Earlier this year I was commissioned to write an essay for a book on ethical eating and food in Jewish tradition. My assignment was to focus on community gardens, a topic of great importance to me. It was part of an interesting chain of events. A few months prior to taking on this task, I was offered the job of Social Responsibility Consultant for JCC Association with a focus on creating a community garden at every JCC around the country with a large portion of the produce going to emergency food providers (e.g., food banks, food pantries, etc…). In D.C. I met with a representative from the United States Department of Agriculture and discussed the USDA’s People’s Garden Initiative (which JCC Association signed on to as the first faith-based organization to support this initiative).
Around the same time, I saw a notice on the community garden across the street from my house in my Carroll Gardens neighborhood, announcing that a few coveted spots had opened up. It’s the same garden where I pick up my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share, but I didn’t realize that individuals could garden there. The woman in charge expressed concern about people in past years who hadn’t kept up with their gardens and they became eyesores. I began to get cold feet. We spend most weekends away in the summer and on top of that, I don’t have a great track record for tending to houseplants (that’s my husband’s domain), mainly because I can never keep up with the amount of watering they need. I considered not having my own plot, and instead for this first year, opting to help tend to the community plot. Realizing she hadn’t been very encouraging, she expressed that she had faith in me, and so I kept my plot. She still had her doubts and even shared them with another gardener—both of whom felt they had to give me a lot of start-up advice. Little did they know that prior to moving back to Brooklyn, I lived on hundreds of acres of farmland. That land was gentleman-farmed, but I did grow veggies and flowers before discovering the wonders of belonging to a CSA in Pennington, New Jersey (one of the first and largest in the country). Or, little did she know that my daughter (who assisted me with the initial creation of the garden) had interned at Garden of Eve Farm, on Long Island, our Brooklyn CSA farm. At any rate, a few weeks before Memorial Day, I was in possession of a raised bed and a coveted key to my secret garden.