As we transition into the 10th week of the Family Garden Demonstration Pilot Project (FGDPP) we have seen leaves change to the many colors of the earth, temperatures drop low enough to see our breaths in conversation and Garden Soxx continue to grow steadily despite the unexpected cold winds.
With 10 weeks of experience caring for and maintaining their gardens, families have been learning a lot about what it means and what it takes to grow their own food in North Texas.
Avon and her husband used to plant rows of different vegetables, fruits and herbs in their backyard as a way to stay connected to their rural Texas upbringing. After her husband became ill and passed away, their garden became a mere loving memory as it became too burdensome to maintain on her own. With the FGDPP, the prospect of growing her own food again became a revival of those experiences toiling with the earth and a way to re-engage with her ability to plant and care for the growth of another breathing, living thing. To date, Avon has harvested 24 green beans, 10 radishes and 1 cup of cilantro during this fall planting season. While radishes are not her favorite, she was able to pass them off to the neighborhood kids who happen to be some of the only people I know who fervently eat radishes!
So what does it mean when an experienced gardener using the Garden Soxx in North Texas harvests a miniscule amount of food in one growing season, not nearly enough to supplement a single person’s food intake? It means that these gardens had more symbolic and unexpected positive consequences including: families reconnecting with historical and familial gardening knowledge that is often lost when one moves into an urban landscape, learning/honing in on new or rarely used gardening skills because low-income neighborhoods are less likely to own or have access to ample land for a garden, and teaching their young children through participatory action where food comes from and how to tend for another living thing that in turn gives us life. Communities were united and engaged in reciprocal learning as families included neighborhood children in the watering and maintenance of the gardens, families and communities (re)engaged in their faith by seeing the works of a higher being enact itself in the growth of the gardens, communities became stronger as they added another skill in their arsenal of self-determining tactics, and communities focused on capacity development in their (our) quest for social equity.
Springing forward, it also means that families utilizing the garden soxx need much more support and guidance throughout the gardening process than what was initially anticipated and that host organizations looking to expand the program into the spring season need to be very intentional about when they plant, where they plant, how they plant, what vegetables they plant and what systems and connections they have in place to help support the maintenance and the overall success of these gardens in improving families’ food security. The beauty of these gardens is that the soil can be used for up to 2 full years, leaving families with 3 more seasons to hone in their gardening skills and self-determine how they want to engage with food and health for their own families.
Final and in-depth recommendations on best practices in growing food in the Garden Soxx will be made available in late December/early January. Stay tuned.
This post was written and contributed to the blog by Wendy Ortiz, Emerson Hunger Fellow