Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Julie’s real community garden

Julie woke up at six this morning and drove over to the community garden where she’s taken over the plot rented by friends of ours who are too busy to garden there this summer full time. She’s helping out. Besides, our friends know how much gardening means to Julie, and have generously allowed her to work their land (they may be gardening some there this summer, I dunno; I’m the kitchen guy in our house, not the garden guy). She just came in, glowing — and not only from the morning sun.
“I met this great old hippie who’s got a plot near ours,” she said. “Love that guy. [Name]’s been working his plot for over 10 years. He gave me lettuce to transplant. He was hilarious about ‘these so-called locavores these days.’ He said, ‘They come out here in April, and they work so hard getting everything in the ground, and then come July, they go to Cape May for a couple of weeks. They come back and are like, ‘Oh NO, where did all these weeds come from?!””
Julie went on about a sweet young Brazilian gardener who gardens with his Bluetooth device jammed into his ear. He told Julie this was his first year at gardening, and he appreciated advice from the veteran gardeners. She shared some of the horse manure haul she had stockpiled on her plot, and told him how to use it. Sunday afternoon Julie was out there, and got to talking with an older black man from North Carolina who works the plot next to hers. They exchanged sympathetic views on food politics. “He’s like African-American Pawpaw,” Julie said to me, likening the gentleman farmer to my father, which Julie means as a huge compliment.
The other day, two little kids belonging to another of the community gardeners scampered by, and introduced themselves. Somebody said something about a Sunday morning activity, and Julie told them that we went to church on Sunday morning. “We go to church too!” one of the kids said, all excited.
Julie got a story this morning from one of the old-timers at the garden, about how a few years back, the gardeners were vexed by a stand of weeds on the outside of the fencerow, which had grown so thick and compacted that it served as a stepladder for the deer to climb over the fence and maraud in the garden. The garden’s fussy overseers at the time proposed organizing a committee to study the impact on wildlife for whom the weed thicket was a habitat. One commonsensical old lady reacted to that by asking all the gardeners who were there one day to “give me just five minutes of your time.” She organized the crew and they went down the fencerow, chopping all the weeds down. It was a populist insurrection that solved the problem.
So Julie tells me all this, and I say to her, “You’ve got a real community in that garden. If I were you, I’d write about it.”
“I really do have a community,” she said. “But I could never write about it. That’s you. Me, I have to be in the moment. You can’t help standing apart from it to observe it, and to process it through observation. I just want to enjoy gardening.”
True. I can’t turn it off. I’m always writing, even when I’m not writing. The only way to disengage the mechanism is through drinking. This is why writers drink.
By the way, the hippie graybeard lettuce guy sent a head of fresh-cut iceberg home with Julie the other day. We ate it that night for dinner. I had no idea at all that iceberg lettuce could taste so flavorful.

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Don Wiley

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:42 pm

The detail about the black man from NC reminds me of my wife’s friend in Erie, PA – also a community gardener. Turns out he hailed from the same town in Tennessee where we now live, His name was Calvin Johnson.

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The Sicilian Woman

posted May 31, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Trusting your opinion about Julie’s gardening talents, you each do your part well. Some of your writing that I enjoy most is your writing about food, from Julie’s gardening to your dining experiences (from simple meals at home to better meals out). Even though I am not a wine drinker, I like your posts about that topic as well.

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posted May 31, 2010 at 3:03 pm

“True. I can’t turn it off. I’m always writing, even when I’m not writing. The only way to disengage the mechanism is through drinking. This is why writers drink.”
That explains a lot.

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posted May 31, 2010 at 3:33 pm

“By the way, the hippie graybeard lettuce guy sent a head of fresh-cut iceberg home with Julie the other day. We ate it that night for dinner. I had no idea at all that iceberg lettuce could taste so flavorful.”
It’s all in the soil, friend. Freshness doesn’t hurt either.

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Rod Dreher

posted May 31, 2010 at 4:39 pm

That explains a lot.
Heh. It sure do. But nobody who actually wishes to get drunk would do so on $20 bottles of wine. At least nobody in my income category. I think St. Thomas Aquinas had the wisest counsel on alcohol usage: he said one should drink “to the point of cheerfulness,” but no further. Agreed!

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posted May 31, 2010 at 9:02 pm

the community garden sure sounds a lot like that “airy fairy multiculturalism”, doesn’t it?

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Betty Carter

posted May 31, 2010 at 10:05 pm

I hope she’s enjoying the good dirt up there! My brother from Lancaster County took a look at my garden (here in Alabama) and shook his head in disdain. He told me I should go gather composte from all my neighbors, but I thought about it and could only imagine them dumping their ash trays into biodegradable sacks.

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posted June 1, 2010 at 12:32 am

Believe it or not, iceberg lettuce (of which I eat large quantities) has natural opiates. Eating a head of lettuce will make you perceptibly drowsy- apparently the Romans used to use it as a sleeping aid.
But yeah, it can be surprisingly tasty. The white inner leaves are sweet enough that you can eat them without any dressing, which is much healthier.
I’m glad you are settling int to Philly well….minus the allergies…:(

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Scott Lahti

posted June 1, 2010 at 3:18 am

The cooking greens – beet, collards, dandelion, kale, mustard, Swiss chard, turnip – form far and away the single most vitamin-and-mineral-dense category of foods, and are unusual among vegetables in that most are as plant foods go relatively high in calcium. They are staples in the traditional diet of Okinawans, whose older generations have made the island famous for its unusually high proportion of centenarians, and unusually disability-free longevity.
Among the salad greens, chicory (aka curly endive) is also worth a shot, for it, too, is high in calcium, bested in that class only by arugula.

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Sharon Astyk

posted June 1, 2010 at 7:42 am

Yay for Julie, and for community gardens. I was just thinking this am, on the 9th anniversary of our arrival here in upstate New York that if there hadn’t been a three year waiting list for a community garden in the old mill city in MA we were living in, our story might be wholly different. I love community gardens – I envy my mother and step-mother their lack of land in a way, because they get so much from shared space. There are virtues to big chunks of your own dirt as well, but community gardens are special.

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Mary from Philly

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:03 am

Believe it or not, when our family first moved to Philadelphia, we were astonished to find out that the local grocery store was throwing away the turnip greens! For months, they gave them to my mum for nothing! But when she pointed out that they deserved to be paid for such good greens, they let her pay ten cents a bushel. Ah…1942…it was a good year.
I am so happy that Julie has found a community garden! Out here, west of the city, I know a lady who has all of her front and back yards in vegetables, with grape arbours screening her front porch, and she makes her own wine! She is also extremely generous in sharing her “extra” tomatoes. I love her to pieces! May God Grant Her Many Years!

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posted June 1, 2010 at 9:20 am

You and Julie (as well as your kids) would probably enjoy a day trip to Somerton Tanks Farm. Its a one acre, organic, inner city working farm in Philadelphia. We visited a few years ago, and were amazed at the amount of food two people could grow (and how much profit could be made as well). They sell both as a CSA and at farm markets. The farm is at the site of a couple of utility co. owned water tanks. Their website is:

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Mary from Philly

posted June 1, 2010 at 9:42 am

That sounds delightful, Matthew! I did not know about that one and must put it on my “must go to” list!
Friends and I have greatly enjoyed, over the years, the excellent
Linvilla Orchards down near Media, PA.
Visiting “pick your own” places for fruits and veg will always, as Captcha so appropriately just said, give me “The Tingles”!

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