I am constantly struck by what a rarity it is in today’s world to see men and women working alongside each other as equals, as complementary parts of a larger whole. Perhaps that’s part of what makes being a part of the Homeless Garden Project’s community each Wednesday such an affirming, uplifting experience. Together with my married friends, Karen & Clay, I cook and serve lunch to the trainees and volunteers who happen to be laboring at the farm, tending the earth, every Wednesday. A grin breaks over my face as I struggle up to the kitchen shed, soup pot in hand. I’m met by the Jill-of-all-trades, Susie, who’s dropped a hoe to begin the lunch set-up process. Over the past six weeks, Susie has demonstrated such grace under pressure, such seeming control over multiple unpredictable variables (not the least of whom are a cohort of a dozen new organic farming apprentices!!), such resiliency that I can’t help but smile. She’s a shoulder-to-the-grindstone with a huge heart.
Next, I see the familiar shy but warm grin of Lee, her belly now almost pulling her horizontal. Whether tending to the mountain of compost or delicately transplanting baby seedlings, Lee seems to radiate kindness. I soak it in and feel nurtured by her mothering. Deborah makes her way up to the kitchen shed’s counter, her floppy hat just shading her face. Though I rarely see Deborah grinning, appreciation and determination seem to have taken up residence on her countenance. She always expresses such sincere gratitude for our time and the meal we’ve prepared as she glances at her watch, making her way back into the field at precisely noon. Rainbow-haired happiness strides up next, in the person of Amanda. Always a story to tell and an appetite to offer — with round after round of thanks. Moises follows, his characteristic swirl of dreadlock wrapped just ’round the back of his head and nestled behind his right ear-plugged ear. His smile always disarms me — radiant as the morning sun and just as healing. He’s followed by New Hampshire-speakin’ David, whose sense of humor and groundedness anchor the whole crew. . . He serves up doses of garden and life wisdom in exchange for spoonfuls of hot soup. Michael follows, allowing Angelika to step in the lunch line before him. A bear of a guy, his grin sits atop now famous t-shirts that describe his character perfectly: “DON’T PANIC – I’M ORGANIC!”
In the midst of these fields, where rainbows of chard sit comfortably next to stickerless blackberry, women and men appear to labor harmoniously. They use natural strengths to complement each others’ efforts and, in so doing, the gals become stronger, more confident. The guys seem to learn honestly that muscle’s not always what’s needed. A community of peers develops, where wisdom is sought equally from seasoned hands and newbies, like me! I can offer my chili recipe in exchange for advice on how to keep my cucumbers safe from snails. Clay can admire the artistic design of a circular bed while Michael describes what it takes to maintain it. At the end of the day, each feels a sense of playing a vital role, of making the Earth a little brighter, more sane, a bit more peaceful. That’s the type of community nonprofit that truly empowers us all — women & men, old & young, monied & penniless. . . And it’s where you’ll find me every Wednesday just as the clock chimes 11:30 a.m.
by Caitlin Reyes Brune
Volunteer at the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz