Growing Food Grows Us
Last week I had a wonderful and unexpected visit. An intern who worked with me in the summer of 2015 was in town visiting his family and took the time to get together with me. Lucas was a high school senior when we met at Chicago’s Good Food Festival – a celebration of gardeners, farmers, food justice groups and businesses concerned with providing healthy food for all. He and I were in a presentation together on urban farming, and we wound up in the same breakout group. Lucas was seeking summer work in an urban farm and I was seeking an intern. A match was born.
Luc, as he is now called, worked with me that spring and summer until his schedule took him off to college, where he went to study urban farming. We taught each other, as happens with all of my interns. I learned from him about companion planting, soils and composts. While he gleaned practical knowledge in the growing of food, our shared values that root our work were a continual topic of conversation. Our reasons for growing food are similar: we are both concerned about poverty and the lack that so many people face. Each individual on this great planet has the right to enough food and enough healthy food. Addressing this issue is an expression of both equity and justice. We both have a strong concern for our planet’s future as well. Ensuring that our children and grandchildren inherit an Earth that has green spaces and blue sky, with fresh, potable water and soil that has enough nutrients to pass along to us in the foods we harvest from are part and parcel of each of our visions. Then there is the element of caring for the strata that care for us – we tend the land that provides our very sustenance.
It’s been over a year since Luc began his university program. We’ve kept in touch during this time mostly through Facebook; he filled me in on college classes and summer internship work, and I kept him up to date on the evolution of In the Gardens. Last week, however, was our first in-person reunion since he went off to college. It was fun. I have seen him grow and change; he has matured in himself and has already mastered a great deal of learning. Yet his spirit is the same – his generosity, his warmth, his passion for growing food and his concern about sustainability remain consistent, if not more fervent.
We worked outside first repairing a deer fence – wow, was it cold! – and then came indoors to process harvest. Dill and mint were dry and ready to be cleaned and bottled; seeds and beans likewise had dried and were ready to be separated from their hulls and pods, then packaged to be planted next spring. Something that surprises me over and over again is just how much we harvest each season. And this is what is left after donations to the food pantry and other communities facing need.
We talked as we worked, exploring the best ways to remove the herbs and seeds, while filling each other in about where we’ve been and what’s next. I shared with Luc about forming the nonprofit and updated him in on the interns that worked with In the Gardens this year. He told me about garden projects he worked on last year and those he is planning for this coming year, and his experience working in the largest wildflower garden in Minnesota.
What I came away with was more than the joy of seeing an old friend and employee. It was the beauty of appreciating an individual on his path, seeing him grow and develop as he continues his studies. It was a moment of recognizing that each of the individuals who comes to work with In the Gardens has brought something to our growth and unfolding and has been enhanced by their time interning here. When it comes down to it, more than the plants we seed, this is the true work – the work of growing ourselves and helping to grow one another.