This story appeared in the 2021 summer issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in response to the theme “Neighbors.”
An eighth of an acre lot in the city of Portland may not conjure up the image of the garden of Eden – it certainly didn’t for me when my husband and I moved here 25 years ago, but it was the yard we had. Our neighbors had similar yards and they were not using them to grow food. Nevertheless, I was determined to make the best of my bit of earth and began by composting in the way I had learned from Helen and Scott Nearing many years earlier. A year or so later, with the help of my daughter, we dug up a mound of sod, added some compost and made a small bed that became our salad garden. The next year I expanded a bit and put in a few strawberries. My husband, Chris, being a city boy from California, had never experienced gardening and at first had no interest in it. All that changed once he experienced the joy of walking out in the yard and picking and eating the most delicious salad he had ever tasted. Soon we were removing trees, hauling loads of compost to supplement our own and building raised beds. Chris eventually rebuilt my simple compost piles into what, I like to tease him, is “the fanciest compost enclosure in the state of Maine!”
Fast forward 25 years and we have five large raised beds, and we are adding two more this spring. We have two highbush blueberry bushes from which we get a year’s supply of blueberries for ourselves and some to share with our neighbors. Perhaps most wonderful of all, we have watched many of our neighbors plant gardens in whatever space gets the best sun, even if it’s just the little strip of earth between the street and the sidewalk in front of their house. Some have transformed lawns into gardens, put dwarf fruit trees beside their house, or a grape arbor over their deck, or chickens in their yard. One of our neighbors even has a commercial flower-growing operation. So much has changed for the better over the years in our little pocket of the city as we see yards transformed and neighbors sharing with each other the fruits of their bounty. I can only hope and pray that we, as collective humanity, all see the importance of growing food in harmony with each other and nature.