How Does the Community Garden Grow

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Nothing tastes better than harvesting the fruits of your own labor. That’s a mission that the Sisters of Saint Joseph Neighborhood Network took to heart when it took over the Seeds of Hope garden at the corner of 22nd and Parade streets this  year.

Linked In hooked me up with Margarita Dangel, east program director for the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network, when I was looking for volunteer opportunties. I had worked in the garden twice getting it ready – planting some flowers and helping put up the rabbit fence before we dug in on June 2.

That’s when volunteers, Master Gardeners from Penn State and the neighbors came together to weed and plant the raised beds with cabbage, kale, tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash and herbs  using the square-foot-garden method, gridded with string. The long beds at the end are being planted and tended by the SSJNN with the help of volunteers. The Master Gardeners were there to provide guidance on the care for plants in this gardening zone. The area is ethnically diverse, often serving as a transitional neighborhood for recent immigrants.

It’s a reminder of the lifelong importance of gardening, especially for women. My father taught me to garden when I was a preteen, laying out our garden on grid paper with zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce and herbs. He worked long hours, so the kids were often responsible for remembering to water (with lots of prompting) and weeding. While we weren’t fond of the gigantic zucchini, the life lessons were important. I have had a garden of some sort – even if it was just a half dozen pots filled with tomatoes – at every home since I have graduated from college. One year, I moved midway through the summer and transported my tomato plants in the back of my two-seater convertible and then up to the second floor balcony of the new apartment. I shared tomatoes later that season with neighbors, who returned the favor with freshly-caught fish and the following spring, morel mushrooms.

That was my first lesson about how a garden could help build a community among strangers.

Since then, I’ve shared tomatoes, butternut squash, zucchini, cucumbers and homemade pesto with neighbors. I still recall my daughter having friends over and she picked a tomato off the plant and ate it. The kids were all in awe – they didn’t realize tomatoes came from plants.

At this point in the spring/summer, mostly I have lettuces, radishes and arugula. The sign for fresh strawberries just went up at Mason Farms along Old French Road. So what could be better than some grilled chops and a fresh salad, using a mixture of lettuces and strawberries?

veal chop

Grilled veal chop, baked beans, orzo carbonara and a fresh salad with arugula and strawberries, watermelon and fresh feta.

The veal chops, purchased at the West Side Market in Cleveland from Sebastian Meats, were perfect. I simply marinated in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary. To finish the chops, add a drizzle of olive oil and a small pat of butter while they rest. This will create a juice to drizzle on top.

Strawberry, Watermelon, Arugula and Feta Salad

1 cup watermelon cubes
1 cup hulled strawberries, halved or quartered (depending on size)
2 cups arugula
1/4 cup feta (preferably sheep’s milk), crumbled
Thinly sliced red onion to taste
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
Salt
Pepper

In a large bowl, combine watermelon, strawberries, arugula, feta, onion and basil. Toss gently. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil and honey. Drizzle over salad and toss gently. Taste. Add salt and pepper, if desired.

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