrive in day after day of pouring rain and scorching heat. It makes for great mangoes!”
“I began volunteering at the garden because my wonderful, environmentally conscious friend Kari got involved in the CSA and composting at Little River Market Garden a couple years ago. Ever since then I’ve been intrigued and as life has settled down I’ve found the time to get out there and help. For me, gardening harkens back to very fond memories of childhood as part of a family (and extended family) that gardened. It was a bit of an unspoken competition amongst the adults I think, but my memories are of spending time outside (I looooved to be outside), keeping things organized so that the food could grow and then eating juicy, flavorful vegetables like cucumber and snap peas right off the vines whenever the inclination was there. Gardening now, I enjoy the meditative quality, meeting new people and the lack of noise except for insects, the wind in the trees and chickens clucking…well, and getting dirty. It’s nice not to get down into the earth to see and feel it! As far as difficulties, I can honestly say for me there aren’t many. I grew up weeding the family garden and mud doesn’t scare me. Occasionally the many species of bugs I’ve never seen before cause me to pause, but I get over it. Probably the most difficult part is getting up early on a day off – most who know me will tell you this is not my forte! Still, I’m glad to be doing something worthy enough to push myself on my day off in which I am learning so much about healthy approaches to growing food.”