There’s a whole other world out there. And it’s only two hours from here. Over the weekend, I went along with a group up to the Catskills. Our goal: do some good for others.
We piled into cars with snacks, duffle bags and garden tools. Here and there, a colorful pair of cotton gloves sprouted from a pocket or bag. It’s become an annual pilgrimage of sorts for this group to go up to Claryville and help plant a garden. Not a little backyard 4’ by 4’ — no, this is a huge community garden that provides a summer’s worth of fresh food for 35 families in the area.
It’s pretty amazing how quickly you move from urban to suburban and then to peaceful rural when you drive north. And I mean really peaceful, because there is no cell service in Claryville! At first the teens among us (ok, not only the teens) kept getting out their cells and trying, trying, trying for a bar or two. Nothing. One teen admitted that it was actually pretty scary.
Then, the phones got replaced with garden tools. Trowels, hoses, shovels and even a John Deere tractor provided by a local farmer. A Boy Scout troop showed up to help us. So did some families with toddlers in tow. Everyone pitched in.
Working together, we loosened last year’s soil, pulled weeds and picked out rocks. Some of us climbed on the tractor and learned how to drive well enough to go fetch a big scoop of mulch. Others kept picking weeds. Our backs got tired and our knees got sore. Kneeling is a tough posture to maintain for long!
And then it was time to plant. Have you ever tucked a small vegetable plant into the group and patted the soil gently around it, thinking of ripe tomatoes, snap fresh peas or glistening corn?
They don’t look like much when you pop them out of the crinkly plastic container. In fact, they reminded me of the oh-so-fragile neck of the newborn baby I’d held a few days before. But in a week or two, when the roots adjust, they’ll start to go crazy with growth. Leaves, shoots, then flowers and fruit.
In a few weeks, the radishes and spinach will be on someone’s plate. And a few weeks later, the beans, peas and carrots will proclaim they’re ready to be eaten. By August, people will biting into tomatoes that have a taste you simply can’t find at a grocery store. The pumpkins, broccoli and squash will produce well into the fall.
That’s a lot of food and nutrition.
Food for a lot of people who need it and wouldn’t get it if this community garden didn’t exist.
We were revived by a lunch cooked for us by three kind ladies from the church. We needed that, because after the plants went in, the next two steps had us back on our knees. Forever, it seemed.
“Spread newspapers all around each plant,” the coordinator guided us. “It keeps down the weeds. Less weeds means less work later and more food to share.” I was impressed when one creative woman found a way to actually read a few articles while she mulched! “And then, after the newspapers, pile loads of straw on top of each bed,” we were told.
It seemed like a recipe. Clean out the bed. Insert seed or seedling. Cover with newspaper. Top with layer of straw icing. Bake in full sun for two to eight weeks. Remove. Eat and enjoy.
We got the entire garden planted. Together. Working hard. For a purpose.
And did I tell you it’s a huge garden? But we got it planted before dark. When you work for a common goal with other like-minded people, time moves differently and your muscles don’t hurt as much. Or maybe they do, but it's a good hurt, like one of the group members said as we stretched our backs.
Gardening like this isn’t the normal daily activity for any of the people who went up from Scarsdale. No, daily life for the youngsters and teens who went on this trip is mostly indoors and revolves around schoolwork and activities in the Hudson Valley area. And for the adults, well, going into the city all dressed for the Financial District or midtown office is what’s more familiar. Probably similar to what's familiar for you too.
Like I said, it’s a whole other world out there. And it's only two hours away.
We did some good for others. And it did some good for us, too.
Except for an herb leaf or two, no one can eat from the garden yet. But for each of us who went last Saturday, the taste of making this trip together—to do some good for others—is already sweet.
Musings on life and relationships from Family Therapist Tamera Schreur