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Yesterday I got to do some things related to gardening, so it’s a good time to introduce that topic.

One of the theories I’m thinking through in my life and work here is that artists serve the community in ways that are unique to being artists, in addition to producing and presenting their creative work. So one of my goals when I got here was to get involved in as many different community groups as I could. Of course it would need to be something I was passionate about, because to really invest deeply I’d need to want to be there.

I decided to take “grassroots” very literally.

You may know that I had a plot in a community garden for the last two years I was in NYC, and it was a great source of joy (and sanity) for me. But it was 45 minutes door-to-dirt, between a walk to the bus stop, then a bus, then more walking to the plot.

Community garden plotSo one of the things I was adamant about when looking for housing in Texas was space to garden – and being able to walk out my front door to get to my plants.

Be careful what you wish for.

I’ll tell you more about where we live in another post – and I’m planning to shoot a video tour this weekend – but the short version is that we are part of a residential community center called the Good Neighbor Settlement House. It opened last October after several years of volunteer renovation. The two houses on the property sit on a big lot with tons of opportunity for gardening. Enough that, really, I could just about only focus on that and still have plenty to do. So I’m having to pace myself.

I’m planning to put raised beds in a 20′ x 20′ area that would be planted with veggies and berries. My hope for our garden is that we can grow a bunch of stuff that we can give away to neighbors who need fresh food. We live in a very mixed-income area, which is also considered a “food desert” because of the distance from grocery stores. There are convenience stores, and one small grocery store that just opened up as part of a local ministry, but they don’t carry much in the way of fresh produce.

One of the first groups I connected with here is Heart of Texas Urban Gardening Coalition (UGC). We meet once a month for dinner and discussion, or to watch a gardening-related documentary or discuss a gardening-related book. Usually folks will bring seedlings or small plants to share, and I generally end up with whatever no one else wants, which I then plant at the house. I’m working on giving back to the group by planting a bunch of tomato and pepper seeds that I’ll share when they’re big enough. I’ve also been trying my hand at propagation, from houseplants I already had or from cuttings from neighbors or that I clipped myself in passing while no one was looking.

Here’s my improvised greenhouse and seed-starting-incubator in my “work room.” (Yes, I have a work room. Have I mentioned that I love my life?)
Back porch greenhouse photo

I’ll post some more photos of the babies when there’s more to see.

So yesterday the local Master Gardeners group had their monthly workshop that’s open to the public, which I attended. The topic was improving curb appeal through landscaping. As you can see, I have a big job to do at Good Neighbor House, especially since I insisted on cutting down two big (overgrown, gangly, ugly, Dr. Seuss-looking) cedar trees that were in front of the house. I’m also going to be planting grass in the back yard, which I haven’t done before.

Front of Good Neighbor House photo

After Master Gardeners I needed to buy some gardening supplies, including some corn, watermelon, and flower seeds; and compost for transplanting a rose bush. We have heavy clay soil, so it needs to be amended by about 50%. February is the time of year for this kind of thing because by March we’re in full growing season.

I tended to my seedlings and other indoor plants a bit, then I applied on behalf of UGC for donated heirloom seeds from Hudson Valley Seed Co back in New York. I’m still on their mailing list, and I love what they do.

So how does all this test my theory about artists serving the community in unique ways, in addition to their creative work? Certainly, my love for beauty feeds my love of gardening. Flower gardening is pure aesthetics, and I love flowers. But food gardening is about something else. A big lanky tomato plant that’s half-dead from feeding tons of ripe tomatoes is beautiful in a different way, a way that reminds us of abundance and the amazing miracle of nature. I hope that the beauty and bounty I’m trying to create at Good Neighbor House will bring joy to the people who see and eat it. I also hope that the fact that I work in the arts shows up in my relationships with the gardeners I’m getting to know through UGC.

Most of all, though, what I’m sensing is that just being an artist who’s fully planted (pun intended, I guess…) in the community makes me one with the community. In 1 Corinthians 12:17-20, Paul writes:

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

So, take the ear. The primary purpose of the ear is to hear. But it also has an interesting appearance that gives a little something to the side of the head. It holds earrings. It keeps hats from slipping down. Etc. So the ear’s ear-ness makes a difference to the body in other ways besides hearing.

As an artist, I bring my ear-ness to my creative work, certainly. But I also bring it to how and why I garden. I bring it to how I interact with other gardeners, and with those who enjoy or benefit from the fruit (literally, this time) of my work. And the community is richer from me bringing who I am to other contexts in addition to making plays.

Which, btw, I’m cast in a play. More about that another day….

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