The time is 6:30. AM. I’m en route to my local community garden for the monthly workday. Armed with my coffee, water jug, work boots, bug spray, sunscreen, washcloth, gloves (light & heavy duty), headband, and my favorite weeding tool, the anticipation grows. We start real early in the summertime months (7:00am). We have to. It’s going to be 102 today, with a heat index of 110.
We all start rolling in and gathering in the central shaded pavilion. The “regular” gardeners, about 12-20 of us, are joined by spouses, family members, Junior League of Plano members, and a few prospective plot owners. We are also joined by two to three dozen young adults, mostly still in high school, who have signed up through the city to volunteer as part of their school, college entry, or other credit requirements.
By 7:30 we’re receiving our marching orders from the coordinators and set out to divide and conquer. The primary goal of today is to mulch around the garden’s plots, common areas and perennial flower beds. Other tasks include turning the compost piles, topping off plots with compost and soil blend, mending plot fences, tree pruning, weeding, and of course, watering. We take frequent breaks to hydrate ourselves and snack on the food donated by generous contributors. I personally enjoy the coffee cake and brownies the most. Since I ate breakfast at 5am, by 9 my stomach is reminding me I’m running on “E”.
Another activity that is an integral part of the community garden is our steadfast donations of produce to the local food pantries. As the manager of two plots, I am committed to donate at least 50% of what gets harvested. As I look to our “weighing station”, several people are scrambling to clean and bag up a hugh amount of Swiss chard (mostly from myself), lettuce, squash, tomatoes, melons, and basil; in time to drive it over to the pantry before they close for the weekend.
Don’t get me wrong… it’s not all about the back-breaking work and that feel-good feeling of doing a great deed for the community. One of the gardeners I admire most is asking me about her peppers as I fight the sweat from stinging my eyes. She shares a great tip with me on tomatoes. One I’ve never heard of in almost a decade of growing them.
When I’m amongst my fellow community gardeners, I’m in “sponge mode”. That is, I always have an open ear ready for that next valuable tip or opinion on why a certain veggie did or didn’t do well. You can’t help but learn a lot from being around folks who share your passion and are into it as much (or more) than you are. I must admit, though, that it’s humbling being one of the few “dudes” around.
I look at my watch to see that the workday is officially done, at 10:00am. I’m panting from moving several wheelbarrow-full loads of wood mulch to their new home, right by the herb bed. As I walk with my pitchfork to the tool shed, I exchange words with a couple of gardeners on the subject of what the rest of the weekend had in store for them.
Speaking of fellow gardeners, I’d like to conclude this piece with some words from these same good folks. Enjoy as they share thoughts on what community gardening means to them.
“Community gardening is a fascinating concept. We all need to eat in order to survive, but organic community gardening provides kale, carrots, tomatoes and sweet potatoes that brim with vitamins and all other essential nutrients that help us thrive. This year, I am delighted to chair the Junior League of Plano’s Plano Community Garden Committee and learn more from the Master Gardeners while working in the dirt, getting my hands dirty and knowing that part of the produce goes to those that appreciate it.”
“By joining and working in the Plano Community Garden I get good exercise, really good vegetables, and helps me give back to the food bank. I have also met some really nice people there. I also keep learning new things.”
“I live in an apartment and therefore can’t garden at home. Maintaining a plot at the community garden has allowed me to continue my hobby.”
“The first requirement for joining a community garden should be your desire and ability to do all the required work necessary to maintain a plot, plant vegetables, fertilize, water and harvest them on a timely basis. Second, the desire to be involved with your local community on a voluntary basis. Third, the ability to socialize and share ideas with fellow gardeners.”
“Gives me a reason to get out and get dirty.”
“Being a part of the community garden is a great opportunity to work side-by-side with people of all ages. The big tasks like mulching and weeding get done in a single day and the time passes quickly as we chat and work together.”
“I wanted to start a vegetable garden and happened to discover the group. What an opportunity to learn from others while helping your local community at the same time. It’s a no-brainer!”
“It gets me out of the house to be with like-minded green thumbs. Even my kids enjoy helping.”