Won’t Stop Showing Up

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This story was written by Jessica Hearne, a Grace and Main leader and founding member as well as Field Personnel with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. You can support her work either by donating to Grace and Main or directly to her support fund.

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On Thursday, March 12, the Grace and Main Urban Farm Leadership team met for one final off-season planning meeting. Nearly every Thursday morning in January and February, the team met to discuss methods for companion planting, pest control, pruning, and groundhog management. Every week over breakfast – sometimes biscuits from Biscuitville and sometimes a casserole or frittata made by a team member – we made lists of crops to plant, routines to implement, and skills to learn. This last meeting in March was warm, so we walked through the property together, observing the signs of spring, and making a list of tasks that would need to be completed in order to prepare the land for the coming growing season. The plan was to begin working the following Thursday, pulling back the protective covers and planting our spring greens and peas. The Urban Farm is a community project, but it is the particular garden leaders that make it work.

Of course, you know what the next days brought with them. In fact, you probably already know that that plan changed the next day, Friday the 13th, when the governor announced that schools would be closing for two weeks due to the threat of COVID-19. Before the two weeks were up schools were closed for the remainder of the year and a stay-at-home order was put in place to keep people safe and try to limit the spread. We had to cancel our group farm workdays, first for the month of March, then for April and May as well, in order to protect those members of our team who have underlying health conditions and who are at higher risk for the more severe effects of the disease. With new and changing limitations on where we could go and who we could safely be with, it wasn’t clear what would happen to our gardens. Likewise, it wasn’t clear how our leaders would be able to respond in the face of not only COVID-19 but also job losses.

But a global pandemic and a quarantine haven’t stopped Johnny. Johnny was one of the first neighborhood leaders at the Urban Farm. Over the last four years, he has maintained an individual garden bed as well as helping to plan and take care of several of our community beds. He has grown tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, okra, potatoes, and turnip greens, using what he remembers from helping with his granddad’s garden decades ago as well as information from YouTube videos and library books. He has spent countless hours studying squash bugs, groundhogs, and how to grow bigger potatoes. If a pandemic won’t keep Johnny out of the garden, then we don’t think anything will.

Knowing that we were going to have to cancel group work days for a while, Johnny volunteered to go up and cut the grass every so often to make sure it didn’t get out of control. He cleaned up his garden bed, as well as a couple of community beds, and has planted potatoes, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes. He even ventured out to the hardware store to pick up string and two-cycle oil for the weed eaters at our tool library so that he could use them to clean up the edges. He doesn’t have a car, so he has both relied on friends for rides and made the trip on foot when necessary. As I have been trying to juggle the new challenges of Kindergarten homeschooling while helping deliver meals, groceries, and toilet paper to friends who were running low, it was a relief to know that the Urban farm was being maintained.

We’ve restarted our work days as we’ve all learned how to adapt to life alongside COVID-19 – we’ve double the number of days that someone is working in the gardens, but halved the number of people that are there at any one time. When we were finally able to start our regular workdays again we were able to harvest squash and turnip greens on the very first day, thanks to Johnny and other leaders who went out on their own and continued the work. We’ve literally eaten and shared the fruits of Johnny’s work, passion, and commitment. The four years of working, learning, and training together has given Johnny and other leaders confidence and skill to do the work without direct supervision or oversight. Personal experiences with hunger and poverty may be what brought our leaders together, but after four years working alongside each other, it is the chance to be a part of something good and beautiful that keeps them showing up and growing food and new gardens for our neighbors and our city. When the world changed with COVID-19 there may have been some question about what would change with it, but the commitment of Johnny and other leaders is unshaken. If a pandemic won’t keep us apart, then what could?

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