The day we were told not to leave our homes, when lockdown was still a word linked with prisons and school shootings, this line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If–“ jumped out at me:
“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…”
My initial reaction to the mushrooming Covid-19 pandemic was to try to keep my head, to keep some semblance of control. But how to do that? I live in New York, and people are dying every single day from this dangerous virus.
Amid all the shutterings, the sights and sounds of spring’s eager growth serves as the backdrop of this out of control time. The crocuses survived a surprise late March snowstorm. The elusive ramps, if you can find them, are almost ready to pick for pesto-making. The pussy willows burst forth with their fuzzy, silvery blooms. And, my sweet daughter is pregnant with my first grandchild.
The gravitational force to grow soothes me and brings me back to a garden I grew with schoolchildren. For many years, I taught at a school where the equity of family resources – financial and digital – varied greatly. The creature comforts of my students were vastly different. Our school garden was an equalizer. All the children had the skills to lend a hand in the growing process.
Now, 46 states across the nation have shut their district schools. This affects more than 54 million American school children. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), food insecurity affects 11 million of those schoolchildren.
With many of us Zooming and homeschooling, I know that parents are feeling a bit trapped, and pushed to limits. And many families do not have the means to reconcile being out of work and teaching their children well. I worry greatly about those schoolchildren who will fall through remote learning cracks, as their parents struggle to feed them – food insecure, and crushed.
Early on in our quarantine, while the world was coming to a halt, my husband and I decided to plant a new garden. It would be no ordinary garden. It would be a garden that would nourish us when a trip to the supermarket couldn’t. It would be a garden that would grow plants to feed our growing family. It would be a garden that would help feed local families who needed help. It would be a goodwill play date with nature.
5 reasons to plant a garden right now:
- Safe food. Contamination of perishable vegetables like spinach and lettuce is already on the rise. Unlike supermarket produce, self-sustaining home gardens means no strangers touch your food.
- Healthy food. Organic vegetables have more vitamins and minerals than vegetables grown with potentially harmful pesticides. With just a few steps from the garden to the dinner table, fresh food is packed with nutrients, high in fiber.
- Better health. Physically planting, weeding, and harvesting get parents and kids outside breathing fresh air and burning calories.
- Less food waste and environmental impact. Homegrown food without pesticides and herbicides cuts down on air and water pollution. Transporting vegetables from across the nation, or even around the world in some cases, uses more fossil fuels, and requires more energy consumption.
- Pandemic money saving. According to The National Gardening Association estimates, “A 600 square-footgarden, the American average on which households spend $70 per year, could churn out 300 pounds of fresh produce worth about $600 annually.”
Before the coronavirus crisis bore down on my state, I had just begun daydreaming about what my grandchild’s world would look like. With such uncertainty, much has changed. But I can dream of a time when this will be over, and the health benefits of creating a self-sustaining garden will live on. Planning the garden has been a way to “keep my head” – and, hopefully, a way to help.