At 10 a.m. on a cool spring morning, the line between seasons is rendered visible at the Growing Home Gardens’ two sites on Emily Street. Shade cuts a long shadow across the waiting expanse of garden plots as the sun makes its way upward. A small group huddles around a picnic table, pouring coffee and putting on work gloves. Across the span of an hour, more and more people arrive. The chill will disappear as sunlight erases shadow and we get to work.
In just a few short months, the gardens will be a space of verdant green, brought to life through the expertise of Bhutanese, Burmese Chin and Burmese Karen refugees, along with their South Philly neighbors. First, though, there is much to be done: cleaning the plots of winter debris, manmade and natural; pulling weeds, ever persistent; creating mulch pathways from here to there; preparing the soil for planting.
This is why I am here. A volunteer with limited gardening experience, I want to be useful—to not get in the way of the dozens of refugees who arrive eager to get these waiting spaces up and running. Such fears are quickly allayed as the plots’ owners and those of us here for the day settle into a smooth division of labor.
As people tend their gardens—children and grandparents and everyone in between—I clear debris. Working, we share smiles and pathways, if limited language. From plot to plot, there are previews of what will come in the form of plant markers from the year before: mustard greens and Early Girl tomatoes, green onions and peppers of every stripe. I find myself wondering what dishes will emerge from the soil, which at this point in the season is defined solely by its potential.
The families, too, seem to cast their thoughts forward, ready to plant seeds, still a few weeks off. They cluster around the NSC staff, asking questions. They line up to see if additional plots are available, demand high. The impact of the program is rendered visible—it is tangible—as the sun reaches center sky and warms the block. There is a sense of presence among the refugee families as they work, their agricultural knowledge apparent.
Filling bags, I am humbled to help in my small way, circling and listening as the day continues. When I leave, near lunchtime, it is clear the work will continue on, a hum of conversation and labor ushering in the life that waits to be drawn from each plot.
View more pictures from the Spring Cleaning.
–Jenn Hall, NSC Volunteer, Writer