- Author: Rose Hayden-Smith
I've written a bit about gardening as an important part of civic engagement in American life. Not only in the past, as reflected in Victory Garden programs, but in contemporary American society. Programs such as The Food Project in Boston engage youth through gardening/urban agriculture, providing not only practical skills, but valuable life skills, as well. These kinds of efforts engage youth in creating a food future that is sustainable, healthy and just.
I call this "coming back out onto the front porch."
When I was a small child growing up in a bucolic community outside of Philadelphia, the return of warm weather each spring brought the screen door out from winter storage. The front door remained open nearly all summer, even late into the evening. The front porch was a favorite gathering spot. There, the business of the neighborhood, whether negotiating playdates, exchanging pleasantries or courting (I had older siblings) was transacted.
Each Fourth of July, our front porch became the staging ground for our family's participation in the neighborhood parade. In retrospect, it was a pretty simple thing: bikes, wagons and all the kinds of contraptions kids could create, decorated in red, white and blue. When I was five, I led the procession down our block, wearing a tall Uncle Sam hat. The day seemed to last forever, with lots of good food shared among neighbors (including tomatoes from our garden, salted watermelon, and incredibly sweet berries). Everyone came out onto their front porch to participate in the collective life of our block.
Two weeks ago, our CSA piloted delivery of our midtown Ventura produce boxes to my front porch. It was a great trial run. Two of the families to whom boxes were directed are close friends. The mother of the third family works at my daughter's school, and I know her. One box was to be claimed by a woman who is a friend of a friend. The other boxes were destined for individuals I had not previously met.
We left the front door open, and throughout the course of the late afternoon and into the evening, people dropped by to pick up the boxes. It was nice to say "hello," talk about the great food we had received, and just re-connect. Natalie and I stepped out onto the front porch into "deep community," where we shared with neighbors and new friends our intentional decision to participate in a different kind of consumption pattern.
Contents of our box included farm-fresh eggs, fresh-baked bread, lucious blackberries, fennel, carrots, potatoes, cherries, apricots, lettuce, squash, and the largest onions I've ever seen. Good stuff all. An extra box was left for sharing with neighbors and friends, and was distributed by early this morning. We had extra fennel...did a neighbor want it? No, but she'd call another neighbor and see if they did.
A lot can happen when we step out onto our front porch. Even more can happen when we move into our yards and garden.
Warmer weather provides a great opportunity to start a garden of some sort. Take advantage of the longer days, the slower pace, and reconnect with the soil. Grow something for yourself, something to share with a neighbor, or something to donate to a local food bank.
And after you've planted your garden, come onto your front porch, and see what happens. Community happens around gardens.
"A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."