Pleasant Hill Community Garden
Working at Pleasant Hill Community Garden allowed students to engage two important issues related to contemporary food economies.
First, urbanization, corporate agriculture, rapid transportation, and mass production have separated most people from the daily process of food cultivation. Planting, tending, and harvesting a small crop allowed students to encounter this process on a personal scale.
Second, food is a key site of economic disparity. Working in a garden that serves poor residents in a traditionally African American neighborhood allowed us to discuss food as a social marker and to consider the practical effects of two nutritional issues that affect poor populations, hunger and obesity.
Below are some students' reflections on working in the garden.
When first confronted with our gardening assignment in the beginning of the semester, I was not exactly thrilled. My knowledge on gardening was at most minimal, and before reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book, I had never exactly realized how much effort went into reaping produce. Throughout her book she harped on the fact that most people do not understand that a lot of their food was dirty at one point. I read this feeling slightly offended that this lady I didn’t know assumed that I was so spoiled I didn’t understand someone had grown my food in dirt elsewhere. Of course the strawberries I had for lunch were once on the ground and had to be picked and washed off in order to get to my belly. But after my first hour in the garden, it finally hit me what she really had been talking about.
The first 30 minutes into my 8 hour volunteer work at the garden was a rough one. I helped dig rows that would soon be the home to collard greens. I was uncomfortable to say the least. I didn’t want to get my shoes dirty, the sun seemed to have a personal vendetta against me, and each shovel full of dirt I moved got heavier and heavier as time went on. Naomi then instructed me and my classmates to pull the grass and roots out of the fresh rows to make way for the seeds. This is when I began to pray for strength. I came millimeters close to touching what I thought was an alien worm, of which I was later informed it was a grub. After much of Drayton’s encouragement, I began to help again. Soon I realized it was IMPOSSIBLE to avoid getting dirt under your fingernails. I am no prissy girl, but honestly, it takes a special type of woman to enjoy coming face to face with super-insects.
Once the planting started, I was amazed at how much Peter and Naomi knew about growing things. She instructed us how deep the each different plant needed to go, and taught us how to pack on the dirt gently and even her gardening secret: Epsom salt. Peter told me to plant marigolds, and laughed when I asked how deep he wanted the holes to be. He then demonstrated how they were planted by sprinkling them along the bank. “They don’t need much to grow,” he said. That moment is precisely when I began to enjoy what I was doing. For some reason it never occurred to me: the intricacy involved with planting. Every different plant, whether it is food or flower, needs different kind of nourishment to live. This to me parallels with people, every single one of needs different thing to thrive and blossom in our own individual way. Those 8 hours taught me to appreciate all forms of life, and not to take for granted not only the time and sweat, but the care and control put into growing my food.
I first visited the Pleasant Hill Community Gardens nearly four years ago as a lowly freshman. Since my initial visit when I met Peter and Naomi, the garden has been a part of my college career on several occasions. Each time I have worked in the garden or spoken with its guardians, I have become more frustrated at how difficult it has been for the garden to grow. Though it has been challenging at times for Naomi and Peter, they keep pushing in hopes the garden will be embraced by the community and not just Mercer students and the occasional school group.
On my first visit to the garden this semester, I became somewhat bothered when I discovered the work I had done in previous visits had return to its natural state— weeds! After working for about three hours, tilling, hoeing, weeding, and raking, the plot was ready to be replanted with cucumbers and corn. With the help of other students, I planted the seeds and marked each plant with white stakes taken from an old piece of lattice. Though I have grown many small gardens over the course of my life, there is still a feeling of awe in witnessing seeds break ground and turn into plants.
My last two visits I weeded the two plots and worked on getting other areas cleaned up and prepared for planting. It is shame that more people from the community do not come out to support Peter and Naomi’s efforts. I think the garden is a great idea, but I fear that the community aspect is not where it should be. Though a few locals of Pleasant Hill do help, the garden cannot sustain itself with a few locals, occasional school groups, and eight hours of service learning—the community has to be more involved. Yes, the challenge of creating a successful community garden is difficult, but it remains a worthy venture, especially when there is so much environmental degradation and unhealthy eating habits.
A person driving by Pleasant Hill Community Garden may not recognize it for what it truly is: a place founded on generosity, love and dedication to the community. In my experience in the community garden I learned that farming is no easy task but is extremely rewarding and I am glad we could help out such a great cause.
I never knew just how much work goes into a successful garden. Growing up in an urban environment, my experience with gardening was planting a few flowers or mowing the grass. Though more often than not, I just watched. After my first two hours in the garden, I was exhausted. By the end of the first day, I had pulled weeds, hoed, tried rather unsuccessfully to use the roto-tiller and even planted a nice sized crop of tomatoes, collards and brussel sprouts. All this hard work really made me think about what it takes to cultivate and plant crops. Without the proper tools and know-how, the job becomes even more difficult. When settlers first came to Georgia, they would have had to clear their land and then prepare their field for farming- without the help of chainsaws, tractors or roto-tillers. Through my short experience, I have gained a whole new appreciation and respect for agriculture and my ancestors.
The community garden has gained quite a bit of attention in the Macon community. Many other classes at Mercer have devoted themselves to the garden. Mercer has a long standing reputation for giving back to the surrounding community but I feel as though volunteering at Pleasant Hill really allowed us to have a direct impact on the residents of Pleasant Hill. Those tomatoes that I planted will end up at someone’s dinner table. The neighborhood kids might balk at the brussel sprouts and cauliflower, but those are nutritious vegetables they may not have had access to otherwise. I believe that the garden serves a great cause, but it did strike me that the people who actually benefit from the crops are not usually the ones who work to cultivate them. On our weekend volunteer days, the work crew was comprised of a flock of Mercer students, the ringleaders: Peter and Naomi, and a handful of other people working their own designated plots. I believe that if there was more local participation, they could develop a stronger sense of responsibility for the garden. It really could become an outlet for people to come together and help one another.
It is fairly obvious that the heart and soul of the community garden is found in the people that run it- Peter and Naomi. These two individuals have put their time, hard work and dedication into making the community garden what it is today. Peter was always out in the garden working with the rest of us. He would stop from time to time to give us helpful tips or show us the real way to use a hoe. Naomi was the boss but also our encouragement. She would tell us which plants to plant where but would always make sure to tell us what a good job we did weeding that bed and made sure we had a few minutes rest in the shade.I never expected that my class on Southern Food would take me into the community garden to learn the proper way to plant tomatoes or even work a roto-tiller. I think having this experience has given me perspective on the tremendous amount of work that it takes to have a garden but I hope that I can take what I learned to plant a garden of my own one day and I look forward to seeing all of the benefits that the Pleasant Hill Community Garden will continue to bring to the local community.