Hope and community grow from garden vandalism

GRAND BLANC, Michigan -- Brian White kneels over a hole in my garden. He pulls out his scissors and cuts broad grasses into pieces as if following a recipe from his head, adding mulch to the right proportions. He lifts the ingredients with his hands allowing it to fall between his fingers, slowly creating a nourishing blend. “The grass is the nitrogen, the mulch is the carbon,” he says remembering the science he has gathered through the years. He picks up the Delicata squash he is contributing, loosens the soil from the roots and sets the plant into the mixture. Brian is the neighborhood gardening guru and freely shares with the neighbors who have property along this strip of land. This plant is a gift from Brian, a gift of consolation and friendship.
Most mornings I’ll walk between the two large oaks at the back of the yard and through a narrow opening in the fenceline rimmed with warm light. I’m on the way out to the garden to say hello and look it over. It’s not like anything dramatic has happened overnight but it could be that I’ll notice the first tomatoes coming on the vine or the sprout of a pepper or cucumber that may have emerged. It’s part of the joy of gardening in the way it spiritually feeds its caregiver. It’s the anticipation of new life. It’s the hope for the first taste of vine-ripe tomatoes coming in a month or a sample of crisp green beans that can’t wait. It’s the memory of what will come again of steaming winter squash on the Thanksgiving table.
A week or so ago, on the Fourth of July, I made my morning walk out to the garden to find a scene I had feared through the years. Someone had systematically hacked virtually every plant to the ground with a machete or similar instrument. This was clearly not the act of one or more deer as the plants were sliced and the tomato cages tossed off to the side. Witnessing this scene created a sinking feeling. It was a feeling of sadness more than anger. A lot of work has gone into our garden, but maybe worse is knowing that much of the damage can’t be repaired. It’s just too late in the season to plant new butternut squash or pumpkins and expect them to mature before the chill of autumn brings the garden to a halt.
With a feeling of despair, I let our neighbors know what has happened by posting on Nextdoor.com, a website that connects neighborhoods and communities. Quite to my surprise, I heard from neighbors I don't know who live in neighborhoods I've never heard of. 

Cameron and Michael each have offered tomato plants, four of which are now growing in our garden. 

Cindy offered to help clean up and replant. 

Others have come by to witness the damage and offer condolences.
I can't say that I'm glad this vandalism happened—I've lost a lot of produce and the anticipation of what would come—but I never expected the joy it has left me with. I never expected this outpouring of support from my community. I thought that type of thing might no longer exist in our modern-day world. We are so busy with our own devices. We seem to huddle inside our homes, even when the evening sun beckons us to come out and laugh with our neighbors over the fence line. The vandalism also made me reflect about my own contribution and responsibility to those who live around me and to the greater community. The vandalism brought a segment of the community together. 

Now I look at my garden and see a modern-day “victory garden.” 

Yes, the perpetrator did an effective job laying waste to the garden and it doesn’t physically look much different now than it did when I found it. But the new tomato plants are there as is Brian’s squash plant. Recent overnight rain and warm days have brought new signs of life on the damaged squash plants. It has overcome an adverse circumstances, and it will continue to nourish. As I look out at this garden, it again provides not only for the body but also the spirit.

Whatever the outcome of this struggling garden, it has become a positive experience. The memory will be of the outreach of my community and a greater sense of my role as a part of that community. There will be produce on my table from the garden and hopefully some to give away.  
And, I'm going to make an effort to disconnect from my many screens and take a slow pedal around my neighborhood. I want to meet the people who live where I live and find the people who feel the same way. What a great way to spend a summer evening.

Read more articles by Bruce Edwards.