Gardens And Neighbors — By John Reed

Much has been written about the difference between city people and country folks. Those living in small towns are considered more neighborly, friendlier, more likely to help those in need.

I’m sure there are lots of reasons for this, but I’m betting at least one comes from the activities people did as kids growing up “country.” In areas where most folks have gardens, it’s pretty common for a barter system to spring up: I’ll trade zucchinis for okra with one neighbor, tomatoes for corn with another.

Even after we swap provisions, there’s still work to be done. Shucking the corn, unzipping the peas, canning the okra, making jelly. This can involve all members of the family, or even non-relatives who offer their help. Some of my fondest memories of my grandmother are sitting on her porch snapping green beans.

If more city dwellers slowed down and spent a couple of hours each day actually putting their hands on living vegetables and preparing their own food instead of shopping the local deli, who knows what changes in urban life might happen?

Of course it’s rare to find unprocessed, straight from the fields vegetables or fruit in big cities. The term “food desert” doesn’t just mean lack of access to a grocery store. Fortunately some city planners are beginning to understand how critical our connection to the land is, even downtown. Community gardens are springing up in vacant lots and even rooftops.

Out here in the “sticks” we’ve understood the communal aspect of gardening from the beginning. Our new farmers market is only the latest recognition of that. It’s not just a place to find fresh food: folks stop by to chat, compare gardening notes, maybe get caught up on other news.

Even here, though, not everyone has a green thumb or room for a garden. I’d love to see a public garden sprout in one of our vacant lots downtown. Maybe supervised by the FFA or 4-H, or a local garden club, people could come by a pick a few squash or lettuce or whatever.

Communing with nature is a hackneyed cliche, yet the closer we get to it, the closer we get to our fellow man. Meanwhile, the grapes at Oakhill look to produce much better than last year. Trade, anyone?

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