The last few weeks I’ve been moving composted leaves that we got from Gloucester County to my garden beds around my house in Cherry Hill, NJ. It is physically demanding work, wrestling with a shovel, a wheelbarrow and the compost itself. It is really like a rich soil, and the plants almost “stand taller” when I wrap their bottoms with this decomposed, but still living, material. It reminds me of the circle of life. The leaves dropped to the ground in the fall. We raked them to the curb in front of our suburban houses. Giant trucks, and a backhoe, came along to scoop them up. They steeped in some out-of-the-way storage spot, then the finished compost came back to our driveway, and now I’m distributing it. The circle closes, only to unfold once again. This is a reliable rhythm that has comforted and oriented our ancestors for many generations. The same rhythm can be found in the Waterfront South gardens of CFET. You are part of that!
A few months ago “Farmer” Jon, also the interim executive director, and Brittani Nestel began the process of growing seedlings. Since then, slowly but surely, the gardens of CFET have been readied for spring planting. But the gardens are more than merely places to grow food, as important as that is. They are sources of food for the birds of the air, opportunities for bees and insects by the thousands to thrive. They are powerhouses of energy transformation as the energy of the sun becomes the bodies of tomatoes, and peppers, and lettuces and carrots and so much more. The local population of squirrels, bats, worms and rabbits, not to mention cats and dogs, find shelter, food, and places to stretch out in the rays of the sun.
On top of all of that, it is a place for young people who work for CFET to learn all there is to know about seeds, planting them, nurturing them, harvesting the food, learning the nutritional quality of the various foods, preparing them for market, turning some into salads for lunch, and bringing some home to complement their families’ tables. They are also a space for the community to gather, focused on the community gardeners who take over a raised bed in the Liney Ditch Garden and produce food for their families. Around those raised beds, lots of advice is given, laughter shared, tears shed and hugs given (at least in pre-Covid times). Around the gardens relationships form, neighbors discover connections, ideas are born, activists emerge. A desire to work together to demand responsible practices from the polluting industries of this neighborhood like EMR, Gypsum, Covanta, etc. That desire leads to zoom meetings, planning meeting, discussions with political leaders, petitions, demands for community benefit agreements, potential legal action, participation in community input sessions with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. All of this is in part nurtured in gardens in Waterfront South. It may not be the most obvious result of gardening in our neighborhood, but it is surely the best result: a community of men and women, young and old, rising to demand respect, healthy air, healthy water, healthy soil, demanding a role in shaping their common and individual lives, demanding recognition of who they are and what they want for themselves and their children.
And it comes back around, to a garden, around a meal, nurtured ultimately by the sun, in a world fashioned by all of us, working together, a rhythm that repeats, over and over again, so that with each spring, the hope that is dormant can spring from the ground, and take shape in voices lifted up, justice pursued, and dreams made real.
Where are you in that rhythm? Where do you see yourself contributing to the amazing process of energy transformation that is the gardens of CFET?
Be part of the rhythm. Contribute your time and treasure and talent. There is more than can be done at CFET’s gardens, if you help make that possible.
Mark Doorley, Ph.D.
Chair, Board of Trustees