Green Thumbs Up


April 2, 2010

In November, I came up with the idea to start a “square-foot garden” in one of my schools with the help of the mothers group. I thought it would be a good idea because the school gathers donations of vegetables every week to give them and the garden would be a simple and self-sustained way to augment that program.

Then I turned it over and over in my head, finding deficiencies and insecurities to hang on to such as: these women probably know how to plant a garden already, they probably won’t want to make one in their homes, what do I know, this isn’t going to work, I’m 17 fresh out of high school, there’s no way I can lead them…

The garden started seeming like a failure before it was even in existence. Every part of it seemed like such a chore– buying the wood in the market, putting it together, finding soil, filling it, planting it, explaining it. The hardest part of all was believing in it. I have found that I’m very good at discouraging myself.

But in February I finally bit the bullet and bought the wood in the Antigua market by myself– in the section behind the vegetable vendors and the dusty parking lot , where off-duty bus drivers and their ayudantes (helpers) wash the ever-present dust from their flamboyantly painted buses. Usually (and unfortunately) they are shirtless. I don’t enjoy haggling and I still didn’t know how I was going to carry the heavy and bulky boards with me onto the bus and to my school. My anxiety level, needless to say, was high.

I finally found a vendor, and explained to him my idea. He pulled out board after board, looking for one that was nice and straight. He quoted me a very reasonable price (based off of my prior research) and then asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting while he went to go find a saw to cut the boards with. It turned out that he spoke a little English and he gave me his Spanish/English reader to entertain me while I waited for about 30 minutes. We talked on and off, a few of his friends came by and helped him saw the boards (it took about another 45 minutes) and then the latest friend to come by offered to drive the boards to my school for me! That was the first triumph.

When it came time to put the garden together, the mothers absolutely blew me away. They brought nails and hammers from their homes, and about 10 went with me to the construction site next door to steal their dirt. We planted the seeds and a week later they were sprouting in neat little lines. I hadn’t even realized how much I had been stressing about it until the moment that I saw those tiny hyper green leaves. Some mothers started asking me where they could buy seeds to start the garden in their own home. I was thrilled!

Two weeks later the promising little plant-lets were either terribly stunted in their growth, or dead. As it turned out, the soil we stole was not of good quality. It basically turned to brick when water touched it. And so I felt that I had to animate myself again, buy potting soil in the market and pray that some friend of the vendor would drive it to the school for me so I didn’t have to carry it on my head (of all the Guatemalan habits and skills I have picked up, I simply don’t have the posture for that one). I discussed the issue offhandedly with a few mothers one day and they offered the idea that each mother could bring a little bit of good soil from the mountain and then we would just replant. I put it on the back burner to bring up the next time I would meet with the mothers (which, considering that Semana Santa was coming up, could be a long time.)

But when I walked in to the school today, the garden was filled with rich soil. Of all the ups and downs, this was maybe the best. It means that the garden isn’t mine anymore. It’s theirs.