Any “Tidings of Great Joy” this sad Christmas?
Yes. I was reading the Cleveland Plain Dealer the other day when I came across the most intriguing photograph. It was of a dark-skinned woman in colorful clothing with a huge basket of fresh vegetables balanced on her head. Behind her was a large, immaculately neat and verdant garden. Probably someplace in Africa, I thought, but why on the front page of an American newspaper? Then I did a double-take. The caption under the picture said the locale was near downtown Cleveland, and the woman in the picture was a Clevelander from Burundi, Veronika Inabigo, who works with the Refugee Empowerment Agricultural Program. REAP helps refugees adjust to new communities. These refugees were doing what they did in their homeland, that is raise their own food. Their example was helping native Clevelanders understand that they too can gain food independence, even in the city.
I think this is good news, good tidings of great joy this Christmas. All over our cities, vacant lots and deteriorating residential areas are being returned to food production and verdant landscapes. There are the naysayers who worry that some of this soil might be tainted with too much lead or other contaminants, but tests can easily find that out. Although it is rarely pointed out, much of this soil is fairly pristine, not ever having been farmed and not even disturbed except right around cellar excavations. Much of this land went from forest to city with little disturbance except for lawns and landscaping.
When in Cleveland recently, we drove to one of the new “food hubs” that are being established (Community Greenhouse Partners) around old closed churches and in ghetto ruins. Not much is going on there yet, but looking at the lay of the land around the empty church and crumbling parsonage, a gardener’s fingers just itch to get in there and rehabilitate the surroundings. The old church has lots of room for various kinds of food processing and storage too. The forlorn landscape of weeds, abandoned houses, and crumbling fences around it indicates land that has just been abandoned, not abused like the eroded soil of old farmed out fields.
Food hubs are happening in inner cities all over and we ramparts people should rejoice. Our domain is not only out in the country on the fringes of industrial agribusiness but also in the cities on the fringes of industrial degradation such as you can see in Detroit. Parts of Detroit look almost as bad as bombed out Dresden in World War II. But Detroit is one of the places where gardens and a real farm are being established in the inner city desolation.
Here’s another example of glad tidings. On the way to the barn yesterday, December 18, guess what I spied. Along the side of the path, one of our established daffodil plants had already begun to grow in the unusual warmish weather we’ve been enjoying. Two inches tall already. How this could be, I do not know. But then I hurried around to where the snowdrops come up next to the house, sometimes early in February or even late in January. In one very protected spot, yes, there was a snowdrop, up two inches and sprightly.
These intrepid plants will probably regret their enthusiasm but I am sure that, if snow falls to protect them, they will survive. The winter solstice is not quite here yet, but soon the sun will begin to linger in the sky, ever so little. Nature is already warming up for another season of growth. Halleluia!
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