“Oooof!” I gingerly rested the hoe I was clutching in the mud next to me and breathed hot air on my numb fingers. Very few patches of me were dry at this point, I was covered in mud, but I had a dopey elated smile on my flushed face. I assessed the progress my friend Jenn and I had made on our 12 x 12 foot plot at the Neighborhood Farm Initiative’s multi-acre garden in Fort Totten.
Well, the crab grass was almost gone.
I extended my gaze out across the impressively large urban farm parceled into many small individual plots. My gardening neighbors seemed to already have beautifully mounded and mulched beds. I looked over at Jenn, who in the past muddy hour had developed an intense crab grass persecution mind-set. She was currently whacking at the stuff with a shovel, yanking it by the hair out of the ground, shaking the good rich soil off and tossing it into a pile that was reaching thigh height. Whack, pull, shake, toss. Splash. This rain just would not let up. Hard to believe that only a week ago we were in sunshine and unzipping our coats while working in the garden.
Jenn and I are a part of the Kitchen Garden Education Program, a course on how to grow food as you actually grow your own food alongside your peers at the Mamie D Lee Community Garden at Fort Totten. Every couple of Saturdays all the participants congregate for a two hour gardening lesson with Joe, NFI’s incredible Garden Educator who is both an encyclopedia of a naturalist and a talented humorous story-teller.
Though I could honestly listen to Joe tell me about soil health, vegetable history, and the importance of mulch all day long, today after our drizzly lesson my chill had reached a point where I thought about casually mentioning to Jenn that we come back another day to finish the weeding. But no, we had put it off long enough, and there was the ego factor: we couldn’t look like lazy cop-out gardeners in front of our fellow Kitchen Garden Education classmates! And the truth was, frozen fingers or not, this was probably the most fun I had had in a long time.
“You know,” I joked to Jenn as I picked back up my hoe, “maybe next time we should all just pitch in and hire a horse-drawn plow to dig up all the grass at the beginning of the season.”
“I think this is part of their strategy though” our plot neighbor chimed in, a young woman who was impressively tackling the care of her plot on her own. Most of the gardeners I saw at the plots around me were in families, tag-teaming and partnering up on the hard jobs. “They want us to really get in touch with the land, feel the effort it takes to grow food.”
And she was probably right. Joe started our class that day by having all the new gardeners share something that had surprised them thus far about the experience. I felt my heart go out to each budding farmer as we went around the circle. Something about learning to work the land side by side is such an earnest endeavor, it bonds you to your neighbor. I love the community of the other gardeners at the Fort Totten farm. We seem to represent all different backgrounds and ages, but we’re all bending and pulling and patting at the soil, all of us getting sweaty and muddy and sprayed with water, sharing the hoses and shovels and exchanging that shy and happy smile that says “look what we’re doing, isn’t it awesome!” (Hopefully I won’t be changing my view on all this feel good comradery once our plants are tall and casting unwanted shade on each others plot…but I don’t think so!)
“I was surprised how much I thought about my garden during the week” one gardener shared. “I even woke up in the middle of the night from weeding dreams!”
I said: “I’m most surprised how different it feels to be farming in the earth, not a box. I’m so used to gardening in raised beds in the city, it just feels like a totally different experience to be cultivating the land under your feet.”
And I have to think: if I’m already this attached to a bare plot of soil, I can only imagine what it will be like as things start to grow!