Two questions, closely related, but not the same:
What’s a community garden?
What’s a garden community?
So, what IS a community garden? I suppose it’s a garden that, in some sense, belongs to a community rather than belonging to a private individual or organization.
In what sense CAN a garden belong to the community? There is the legal sense. This requires that the community form itself into a legally recognized organization and that that organization, in turn, owns the land on which the garden is created. But, legal ownership of the land is not necessary nor sufficient. The land can be donated, and it need not be donated to anyone or any group in particular. It need only be made available.
Gardens require labor. This IS necessary. Where does that labor come from? Why, from the community. People donate their labor to the garden, creating the beds, planting, weeding, watering, aerating, and harvesting. Where do the fruits go, the vegetables, flowers, herbs, and, yes, fruits? To the community.
And so it is with the Lafayette Community Learning Garden in Jersey City, NJ. While is has been organized out of the Morris Canal Community Development Corporation, MC CDC doesn’t own the land. The land has been donated, if only for a couple of years, by a local developer. Local businesses provided materials, supplies, food and drink on work days, and plants. The community itself has been providing the labor. Some people knew about the garden before ground-breaking and signed up ahead of time. Others pitched in when they saw things happening.
As for the fruits of the garden, some people have already been harvesting vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Just a bit. The plan is for children see the harvest to people in the community at a nominal rate. This teaches business skills to the young folks while providing some fresh produce for local residents.
The real fruit, of course, is the community itself, in the relationships created among neighbors who don’t really know one another, and in guidance and inspiration provided for the future, the community’s youth.
And so we arrive at our second question: What IS a garden community? Why, it is the community brought into being through the garden. People can live in the same neighborhood, on the same block, even in the same building, without knowing one another. The garden is a place where people can meet and mingle.
Not only with one another, but with the garden itself. With the plants, of course, the onions and the peppers, collard greens and corn, the blueberries and petunias, the cabbage and cilantro, the potatos and tomatoes, but also the weeds. They grow in the garden too, and must be taken out. And the grape vines.
Oh yes, the grape vines. While we planted some grapes in the garden, there’s wild grapes growing in the lot next door and they’re growing over the wall—they’re all over the place in this town! The muralists even incorporated them into the mural, see the trees in the middle of the wall:
But they keep growing and growing, they’ve even reached in to the garden and wrapped their tendrils around some of the plants there. So we’ve had to cut them back, both to protect our plants, but also to keep the mural visible, the purple dragon in particular.
The plants have been chosen and planted to be mutually compatible. Harmony. Synergy.
And bugs, spiders, and worms too. They live in the garden as well. Some are helpful to the plants, others not, others have the same interest in the plants as we do: they eat them. Yum! Yum! And the squirrels, they too have an interest in the garden, which is not the same as our interest.
So the garden is a negotiation among plants, insects and animals, and people. And lots of microbes. We can ‘t see them, but they’re there. They’re vital. All of these are part of the garden community, a community of human and nonhuman creatives.
We city folk need garden communities more than ever. We’ve lost touch with the earth. We think food grows in cans, boxes, and plastic packages. It doesn’t. We need to know that, not as abstract knowledge found in books, or online. But as dirt under our fingers, sun beating on our skin, and in the satisfaction of labor well done.
This is all the more important as global climate chaos and oil depletion come ever nearer. But that’s another story, an important one, but one for another day.