Monday, April 30, 2012

Farm Journal: Getting Started in Gardening

A "Blast from the Past"
April 30, 2009

A sneak peek into an upcoming book about my experiences on the farm

Today, I finally took the plunge.  I went to Wedel’s Garden Store and bought some seedlings, tools (trowel, grabber, watering can), gloves, pots and soil for my little backyard garden.  The seedlings included:

2 regular tomatoes and 1 cherry tomato
green peppers

I spent $99 on this stuff but felt very satisfied that I was finally taking steps on this gardening project.  The women at Wedel’s were very helpful and I didn’t feel foolish for not knowing anything.  In fact, they seemed excited to find another rookie gardener.  They were very accommodating and anticipated my every need without being pushy or intent on making a sale.  Instead, I felt as though I were joining a club, the gardeners’ club, where people delight in growing things.  That will be an experience in itself. 

I have decided to learn how to garden because last year when I interviewed the urban gardeners of Detroit, they’d invariably asked me if I gardened.  All I could say was that I grew up with a garden in my backyard and my Dad had gardened all his life.  Not quite a direct answer.  I remember pulling weeds from time to time and enjoyed getting my hands dirty as well as feeling I was doing something productive.  Creating a garden—and just buying the seedlings—feels just like that.  I’m doing something good, concrete, productive—and the real kicker for me:  something that is part of an ancient human endeavor. 

Growing food is a way to live but it is also a luxury because it requires time, knowledge, space and clean, healthy soil, none of which is in huge supply these days.  I would learn that growing food is also a political statement because it means that I’m taking my own life—and my own health—in my hands instead of relying on a handful of huge, profit-oriented corporations to provide my food for me.  Gardening is an investment in my sustenance and in the Earth’s sustainability.  It is a way of getting around a food system that is more concerned with quantity than quality.  It also makes me more credible when I write articles on food and food justice issues.  In this way I transcend the abstractions and ideologies I’m used to in my capacity as a college professor and instead get down and dirty with the soil, the plants, the bugs, the hot sun, the sweat and the joys of eating tasty food.

Early on I recognized that my new venture in gardening is so significant that I decided to keep a record of my experiences as both a guide and an inspiration for other would-be gardeners.

overview of Sarah's Garden
a cistern sits in the center of Sarah's
octagonal garden in Mendon

My interest in gardening interest began in 2001 after I saw author Sarah Stewart’s amazing octagonal garden in Mendon, Michigan.  She had taken a field proclaimed “dead” by agricultural extension agents and turned it into a productive, beautiful, organic garden that not only fed her and her husband but provided fresh, home-grown fruits, vegetables and herbs for her friend who owned a gourmet bistro restaurant in town.  The garden also drew neighbors who were at first curious and then volunteered to work it in exchange for the fruits of its bountiful harvests.  Sarah’s garden had created a new community in the same way that the urban gardens of Detroit is “renewing, re-imagining and re-spiriting” the city.  The power that comes from growing things is something that has to be explored and recognized.  That is the reason I decided to learn how to garden and likewise, that is the purpose of this book. 


  1. Gardening, like farming is a people magnet. People like to know what you do and how you do it. Feeling the earth in your hands will undoubtedly change you from an observer to an enthusiast.

  2. Oh, the urban rabbits will be so happy! And we'll be entertained with your journey, Olga! Don't forget to tell us about how to dress to do the work - I bet those black slacks you're wearing in the photo aren't so pretty in the knees now! We want details! Fingernail care! Back massage needed! Details!