I met Joan, the new Garden Coordinator, at the first gardening meeting of the year. Something that stuck out to me was a phrase written at the top of our agenda: Interactive Gardening. While I had a general idea what this meant, curiosity clung to me for weeks until my second meeting with Joan several weeks later. After being outside for two minutes, we both decided to seek shade. Dodging the sun’s glare, we settle down in Joan’s car. I fumble with my notes, and ask Joan the first thing that comes to mind, “Can you just explain your concept of interactive gardening? Yeah, I’ll just start with that.”
Joan considers this for a second. “So I like to facilitate gardens that welcome people into the garden. Most times a garden makes people kind of reflect and not be super hands-on because someone else’s work is obvious and people feel respect for that…But what I like to do is help people feel encouraged to come into a garden and do things. Because once you get past coming in then everything sort of falls into place.”
She is reflective and steady with her answers. Joan goes into a pattern of pausing and responding, delving deeper into the process. “And then the other thing I like to do is have things set up. Every garden needs water, soil, plants, communication, and tools.” She explains that she intends on using these consistent five things to invite people who are interested in gardening any time, not just scheduled workdays. “Every garden is customized and different, but every garden needs those five things. So I focus on the placement of those five things and helping people who like to garden know where they are so that they can always come in.”
As a novice gardener, I’m intrigued and ask about the impact of interactive gardening for the community. Food equity is my current area of study, so naturally, we start discussing the importance of food.
“Well, food is remarkably healing. It’s one of those things that bind us. Everyone has to eat no matter who you are or where you come from. I have found that our relationship with food is very disconnected as people. To be so reliant on needing to eat all day, every day, yet not having a relationship to how food is grown… the disconnect. I don’t understand how we’ve gotten there.”
I nodded, “We’re kind of removed from the whole process of food.”
“Oh my gosh, we’re so removed from food, and we’re so reliant on petroleum, any electricity and we’re in trouble. We’re in trouble and I can’t do anything about that trouble. Really. I can’t help people not do fossil fuels. I can’t help people stop fracking. I can’t help. I can’t help. I don’t know I’m…I’m powerless in that arena. However, I’m not powerless in my ability to grow food. So if we can take campuses like Haywood Street Congregation that would otherwise be trodden on, trampled…” Joan thinks for a second and restarts.
“There’s a sacred thing about watching food grow and eating it, its so good for us. So if we can take the campus that would otherwise be trampled and trod on and transform it into something that is going to nourish all of us equally… you know, it works. It’s beautiful. People come together that might not have come together because…”
“You go through the whole process together, the process of growing the food and eating the food?” I guess the answer, somewhat correctly.
“Yeah, and it might be that the person is transient and coming through and they’re not part of the whole process. Maybe they just pick it and eat it. Maybe they just watched a seed emerge and be like, ‘I never knew that that’s what happened’. Maybe they turn it into compost. Whatever the process, it’s all part of the big picture. It’s all necessary.”
I ask if she thinks interactive gardening helps people be more confident in picking food, participate or even just observe.
Joan is quick to answer. “I don’t know, I hope so.”
“You hope so?”
“I mean I watch it in other places. Haywood Street is new. I’ve only been here like four times and I’ve been alone each time. So I’m not alone, there are people around. But I’ve been working alone. And so I hope that the approach of all are welcome and we need you and we want you will become obvious and healing…”
“Will come through?”
“I think so. And we all need healing, not just Haywood Street folks. We all have our own trauma that needs healing and growing things helps us heal things.”
Story collected and written by Anneisia Rogers, UNCA student studying food equity