I secretly relish the cuts on my hands. Cuts that sting when they touch water. Cuts that reopen slightly each time I stretch my palm. Cuts born out of hours logged in my yard — clearing brush, cutting away vines, tugging at weeds. I don’t know what I’m doing, but the flowers seem eager to school me, the seedlings intent to grow despite my clumsy touch. Yesterday, I didn’t know how to plant anything. Today, the cuts that grace my palms and the turgid bulbs poking out of the dirt and reaching for the sun are proof that I am a gardener.
I experience life cycles: the dried creepers, the blooming daffodils, the nascent red buds. I cultivate patience: digging small holes for tomatoes, willing tulips to blossom. The draw of the soil, the lure of trying to coax something from the dirt, can only come from doing. It requires will and faith. My friend Carol explains, “You can do a lot to get good tomatoes. You can dig the right-sized hole, put the plant in composted soil; you can fertilize and water and put the plants in cages to direct their growth. But some factors, like the rain and temperature, you can’t control. And when you get big, juicy red tomatoes, you feel incredibly proud, even though you know you didn’t really make the tomatoes. You only helped.”
Author and farmer Heather Flores has singlehandedly inspired my approach to my yard with the small but mighty edict to “grow food, not lawns.” The concept is bold in its simplicity: to use precious resources such as time and water to raise plants that can nourish us and help us connect with our communities. In an era where people seem increasingly divided, Heather explains that humble acts such as sharing seeds and swapping gardening stories can bring us back together, while the act of growing food can change how we eat and live. Heather describes how growing food is a radical act: “It causes a fundamental change in your beliefs and thoughts,” she explained to me in an interview. “You never run out of reasons to feel like it’s worth doing.”
Heather was not raised in a farming family or on some off-the-grid hippie commune; she was an urban girl who decided growing her own food was a natural extension of how she wanted to be in the world and, plant by plant, started to make the journey. I am on the cusp of that same kind of journey.
That said, I am still at the stage of planting flowers from bulbs and trying my hand at sprigs of rosemary, basil, and thyme — planting and maintaining even a small kitchen garden seems like a huge leap. When I asked Heather for advice, she suggested, “Find a local mentor.” That is why I decided to open my yard up to those who have the skill but don’t have the same space or access to soil that I have. Yard sharing takes many forms and is happening all over the world. It enables me to grow food, get to know my neighbors and use parts of my yard that would otherwise need mowing.
My friends Annie and Mason drafted up a simple contract detailing when they could have access to my yard, how we’d share inputs (they bring seeds, I provide water) and how much of their harvest I could take. Annie said one of her goals was to show me this could be done: that I could feed my self. Then Mason pulled out a handwritten list of foods he planned on planting (seen in the above photograph) — potatoes, onions, squash, strawberries, cantaloupes, beets, carrots, peppers, and more — and catapulted me into gardening heaven.
This yard teaches me about interconnectedness and interdependence. Not only in the way things grow, but in the support required to grow them. By opening up their harvest and allowing me to work alongside them, Annie and Mason are also transforming how I think about food and how I think about myself.