I grew up a city kid through and through. My familiar world was made of freeways and concrete, with occasional glimpses of green in an urban park. Gardening, and more specifically growing food, was the furthest thing from my mind during my formative years. My physical environment wasn’t the only factor influencing, or restricting my awakening. I was raised by a loving mother, yet one who fully embraced the mid-century conveniences of tv dinners and canned vegetables. I knew no better, and learned to crave that blueberry cobbler after finishing my Salisbury steak.
Fast forward to my teenage years and not surprisingly, a discontent settled in. I had a nagging sense that as a society, we were so distanced from the natural world, certainly I was. And a longing to find connection with the environment, and to understand my agency over my health and well-being, as well as my role and impact on the planet grew inside me. My growing consciousness bloomed, and while I found ways to engage it by seeking out experiences such as backpacking, kayaking, eating a vegetarian diet, I was still primarily living the urban life, spending years in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and New York City. A window box of flowers was about the extent of my gardening experience.
I joined the Williams College community in September of 2021. Living in rural Massachusetts is a dream come true for me, as it fully realizes my decades long cultivated love for the outdoors and the natural world. A few months after moving here, I had the good fortune of being granted a community garden bed. I was ecstatic! But also, a bit concerned as I really had no idea what to do or how to do it. What did I know about growing food? How much time would be needed to learn what to do before doing it? Surely it takes years of experience to be a good gardener and I had about two weeks to get it together and figure out a plan for late spring planting!
With the help of my sister and my niece, we dug right into the garden bed, enjoying the coolness of the earth on our hands while we plotted and scheduled our array of seeds and starters. With the first planting came the anticipation of the unknown. Within a week we were ecstatic at the first signs of budding green spinach, radish, and lettuce. Within a month we harvested our first salad fixins. This was the first time I had eaten food that I had grown and the emotional impact of that was profound. What deeper connection can we have to life, and to the earth, than to create a partnership with them that sustains us?
There were many failures and lessons learned along the way. By mid-summer I realized the broccoli was planted too close, our tomatoes didn’t exactly thrive, and the radishes were undersized and too bitter. Despite those issues, my frequent visits to the bed became a happy ritual for months. I often walked down and took my lunch breaks at the picnic bench in the garden, just to sit and observe, and be in that space. It has been hard to say goodbye to this inspiring season. Now that the garden bed is put away and tucked in for winter, I will spend time researching those failures, and making sure I learn from them. The fecundity of the local soil and growing season is unbelievable, and now that I have dabbled in my first vegetable garden and have experienced its nourishment, I only want to have more, learn more, become a better partner with the earth and deepen that sustaining relationship ensuring it goes both ways.
Christina F. Walsh is the Associate Dean of Students/Dean of First Year Students at Williams College.