Mrs. Brenda Brodie is a co-recipient of the 2014 Duke University Chapel Humanitarian Service Award. She writes here about the blessings and benefits of community gardening. Brenda has been a significant voice for the development of community gardening spaces in Durham. She is the co-founder and former board chair of SEEDS.
December 16, 2014
Community gardens are green spaces bubbling out from rubble. They are rays of hope amid abandonment and disinvestment. These city lots are often left until a lone gardener picks up the debris and a shovel. Then a transformation begins one seed at a time, one gardener at a time. Slowly a supportive place is created where families and friends, strangers and even homeless can gather. For the first time many of these folks discover how wonderful it is to grow their own food, and to have the capacity to share their vegetables with others. Community gardeners become more physically active and their nutrition improves.
The Garden of Eden is the first account of a garden in God's creation. This wonderful pairing of food and goodness is reflected in community gardens where members combine their artistry, food producing skills, and stories. A garden is a hopeful sign for the future for you plant something with the expectation of growth, and become more sensitive to nature's subtleties. A garden fosters and supports people who are trying to improve and build stronger communities. There are many benefits—social, psychological, physical, and spiritual—as people find harmony with nature. A community garden is a very local, low visibility thing across the world, a sort of revolution. There is a lot of hard work involved—planning, physical labor, grant writing, and outreach—but when people are engaged and come to know each other, change can really happen.
In community gardens we watch growing and dying and harvesting... they mirror us in lots of ways. As plants are nurtured, people are nurtured while observing their growth. The garden can become a home, a place where one can share one's cultural heritage. Nelson Mandela in his autobiography talks about the garden he had at the prison on Robben Island. When he worked in his garden, he felt essentially free. Many others have found such sustenance in the beauty of a garden.
Community gardens help people to organize, learn, and act in ways that increase their capacity to withstand change and uncertainty, through nurturing cultural diversity, through creating activities for civic participation, and through fostering learning from all types of knowledge.
The psalmist said it best, "O taste and see..." Sun ripened fruit picked from the garden, and shared with passers-by is a way to recruit new volunteers. An invitation to eat together, no matter how simple the meal, is a time for empathy, a time for generosity, a time to communicate, and a time to nourish body and soul. Food is precious, and must never be taken for granted.
As a New York city gardener said, "I get down on my knees to weed, and before I know it, I'm praying." May there be more prayerful community gardening.