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New Growth: A First Time Gardener’s Reflections On Their Time at Victory Gardens for Peace
by Lilah Mehri, VGFP 2021 6-Month Intern

Lilah in the garden at VGFPI arrived in Mendocino at the beginning of June, having just graduated from university two weeks prior. I was living in the heart of Los Angeles, California and experienced a complete energetic shift with regard to where and how I was living.

About a year earlier, through my spiritual practices and journey, I found myself being called towards working with the land. I wanted to develop a relationship with plants and soil, as well as learn how to grow food in order to help myself and others become food sovereign. Up until June I had only ever lived in cities and was witness to the extreme disconnect that most people in the United States have with our food production system. When you eat a meal, how many of us question, where is this food coming from? What hands grew this food? What soil and resources were required to do so? I also saw how the misuse of land in urban spaces perpetuates this inaccessibility of both nutritious food and of the knowledge surrounding our production and consumption habits. But there is great innovation on the front of regenerative agriculture, which to me inspires a lot of hope.

Though I had no prior gardening experience, I arrived in Mendocino with an open heart and an eagerness to literally get my hands dirty and start my journey with plants.

One of the first things I realized once being in the Victory Gardens daily was that the garden itself proNew Growth: A First Time Gardener’s Reflections On Their Time at Victory Gardens for Peace By Lilah Mehri, VGFP 2021 6-Month Intern vides a tremendous space for education. Not only does gardening require and strengthen skills in math and science (planning, calculating, observing, attunement to biology, etc.) but also it deepens more abstract skills such as reciprocity, trauma healing, responsibility, patience, communication, and re- establishing the role of the human within nature and her cycles. I wish that education systems across the country prioritized the garden as a space for growing, not just of plants but also of people, as its countless lessons can and will be taught when one sets out to have a reciprocal relationship with the land.

The GROW BIOINTENSIVE® method used at Victory Gardens for Peace is a very specific approach to growing food; however, many aspects of the method are applicable to all climates, gardens, and gardeners. For example, in GB we sow seeds into flats, 3- inch-deep boxes made from scrap redwood or cedar, rather than into the more traditionally used rows of plastic cells. This slightly different approach makes a great difference in both resource use and plant growth. The seedlings are offset from one another and plastic walls do not separate them, more easily facilitating growth and communication. Moreover, one only has to water the area of the flat until the seedlings are ready for transplanting, rather than use the water required for an entire bed when seeds are directly sown into the ground.

These past several months have been challenging and rewarding. Every day in the garden has offered me lessons, insight, and joy. And while I have experienced peace and serenity living in Mendocino, I cannot help but to continue to consider the ways in which GB and gardening in general can be better implemented in urban and/or suburban settings. For example, the Maryland Agricultural Reserve is a protected portion of land (93,000 acres) outside of Washington, DC, my hometown. The Ag Reserve was originally intended be the land that would feed the city’s residents, the idea being that food need not travel far to feed people. Unfortunately, while the reserve and its farmers are still protected, the area does not actually feed the city. Instead, it is still reliant on importing food from places like California. But what a wonderful prospect! Perhaps we can work off of this original concept and find creative means of feeding cities with the land they occupy or its immediate surroundings.

In the garden, I think on more ways we can improve our relationship with our food. How can we turn empty lots into functioning gardens, where our roots and our hands can go directly into the earth? How can we strengthen community gardens as we imagine new, beautiful and equitable ways of living, something abolition invites us to do? How can we improve gardening education, making it standard practice of life and knowledge sharing? How can we make information as digestible for the masses as possible, through media such as art? I see an infinite number of benefits to gardening; improved nutrition, physical activity, intellectual stimulus, a strengthened understanding of both self and connectedness to all, a deeper understanding of our climates and soils, an emphasis on carbon sequestration and regenerative agricultural practices, and an increase in food security. It is for us to be able to realize the potentials of a reciprocal relationship with plants if we are able to return to and remember our roots on this planet. There are many dark headlines and data points that may instill greater fear in people as we continue learning more about our planet and our actions. But in return there too is an abundance of hope. To tap into this abundance we must look inwards to our souls and down to our soils, empower voices that have been silenced yet remain resilient in our remembrance of oneness, and listen rather than dominate the needed conversation with the rest of nature as we move forward. I am thrilled to be taking the knowledge I have gained in this internship with me to collaborate with others in finding creative ways to re-approach growing and eating from a place of love rather than of fear.

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