Do you want your kids to eat vegetables? Plant a garden with them. Do you want to heal the heart of a struggling teenager? Plant a garden with her. Do you want to bring a community together and restore their dignity and faith? Plant a garden with them.
How do I know this? Recently, I had the honor of meeting Ian Marvy, who started Added Value in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. As a place, it’s not so much the hipster Brooklyn that you read about these days; in fact, the average household income in Ian’s Red Hook is $16,000. Added Value is a nonprofit that has created an almost 3-acre urban farm with the goal of nurturing a new generation of leaders by creating opportunities for the youth of South Brooklyn. These young people grow the food, harvest it, and sell it to their own community. I met Ian on the night he received the Jane Jacobs Medal from the Rockefeller Foundation. The accompanying video presentation made it clear just how important his work has been to the lives of teenagers and the whole community. Something so simple, so organic, can have lasting consequences for health and healing.
Ironically, later that same night I bumped into Alice Waters. She was standing outside my apartment looking lost. After we hugged hello, I helped her find her way—a small favor for someone who has helped so many children find their way to a love of vegetables and cooking through her Edible Schoolyard Project. I’ve heard Alice describe how so many of the children she works with start out fearful and worried about nature, but, once exposed to the pleasures of gardening, end up walking barefoot and lying sprawled out in the grass eating vegetables straight from the earth (which, by the way, is what I do all the time…when it’s warm out).
The other Jane Jacobs Medal winner that night (and the reason I was there) was one of my nature-loving heroes, the divine Bette Midler. Did you know that with Million Trees NYC, an initiative of the New York Restoration Project and the city’s parks department, she has vowed to plant a million trees in New York City by 2017, and that 800,000 have already been planted? More importantly, her organization has helped to clean up literally thousands of tons of trash from the city’s parks and, you guessed it, plant gardens. By doing so, Bette and NYRP have helped in the revitalization of a whole city.
Thus, the chef, the superstar, and the organic farmer have together transformed the lives of many people by planting gardens. But you don’t have to be famous to get into the fun. It’s time to plant a garden. If you don’t have one already, this is your moment. If you have one, maybe you could help others plant their own. By planting a garden, you can achieve the goals I set out in my opening paragraph. And you might find that you are nourishing your own life by nourishing another’s.
That’s the magical world of gardening!
Previously published in Organic Gardening. For great gardening, cooking, and living tips, pick up the magazine today!