Saw a fella out in my garden today. He’s tall and blond, riding one of those fixed gear 10-speeds that are all the rage with the kids today. I walked my bike from out back and started my 12 block commute to my office.
“Excuse me, who owns this lot?” he said.
“I do,” I lied. But you know, I feel like it’s mine. If you garden it, don’t you own it? A guy from Maine told me that if you plant a garden, the owner can’t uproot it. State law. Anyway, so I’m lying and he’s wondering.
“Do you need help?” he said.
Where was this man five years ago when I was building the beds? Hauling the manure?
Feeling a little like the Little Red Hen, I told him I mostly have it under control.
“There’s a lot of bare soil,” he said, and leaned back on his bike.
I’m a journalist, so I enjoy lots of criticism (from editors, and later, readers) but I do get defensive when a stranger makes comments about my gardening technique. And I started to wonder: Why am I getting defensive about my garden with this random jack-ass who I don’t even know?
In the last year or so I’ve had so many more visitors to the garden. I can’t tell if it’s my neighborhood getting gentrified or an upsurge of interest in urban gardening or the blog. I recently had two wonderful sisters come by the garden and offer their help. But they never mentioned my bare soil (which is being watered every day in anticipation of the beet, corn, and carrot seeds I buried there a few days ago).
Eventually I invited them to build their own raised beds. One of the sisters even followed a hastily drawn map to the stables where I get my treasure trove of horse manure. Her bed is thriving with beets, greens, spinach and tomatoes.
“Why don’t you leave your email,” I said, and pointed at our mailbox, which for some reason has graffiti writing all over it. “I’ll invite you to some gardening parties we have on Fridays.”
Dude looked unexcited about this prospect. Didn’t I see that he had seeds for my soil?
I explained that I had to go to work and we exchanged names and then I biked away.
If this guy had been more charming, maybe I would have entertained the idea of another gardener at GhostTown Farm. Even if he had been a delightful cross between Willie Nelson and Julia Child (imagine!), in the end I would’ve said no.
The trouble is, I don’t have enough water for any more farmers on my 1/10 of an acre. What with the drought, we’re being extra diligent to pour our bathwater and washing machine water into the greywater system, which empties out through the kitchen sink. It waters all the fruit trees that line the garden. All other watering has been cut down to bare minimum.
It’s a bummer, this scarcity, because I do like to share. But as I rode my bike to downtown Oakland, I passed by 5 vacant lots and one abandoned park. If the city could be convinced—by this fella who can identify bare soil so well, perhaps?–to set up community gardens in these vacant places, then even more people can grow their own food…Instead of watering grass, the city could water vegetables.
I realized as I parked my bike outside the office building: I don’t want my farm to be an oasis or a freakshow. I want it to be the new normal. That of course every empty lot grows vegetables and every block has some goats or chickens. But that’s going to take people who are willing to be bold, to strike out on their own, to make their own patch of bare soil to plant.
Speaking of freaks, check out my profile of “Carl” for SFGate.com