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.