Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Planting a vegetable garden in a violent neighborhood .

neighborhood where gang violence often turns deadly, planting a vegetable garden next to a basketball court right outside the local recreation center could be considered an exercise in futility. The naysayers abounded when the seedlings were put in the ground.
"That's the wrong place, they'll get trampled by the kids playing basketball." "The rats are going to eat all the vegetables, if anything grows." "In two weeks, this recreation center will have 500 kids coming in and out. The kids won't pay any mind to it and run all over it."
I have to admit I had my own doubts,
but they came after I'd committed to growing a garden with the seniors in the wellness class at the Columbia Heights Recreation Center. When the coordinator of Senior Activities of DPR asked us if we'd participate in DPR's Beautification Day, some of us agreed to plant and cultivate a vegetable garden. DPR provided the seedlings and some tools. We provided the grunt work of digging out a garden bed in an area we knew nothing about. We found a lot of rocks and roots, but we kept digging and created two garden beds.

The garden was planted in early June. It had a two-week head start before the kids showed up for summer camp. The garden also had a lot of rain early on. After the initial planting, there was no set schedule of who would water it. Some commitments made were not kept. We had the wellness class Tuesday and Thursday morning, so we used watering the garden as weight training exercise. Some seniors came more than twice a week and took it on themselves to water when they came.
The garden grew and grew, and grew a little wild because no-one staked the tomatoes until late in July, but they still grew, producing cherry tomatoes for almost two months and counting. Eggplants grew and are still growing. They didn't grow as big as they could have but they were picked before full growth. They're still trying to grow with pretty purple flowers harking the new one "coming out".
Growing gardens gives you lessons for the next time you grow one. Two lessons from this year's garden: The first: Don't it always seem to show that you don't know what you got til it grows. The second: Always stake up the tomatoes to keep them off the ground.

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