As I open my mouth to explain eggplants, a large squash whistles by my ear. My questioner’s older brother is knocking one out of the park with a zucchini one could favorably compare to baseball bat. A curly-headed toddler beams up at me and taps my foot with a broom, by way of asking, “could you lift your foot please?” The back-end of a sundress pokes out of a plastic bin, as a little girl leans in to handle the sweet corn. When she turns around to squeal, she has corn silk in her braids.
This is the wash pack in HAVEN shelter’s kitchen.
When I bring the morning harvest in, usually twice a week, I suddenly become the pied piper: kids that are more than willing to help, to shine, to learn—to offer the talents they may have been told they don’t possess—drift over to the sink demanding a share of the work. In between wheeling the bountiful cart of produce into the kitchen and flooding the floor while scrubbing cucumbers, I get a chance to explain vegetable families, why the tomatoes are a little uglier and tastier than at the grocery store (“not ugly,” corrects a quiet older boy, “just better”), and why we don’t grow bananas. I wait for the children to teach me: what is important, how should we connect. The mothers, sipping their coffee and casting disciplinary glances at their children, lean in to hear the occasional question answered. The truth is, most of the clients here have never seen a white eggplant, tasted an heirloom tomato, or watched lettuce bloom.
The growing global demand for a mixture of real food and community helped bring the garden project idea to HAVEN, and the donors, volunteers, staff, cheerleaders, residents, and their wonderful families help make it an incredible success every single day. The garden represents many things at the shelter, and is continually being ‘discovered’ as new residents and their children cautiously peek through the gate to find the space in new seasonal turns. One family may discover the garden while mulberries are dotting our tree, staining their fingers and faces purple before they move on to a new life. Another family may stop to help me pinch back the basil blooms.
As of this writing, a little girl is enjoying a cantaloupe pulled from the vine less than 24 hours ago. Women stop by while I’m weeding to talk about the gardens they left behind, and the new ones they plan on beginning. Families see okra growing for the first time, and the strangeness of digging a potato the size of a softball out of the ground awes people of every age and background. Everyone who enters the garden and gets their hands dirty leaves with a new perspective on the potential resting inside the earth under our feet.
These beautiful moments of relaxation, of discovery, of learning, of healing are made entirely possible by the support of generous donors, staff and volunteers. How would the children have raspberry picking contests without the talent, consultation and support of the Michigan Young Farmers Coalition? Where would our low tunnel be without the Ford engineers and employees who came to us in the spring, ready to rock and roll? How weedy would my lettuce be without the Comcast volunteers or the Teen Advisory Council? How small would our orchard look without the expansion assistance lent by the GELT (Green Energy Leadership Training) crew? And how lonely would I be on site without the great conversation and universal bond of garden shop talk without the many individuals who stop by to lend a hand during open volunteer hours?
A garden is an idea, a space, an action. For some residents, the buzz of honey bees is a restful liturgy, for others, a busying activity for their talented, energetic children. Our garden is a culmination of the efforts and support of many people, and many hands. Please join us in helping the garden bear fruit—every little bit counts.
If you’d like more information about the HAVEN Garden Project, or find out ways you can help out, please contact Belle Kleinberg Hornung at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (248) 334-1284 ext. 659.
HAVEN Garden Project is a collaborative half-acre organic micro farm and educational space located in Pontiac Michigan at the HAVEN emergency shelter.
Courtesy of HAVEN.
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