Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bookshelf: Grassroots Gardening by Donna Schaper

This week I've been reading Grassroots Gardening: Rituals for Sustaining Activism by Donna Schaper. Schaper is a minister and urban gardener who gardens for cheap entertainment, to maintain good health, and to bring communities together. She also gardens because she must: a day without gardening is a bad day.

My favorite quote from the book: "I see no point in living in a world where you can get a bad tomato 24 hours a day." Amen!

What the book has me thinking about: As a society, we've forgotten about "waste not, want not." As a society, we are wasteful. We waste people, we waste resources, we waste ourselves. We let kids slip through the cracks and into lives of crime, illiteracy, and poverty. We'd rather hire a crew to care for our lawns while we pay to go to an air-conditioned health club. We sit (and allow our children to sit) in front of computers, televisions, and video games for way too many hours while our lives slip by, when we could be creating: creating strong families, creating beautiful gardens, creating educated minds.

Schaper goes out of her way to package her coffee grounds and egg shells and drop them off at a community compost collection point. She carries her "compost to Union Station." And she marvels at how few of her fellow New Yorkers do the same. Can you image how much waste could be diverted out of New York City's garbage every day and how rich the community gardens could be? It boggles my mind.

Now, I'm a composter and a bit of a shameless scavenger. I'm the mom who hauls the banana peels home from the Girl Scout camp-out for my roses. I bring home the coffee grounds when there's a meeting in my library. I sometimes bag my apple core from lunch to take home for composting. But Schaper has inspired me to new heights of hauling it home. I've begun packing an empty plastic container in my lunch bag each day to collect the leavings from my lunch, just so that I'm not tempted to trash it because I'm in a hurry or don't want to waste a zippered plastic bag. Waste not, want not!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cantelopes and Okra

Yesterday's lunch was a celebration of the rain that awoke us in the early morning hours. Two inches of rain in August -- everyone feels better now. I was tempted to do a rain dance as I listened to the rain pound our roof -- not a dance to summon rain, but one of thanksgiving. Walking through the gardens in the mid-morning, my daughter and I could hear the plants around us giving a sigh of relief. The dog was frolicing more than usual. The lawn was turning greener before our very eyes. The cats, well the cats didn't really care.

Soon I was wading into the vegetable garden to pick five ripe canteloupes. (My commitment to daily gardening kind of fell through this first week of school, the hardest week in the year for teachers.) Some were beginning to split -- perhaps all the water after being dry? -- so I cut them up for lunch and sent one next door to Pearl, our octogenarian neighbor. The okra was begging to be cut, so we had fried okra to go with the cantelope, as well as tomatoes and cucumbers. Lunch was fit for a king!


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Packin' Water

My mother grew up during the Great Depression and came of age during the rationing of World War II. I grew up on a cotton and soybean farm, a farm where Daddy used modern farming techniques to farm hundreds of acres, much like most of my friends' fathers did. But my mother was different. She had the requisite vegetable garden, but she also milked a cow twice a day and churned butter and gathered eggs and butchered chickens from her own chicken yard. My friends thought I lived some kind of Little House on the Prarie existence. I thought the cows and chickens were OK, but I couldn't wait to escape the frugality. So what do I find myself doing thirty years later? I'm packin' water.

Mother always saved her dishwater during the dry months and watered flowers and trees. (She also reused plastic wrap and marshmallow bags, but that's another story.) I thought she was nuts. Why didn't she just water with a hose like other people? Well, she did, but she never wasted the dishwater, either. She has told me many times how that the only two trees in our yard to survive the drout of 1955 were the two that she packed water to. (I've also never understood why she "packed" water to trees. Everything else she just carries.)

So what am I doing now when the summers get dry? I'm saving that dish water to water trees in our "woodlot." I've also been known to save my bath water. My husband thinks I'm crazy, but he loves me. My daughter (who's not yet old enough to think I'm crazy), thinks it's great fun to haul the water down the paths in her red wagon and water trees. And I now know that Mother wasn't nuts. But her home extended beyond the walls of her house, just like mine does. And at age 83, she's still gardening for life.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Why I'm Gardening for Life

I've been gardening for 20 years, but this year everything has shifted for me. Gardening has become a way of aligning my choices with my values. I'm now gardening for Life.

Whose life?
The life of the planet -- It's a small contribution, but I'm redesigning my gardens to minimize my family's dependence on foods that aren't locally grown.

The life of the animals we share the planet with -- My husband and I made the decision to naturalize a segment of our 2 1/2 acres two years ago, to buffer our home from the increasing traffic on the county road in front of our home, to give the area wildlife a breather, and to decrease the emissions from our lawn-mowing. It's more work than I expected. Keeping the invasive species in check so that a balanced woodland of native species can grow is proving to take lots of time and effort.

The life of my community -- I'm sharing from my garden more than before, with my neighbors and friends, to strengthen those vital community relationships. I'm asking more questions of my octagenarian neighbor with years of gardening and life wisdom.

The life of my family -- The fruits and vegetables I grow are fresher, tastier, and lots more fun. My daughter loves to help harvest, and that time spent outside is so much better for her than "screentime." Christmas gifts from the garden -- this year wild grape jelly -- help her understand that gift-giving (and life) is about more than buying and consuming.

My life -- I've made daily gardening a priority. Why drive to a gym to exercise in an air-conditioned room when I can get fresh air, exercise, solitude, an outlet for creativity, time for prayer, closeness to the earth, and a mental health boost while I work to benefit my planet, its animals, my community, my family, and myself? It's a win-win situation.

So, this blog will be about gardening as a way of Life, with occasional forays into other areas.