Written by Laura Lea Rubino, Team Coordinator, Team Maine
Before showing up for the start of Climate Summer I was unsure of what to expect for my upcoming two-month adventure. I knew I would be riding a bike, and I knew I would be speaking about climate change, but I did not know that I would end many of my days with dirt underneath my fingernails and a farmer’s tan that was the real deal. When people ask our team what sort of activities we do from week to week we say that it really depends on the town. And though our weeks do vary depending on the local climate (no pun intended) surrounding the issues we are covering, one thing we have done in every place is work in a community garden.
We have gardened up a storm this summer and had a lot of fun in the process. Along with endless hours of pulling dandelions, amaranth, and clover by the roots, I have planted seeds, propped tomato plants with homemade trellises of string, and mulched yards upon yards of garden paths. Much of our work in gardens has occurred in midday sun and 90-degree heat. I have left gardens with blisters on my hands and dirt smeared across my face, but I cannot complain about the hours spent in these plots bursting with life and color. This is work that must be done, and I am excited to see how popular of a project this has become.
Community gardens are so much more than a place where delicious food is grown and harvested. While these convenient little plots of land do provide sustenance for countless individuals and families, there is a spirit of goodness embedded in the concept of locally tended gardens and it makes me want to support them in any way I can. I am currently reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barabara Kingsolver in which a captivating and humorous account of her family’s valiant effort to live completely off their own land is given. Kingsolver’s husband Steven Hopp has several informational excerpts sprinkled throughout the pages of the book covering topics from CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) to the dangers of chemical fertilizers. In one of his pieces titled “Dig! Dig! Dig! And Your Muscles Will Grow Big,” Hopp describes the many things a community garden can accomplish: “In addition to providing fresh local produce, gardens like these serve as air filters, help recycle wastes, absorb rainfall, present pleasing green spaces, alleviate loss of land to development, provide food security, reduce fossil fuel consumption, provide jobs, educate children, and revitalize communities.” I guess the better question to ask is what do community gardens not do?
I have personally witnessed gardens filling all of the aforementioned roles this summer, and for these reasons and more I am a firm believer that community gardens need to be everywhere. Initiatives like Lots to Gardens in Lewiston and Cultivating Community in Portland are prime examples of organizations that have helped diverse community populations undergo positive transformations. Local, small-scale gardening has the potential to fundamentally change the way Americans understand and obtain their food. If every home, school, community center, library, vacant lot and place of worship had a garden overflowing with organic and nutritious fruits and vegetables, we would be a nation much less reliant on fossil fuels and far more healthy and active. This is a better future that we all can, and should take part in building.