Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Training and Teaching, Gardening and Giving

Lettuce Link Intern Rhona got a chance to meet with Dorothy and Lar, two community giving gardeners.  

Meet Dorothy and Lar, both are lovers of all things outdoors, nature, and gardening. Growing up in Gilroy, California on an apricot prune farm with two hundred chickens and a cow, Dorothy was able to find an outlet for gardening in her current house, a quarter-acre plot of land she and Lar have worked and lived on for the past eight to nine years.

Having bought the land knowing they could fix the house, Dorothy and Lar worked intensively to make their quarter acre into the lush and plentiful garden it is today – one that yields over 130 pounds of produce a year, most of which is harvested to feed the family, to offer to the neighborhood, and to donate to Picardo Food Bank. Together, Dorothy and Lar have become strongly involved in their local community, getting people involved with growing their own food, and forming a seed-trading and garden-teaching program with friends and neighbors. In addition to providing a source of seeds and planting advice to the public, they have initiated a neighborhood Blockwatch, a neighborhood alert system connecting residents within a safety network, and been the head organizer of events such as Tuesday Night Out, the first Tuesday of every August when Lar and Dorothy roll rye, trade seeds, and invite policemen and firemen to come and talk about neighborhood safety.

As we walk through beds of potatoes, tomatoes, radishes, and zucchini, Dorothy points out each vegetable, making a checklist of things she has to do and things she already has done. Through her explanation the work seems to never end, and one can see the long and tedious process of turning residential land into farmland, the amount of effort put into breathing life into the soil and having sustainable food come out. Their job isn't easy, but their work is paying off year by year, leaving a deeper and deeper impact on the landscape of the neighborhood and the people of the community.

What follows is a piece by Dorothy herself on why she gardens:

“Why Do I Garden?”

By Dorothy Spencer

A friend came by and said, "Your always out in the garden." As I thought about this, I thought, "Not always." My life is full of activities shared with friends family and neighbors.

Why do I garden? Hmmmm...

I like the company of crows, intelligent critters who seem to sense I'm a friend. The dirt turns black and friable with care, welcoming seeds and plants. Dogs roll in my pesticide free grass, what little we have, and they eat it too. They rest happily in the shade as their owners trade seeds and plants with me, or we just graze on ripe fruits, vegetables and flowers.

Children are my small way to change the world, one person, one family at a time. Once they taste food warm from the sun, and sweet with the rich deep fresh picked flavor, they remember, get the growing bug, and get their families to garden too. One little boy came by with his family, gravely accepted sugar snap peas, then stood there holding them in his hand. When his Mom asked him why he wasn't eating them, he said, "Because I want to plant them." He said what was true for him. This
left me wondering how many more people garden because we do. A lovely synergistic thought.

I remember when I was a child in a family low on money. I was not able to have a second apple when I was hungry. This experience left me feeling empathy for families in need, so we now share our bounty with the food bank. Stories from people getting our food warm me and keep me growing.

It's the wonder of it. My husband, Lar laughs at my childish glee. Every spring, anticipation follows me around the yard as I look for favorite perennials to poke tender heads through the soil. "Look, look, it came up, there it is!" I get to be this delighted every year in the spring and through much of the growing season.

Alone, I lean on my hoe to rest and think about the next steps. I spent time early this year developing my own companion planting chart, including a rotation schedule. We compost food waste and greens, and make weed tea to fertilize our plants. This year, as each planting finishes its growing cycle, we mulch with cardboard, chips, fall leaves, and grass clippings. This slows down weeds and helps the ground hold moisture. In a few weeks, we can pull back the mulch, plant winter crops, and gardening gets easier for me for next year.

I like gardening. It feeds me in many ways. And I really like it being easier and more fun!

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