I wish I could afford to buy organic produce.
Dealing with chronic fatigue and digestive issues while living in a trailer park and mothering a toddler and a four-year-old, I was trying to revamp my approach to my health. Obviously, money and personal capacity were limiting factors. This was no fairy tale kingdom.
I wish I had a backyard where I could plant a garden to grow organic food. I could afford that.
I looked out my window and realized that, while I didn’t have space for a full, in-ground garden, I could probably manage a few raised beds. Still, I wanted more than that. Unsatisfied, I brainstormed. If I wanted a garden myself, maybe more of my neighbors would also be interested in a garden. What about a community garden in the trailer park’s common area?
Dare to Ask
I approached the trailer park management to ask if I could have a section of the grassy common area for a community garden. The office manager was skeptical about being able to get approval from the park owners. Then she remembered an unused space in the center of one group of mobile homes. “The owners probably won’t go for it… but I can ask them if you want.” Of course I wanted!
What was I thinking?!
Looking back, I wonder why I thought I could do this. I don’t have a green thumb, and I know very little about gardening at all. I also didn’t have any idea how much work it would actually require to coordinate all of this. I personally had none of the knowledge or resources to facilitate an agricultural venture. Maybe I should have been a little less confident. However, innocently optimistic, I boldly assumed I could handle it.
Strong Mama Side Note
I think I learned this confidence from my mom. When she wants to accomplish something, she shrugs and makes it happen. I recall as a kid driving with her to track down gymnastics equipment for an inner city school. I’m also proud to remember that, more recently, she emailed the management at a local exercise club with her idea to initiate a program that would keep trainers employed during COVID.
So, according to what I learned from my mom… of course my big ideas are possible!
Persistence Pays Off
When the park owners delayed in getting back to me, I drafted an email using my best English major skills and sent it to them. I cited research about the benefits of community gardens – everything from the development of healthier physical habits in individuals to the facilitation of strong social ties and resilient mental health to the increase in property value of surrounding real estate. I detailed my plans for finding funding and described how I would coordinate involvement and maintenance. I kept pestering the front office until I got my answer.
The owners gave permission for the garden, as long as the neighbors whose homes directly backed up to the proposed garden space agreed to it. Nervously, I knocked on every one of those doors and explained what I was up to. No one objected. Some even asked for their own garden beds!
Drafting a Team
Through the winter and early spring months, I made plans. I soon came to grips with the fact that there was no way I could make this happen on my own! I needed to find other people who could offer the skills, resources, and know-how that I lacked. Sure enough, the heroes turned up! My pastor (also a genius handyman) helped me draw up plans for the size of the garden beds and the layout. My home gardener friend advised me on how to orient the garden to receive the most sun. My church’s father/son service troop offered donations and volunteered labor.
Local businesses also showed up amazingly! A building supply store offered discounted raised garden beds, made from reclaimed lumber. A financial group awarded a grant for purchasing the beds and supplies. A recycling and soil center donated quality soil for the beds and wood chips for the pathways. “Just give me a watermelon from the garden, and we’ll call it good,” the big-hearted owner chuckled.
Then there were the neighbors. I made flyers to post on the community notice board, asking residents to contact me if they wanted to claim a garden bed. I also knocked on many doors, inviting neighbors to join the effort. One man even offered his hose spigot as the water source for the whole garden! He didn’t request reimbursement, but I collected donations from all the garden members to thank him for sharing his water. Finally, all seventeen raised beds had been claimed by my neighbors!
The big day for setting up the garden arrived in March of 2020… and so did COVID! We were uncertain of whether it was going to be feasible to construct the garden at all. However, in April, brave volunteers from my church showed up on a chilly morning to make a miracle happen. Dirt was delivered and garden beds were assembled. It was all topped off by a garden arbor built by my dad and a patio set purchased from Facebook Marketplace with a portion of the donated funds.
Take a Look at That!
What an amazing feeling, stepping back to see what had gone from a vacant lot to a community garden! An untended and ugly space was now filled with teamwork and potential for growth. Headed into the COVID crisis that would isolate us all, we were equipped with an outdoor space that celebrated connection. Plus, my trailer park community was handed health through access to organic food.
Veggies weren’t the only things growing – my confidence in my community and in my own tenacity had blossomed! So what if I didn’t know a thing about gardening? I began to wonder if perhaps my personal purpose has a lot less to do with me, and a whole lot more to do with inspiring other people to bring the fullness of who they are to fill barren places in the world. I gotta say – I think this kind of unity creates a community far better than any magical fairyland.
There’s a real-life happily ever after for ya!
WHO CAN YOU INSPIRE TO BECOME THEIR COMMUNITY’S HERO?
For more on gardening, check out some more inspiring, soil-based We Spot blogs!
Read all of Bethany’s blogs here.