By Donna Dell’Aglio and Michael Townsend
Michael and I are committed city dwellers. We appreciate the many advantages that a large metropolitan area provides. It is wonderful to visit world class museums, hang out with exotic creatures at the Maryland Zoo or National Aquarium, catch a professional baseball game, or explore culinary treats of the many cultures that comprise our city. Mike is profoundly disabled and we are also grateful for the close proximity of outstanding medical care, accessible public transportation, and a range of other supports that would be impossible to find in a more rural setting.
Still, something almost intangible is missing… We yearn for a taste of a quieter, gentler life. Despite all of our great urban advantages, we are a bit envious of our friends who enjoy life in the country. Oh, to have a garden (or even a yard) of our own! We dream of all things country: tending to the land and raising fresh vegetables, collecting farm fresh eggs, making jams or jellies with my own fruit, beekeeping, observing local wildlife. We often read Eydie’s blog with a certain amount of envy.
Over the past several years, Michael and I have attempted to infuse some aspects of country living into our city lifestyle. Often, we fail… Determined to have our own fresh veggies, we planted a container garden on our patio. Wonderful concept, but just about everything went wrong. We planted tomatoes — easy enough, I thought. We bought roomy containers with a nice drainage system. Procured top-of-the-line soil. Researched and obtained the finest quality seeds especially suitable for container gardening…
Mike and I were happy as we envisioned a robust garden and bountiful harvest. Even happier was Kathy, Mike’s service monkey from Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled. Little did we know that monkeys like to garden.They love to explore the soil, dig, catch bugs etc. Hey, Kathy thought we were setting up this garden just for her enjoyment.
Well, despite all of our efforts, the results were disastrous. Everything started well. Our plants appeared to be sturdy.They grew and grew — then stopped growing only to sprout mutant little tomatoes that seemed to become infected with some kind of fungus. Our pepper plants failed to become pollinated (I think — we had lots of flowers but no baby peppers). It was a sad experience — far from the beautiful, lush plants that I had envisioned. Over the course of several months, we managed to kill off a small herb garden and our flowers just wilted.
We grieved the loss of our plants and wondered what to do. We are committed to healthy eating and we really wanted to grow our own foods — even just a few. It seems like such a healthy and wholesome activity. And I am convinced that gardening is good for the soul on a deeper level. I love this quote from Thomas Moore:
So, we wondered what to do. Everyone seemed to have a theory to explain the demise of our tiny garden. Fear undermined our attempts to try container gardening a second time. We didn’t want to become serial killers…
Still desiring a taste of fresh fruits and veggies, we researched our options. Traveling to our nations capital, Mike and I toured the White House gardens. We had the opportunity to stroll past the Kennedy Garden of the East Wing and the famous Rose Garden just outside of the Oval Office. We wandered though the Children’s Garden where the hand and foot impressions of all the White House children and grandchildren line the floral walkways. Finally, we found our inspiration: the First Lady’s Victory Garden! Right in the heart of downtown Washington DC is an example of what can be achieved — a productive and healthful garden in the context of a urban environment. (Yes, we can!)
Now we knew what we could explore. Mike and I returned to Baltimore to find a bountiful garden within the city supported by like-minded folks. Community Supported Agriculture! Did you know that there are gardens sprinkled throughout our city? Plots of land worked by neighbors! Growing veggies and growing friendships. Making a positive difference in our community as well as our larger world. What a sensible and eco-friendly concept.
Just down the road from us, we discovered our farm, our garden, our slice of the earth to tend. The Cromwell Valley Park is a municipal park created from three former farms. Today, Cromwell Valley offers “an educational, hands-on CSA experience”. In addition to the weekly share of freshly picked, delicious, certified organic vegetables and fruits made available to members throughout the season, an incredible “U-Pick” garden packed with a wide variety of culinary and medicinal herbs, flowers, peas, beans, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries is also open to members. An on-site flock of rare breed chickens provide the highest quality pastured eggs, which are available for purchase at CSA pickup in limited quantity. The CSA also serves as a demonstration farm for students, farmers and the general public, with many educational programs offered over the course of the season. The Cromwell Valley CSA is a not for profit organization managed by a volunteer Board of Directors. The farmer and farm staff live and work in the beautiful Cromwell Valley Park near Towson, surrounded by abundant wildlife and many hiking trails. The land is protected from development by the Maryland Environmental Trust. Picnic tables with sweeping vistas of fields and woodlands make it an ideal site for picnics and nature walks.”
WOW! What more could Mike and I want? We pay a fee as well and provide sweat equity. Community Supported Agriculture is an intelligent and healthy alternative. Presto! We have a garden — a garden for our bodies and our souls.