Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Commuting Gardener

For the second year in a row, I’m gardening at the Mamie D. Lee community garden by the Fort Totten metro station. Having my own organic garden has probably been my longest-running dream (it was always part of the dream that it would be organic). I remember playing “farm” in the backyard as a kid and telling high school dates that I wanted a garden.  Middlebury had an organic garden that you could volunteer in, but for whatever reason I never did. After college, though, I followed that dream to Turkey to go WWOOFing on two organic farms. It was definitely one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, and it gave me a real-life taste of farming.

Last summer, back in DC with time and a little income to spare, I dove right in. I took an awesome class at the Mamie D. Lee garden through an organization called the Neighborhood Farm Initiative. In biweekly classes, they walked us through all the steps of creating a garden, and they supplied us each with a 12x12 plot, compost and wood chips, seeds and seedlings, straw and bamboo. They set up an irrigation system so you didn’t even have to worry about watering. It was great to have all that information and support as I jumped into gardening... and now I am totally, totally obsessed.

This year, I’m flying solo with my own 12x24 plot – twice as large as last year! During the class, I didn’t have to do much supply gathering. So this year has come with lots of start-up work – clearing the plot of cover crops and turning the soil, hauling compost from Lowe’s, buying seedlings. My dad provided the car and the sweat equity to transport the compost (thanks Dad!), but since then, I’ve been schlepping my garden supplies and my baby seedlings by public transit. (As I was struggling through the turnstile on the way to the garden from Home Depot, a Metro employee struck up a conversation about my jalapeno seedlings and whether I was planting too late in the season. It was fun to talk shop, but not a good time, dude.)

Growing your own food is a pretty magical thing. Like every other yuppie/hipster, I hate that so much of our food is trucked from so far away and grown with so many chemicals, and I love that my actions can make a (very) small difference. My only carbon footprint will come from carrying the vegetables back on the metro to my apartment, the same route I came with them as seedlings.

Community gardening definitely some drawbacks—when I got my plot this year, it was full of trash and garden junk, including some buried sunglasses. And I look forward to having a house one day and gardening in my own yard. It would be awesome to walk out my back door with a cup of coffee to check on my plants, or to plant strawberries and asparagus and invest in summers future.

But mostly, I love the community aspect. In addition to the trash in my plot, there were also beautiful strawberry plants producing beautiful strawberries, along with garlic and mint and lettuce, all planted by a previous plot-holder and now being eaten by me. There are wheelbarrows, compost bins, and other tools on-site. If I ever need help, there’s lots of support from a diverse group of gardeners much more knowledgeable than me. It’s pretty cool to be part of a diverse space growing food sustainably in the nation’s capital.

Now that I have some knowledge and experience under my belt, I am excited to learn from my past mistakes and to see what I can grow this year. I am so excited to see what this summer in the garden will hold.

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