Back to the land?

I’ll try to limit my whining here, but allow me one little rant.

I get pretty peeved when wanna-be homesteaders start preaching about the beauty of “leaving the city behind” and moving to some remote area where they can isolate themselves and practice survivalist techniques.

Well, I mean, I guess that in and of itself doesn’t make me mad. I know that city life is not for everyone, and that’s OK. To each their own.

I think what hacks me off is the perception that the only way to be a sustainable, satisfied gardener is to leave the city behind. That packing up and “getting away from it all” is the ultimate destination of every homesteader.

I beg to differ.

I’ll be the first to say that there are difficult challenges to overcome when you choose to have a city homestead: contaminated soils, lack of gardening resources (ever tried shopping for soil amendments at Home Depot? Yeah, you know what I mean…), and a general lack of space. No, we can’t raise sheep or goats or cows in our backyards. Some of us don’t even have backyards.

But for me, what I get out of choosing to stay in the city far outweighs the challenges. I get to interact with my neighbors when I’m out in my yard. I get access to dozens of awesome farmers markets. I get to engage in conversations about how empowering it is to grow your own food in an area where the nearest grocery store charges $5 for a box of processed cereal and probably doesn’t even have the equipment set up to sell fresh produce. I get so many opportunities to learn. To share.

There’s a part of me that feels like the most beautiful flower is the one that chooses to grow in a concrete jungle. We need urban gardeners. We need people willing to step to the challenges involved and to change the landscape (literally!) of our cities.

Again, I want to stress that I’m not trying to diss anyone who chooses to live a more rural life – that’s their preference and choice and we definitely need people who DO have the space to raise cows and sheep and goats – I enjoy a good wool sweater and a slice of cheese as much as the next person. But I think there should be a mutual respect and understanding between the two lifestyles, not competition or superior remarks about “my way is the only way” to do this.

This past Saturday, I attended a workshop sponsored by Milwaukee Urban Gardens that was focused on how to start a community garden. Obviously, the community garden I’ll be managing is already established, but I got SO MUCH inspiration and knowledge from being there. What was really, really beautiful to me was the sentiment expressed by many future garden managers: there is something forgotten or abandoned in our neighborhood; a vacant lot, an old playground, an overgrown yard. We want to make that thing beautiful – and we want to do it as a community. We want to unite neighbors and bring about change. We want a beautiful place to grow food and flowers, a place that we can sit in and enjoy and where our kids can play.

Stuff like that gives me the chills, it’s so darn awesome.

I was so thankful that I was able to attend the workshop. I got to meet a few of the staff members from MUG and find out more about the resources available for community gardens.  The whole thing was so empowering for me that I didn’t even care that my first duty as a community garden manager was to spend 2 hours cleaning up discarded bottles and Cheetos bags from the garden later that afternoon :). When I started to feel discouraged, I would starting dreaming about how the garden will look in August, when everything is growing and people are spending time there getting to know each other. Totally worth it!

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