Monday, August 4, 2014

Garden Party Recollections

We had a potluck dinner in the Kitchen Garden last week to celebrate the harvest and our community.  We had a loose agenda for everyone to talk about their gardening traditions.  But mostly we just wanted to have fun.

The evening unfolded freely, and the discussions happened on their own with no programming other than a warm introduction from Lenore.

We had a great turnout, including Roots & Wings regulars, Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry volunteers, Cabrini Immigrant Services families, some of whom use the pantry and some of whom have worked from time to time in the garden, staff and kids from Children's Village who grew some of our plants in their greenhouse, Spring Community Partners, Springhurst School, Transition Hastings, Curious on Hudson (which has hosted permaculture and sustainability events), and some South Church families who until that night weren't quite sure what Roots & Wings was about.

Robin Larkins, of Cabrini Immigrant Services, told us that some of the Cabrini families did not know what a potluck was, but when they learned they were happy to come. And come they did, some with empanadas, many with kids. There were lots of interesting dishes.

Marcello led a garden tour.  The kids picked cherry tomatoes with great excitement.  One proudly displayed an eggplant he picked. As the sun set, they roasted marshmallows and made s'mores and ran and played in the playground.  People felt safe and happy and full (in spirit as well as stomach).

Organizers of community gardens say:
Community gardening is a resource used to build community, foster social and environmental justice, mitigate hunger through increased food security, empower communities, break down racial and ethnic barriers, provide adequate health and nutrition, promote and enhance education and otherwise create sustainable communities. For many across the country, a community garden is the only connection they have to outdoor space.

Our event emodied all of this.  The Kitchen Garden is evolving from a well intentioned community food pantry where users were somewhat timid and apprehensive and people were unsure how to relate to one another, to a community where families and food workers are known to one another, where there is openness friendship and respect and support, where there is excitement about fresh food from the garden, sharing of recipes, sharing of stories of working on family farms in other countries, rekindling of warm memories, renewed interest in being in touch with the land and working side by side with people in the community.

There were lots of cultural connections.  I spoke with a man from El Salvador who met his wife, from Ecuador, in Yonkers at church.  He talked about chores on his grandfather's farm in El Salvador and said he wanted to come and help us.  Two Barbaras talked to two Marks about music and food in Jamaica.  One Children's Village kids asked about an unfamiliar taste in one of the dishes (Els put an edible weed called lambs quarters into something that looked like spanakopita).  But we came to find out that they grow all kinds of stuff on the Children's Village campus and are not strangers to exotic vegetables.  Other people talked about the importance of food in cultural events and festivals.

The caring and the cared for seemed to share a warm embrace.

Robin Larkin talked about progress in attitudes in our community. It used to be people did not like seeing the word Immigrant on the door of their office because of what it connotes.  She has gone from fear of losing her office space to a new relationship with a new building owner who is glad to have them there, who was drawn to the community because he wants to live sustainably, walk to train, and share stories with neighbors.  She talked about how Cabrini has relationships with people from 150 countries.  How she partners with other groups in the community, like Spring Community Partners, and how they share their talents (she helped incorporate them as a 501c3). How they energize and look out for one another.

These were just some of my discussions, and my bet is that everyone there was having similar discussions enriched by the multi-cultural fabric.

- Mark Pennington