What Wants to Grow, Will Grow

I first participated in food-growing in 1998, at the Reevis Mountain School of Self-Reliance. That August, I stripped “Green Ice” seeds from bolting lettuce, picked figs, gathered cucumbers that looked like lemons. For the next eleven years or so, I helped others grow food, never fully understanding the decisions they made, or bearing responsibility for my mistakes. Then, in 2009, I designed, installed, and tended two gardens of my own, in Manhattan: one on the roof of a shipping container at Revolution Rickshaws (my husband’s business, which used to occupy a storefront across the street from one of the Lincoln Tunnel’s many mouths), the other a few blocks away in our light-starved, concrete-covered, ghost of a backyard. In 2011, when we moved to Brooklyn, we gained sun and space; for four years we tended an explosion of green, yielding lots to eat.

These home gardens were sort of a joint project; my husband and I did collaborate on major improvements (like procuring a truck-load of organic compost granting us the revelation of soil abundance); he did keep the plants alive, and the food harvested, when I wasn’t around. But mostly, I gardened alone. By the time we were ready to leave Brooklyn for Beacon, in March 2015, growing food at home had morphed from joy to chore. So I found homes for our soil, beds, tools, planters – and grieved only a little, that spring, when I saw seeds sprouting, starts filling out, in others’ beds. Soon enough, I found new outlets for my inner peasant: volunteering at Common Ground Farm, and fruit-hunting all over town (I found black-cap raspberries, mulberries, juneberries, wineberries, apples, pears, peaches, grapes – even a local persimmon, with a bite out of it, on somebody’s fence). Working at the farm returned conviviality to food-growing; gathering fruit reminded me that abundance doesn’t always reward hard work – sometimes it springs from willingness to notice, receive, and be grateful. Neither pursuit required that I labor long hours alone, or stay chained to the hose.

This past winter, we moved into a house. Acquired a homestead. Yet I’ve felt no desire to cultivate annual crops (my husband has – he’s getting a chance to make decisions, observe results). Instead, I’ve enjoyed watching – and eating – what’s arisen unbidden: amaranth, oxalis, lamb’s quarters, ground cherries. Soon we’ll harvest gooseberries (but not strawberries or raspberries) from plants a friend gave us; I’m glad to know that one plant is happy where it is, tending itself. The other two may bear next year. Or croak.

While neglecting our berries in Beacon, I was, for a couple hours a week, tending the garden attached to the Earthaven neighborhood where I was staying. Yes, the old bewilderment arose – what am I doing? and why? – but also the trust that I’d understand eventually, with greater investment, in the ripeness of time.

If you liked this post, you’ll love my memoir, Mating in Captivity, in which my twenty-two-year old self enters a cult with a radical take on sex and relationships. Learn more here.

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