Saturday, November 5, 2011

Clean-up day builds community and compost


Everything we do in the American Family Community Garden seems to be a first. First planting, first weeds, first compost pile, first rabbit damage, first Japanese beetles. Autumn isn't without its firsts either: first frost, first person to decide not to garden next year, and first time to clean the garden beds and community areas. (lots of photos below)

While gardeners were welcome to clean out their personal plots at any time, we planned three community clean-up days when we could work at the same time, get to know one another, and do some community work together. Several people from our small garden committee volunteered to organize work parties during the second community cleanup day, Saturday, Oct. 29. We had three main things to do: weed the common paths, move a compost pile, and winterize the rain barrels. In my opinion, there was an even bigger task to do, start building community among a rather disparate group of gardeners.


Jay and I arrived around 8:45 a.m., and there were already people digging weeds out of the paths. Our thin layer of mulch was no match for the surrounding weed pressure, and at first, the weeding task was ominous. I had previously joked with my fellow committee members that I was going to sneak out to the garden at night and spray the weeds with Roundup.


However, as the morning sun rose, more people arrived and before I knew it there were people in different parts of the garden weeding and carting compost. Jay and I had more than three things to do to get our plot ready for winter and next spring: restake the bed boards; clean out the old plant materials, amend the bed with ash and horse manure, fill any remaining space with compost, and plant the garlic.


Jay pulling marigolds and me pulling tomato cages.

While Jay and I worked on the bed, I looked up once in awhile to see the weeding crews moving down the paths, the compost pile getting smaller and the picnic table get loaded up with snacks. Eventually I started to get self-conscious that we hadn’t yet put effort into the community work, so Jay and I left our project, grabbed spades and joined a weeding party in the fruit tree area.


We chatted with people and dug out the thistles and other weeds that had crept in from the field around our garden. We talked about our successes and challenges of the summer, remarked on the absolutely splendid day we had for working outdoors, proposed various ways to ensure the weeds aren’t as much of a problem next year and got to know one another better.


My cousin Tracy arrived with her small sons. She works at a General Electric plant in Madison, and is helping expand a community garden there, so she wanted to see what our garden was all about. Fortunately, the two women who spearheaded our community garden efforts were both working in the garden and I introduced them to Tracy so they could talk shop. I knew it was a successful introduction when I saw them exchange business cards.


I am pleased and delighted with the number of people who came to help in the garden. At one point, I counted 14 people, though I think the total number was higher because people came and went all morning and into the afternoon. I attempted to say hello to every person and to thank them for helping as they departed.


When one of my coworkers departed, I said something like “It was nice to have you here,” to which he replied (in jest, I need to add), “Why? Because I was doing something moderately social?” Fair enough, you wouldn’t call this particular fellow “Mr. Social,” but no, the reason I was glad to have him, and all the other gardeners there on a Saturday morning, was because they contributed to one half of the formula that makes up a community garden. The gardening for the year was done, but we were all there for the community. Very very cool.