The Other First Ladies of Gardening

Michelle Obama’s spotlight on community gardening and the importance of growing fresh healthy veggies, have been a God-send.

Donny’s post reminded me of some of other “first ladies” I know that have given so much to the idea community gardening. They are women in my life who have inspired me to be and give more as a gardener, and as a human being. These woman have helped me connect to my community and to myself through gardening. And although they may never grace the front page of a NY Times article, their contributions are no less powerful and beautiful.

Kristen Brennan, our former director believes in the power of the gardens to transform people beyond feeding them. She taught me that small, truly was beautiful and that creating community was one of the most important things in this work if not the only thing.

Going into her 4th year of GtC, Mabelline has always shown a quiet strength. Her actions have always shown foundations of leadership, discipline, and determination. Mabelline inspires me to push harder even when the task seems impossible. (Like hauling veggies on a bike up a steep hill). And how to take initiative for a task, even when you are unsure.

Qamaria jokingly once told me “I am the heart of this garden. Without me, you would all die!” While it’s not exactly true, Qamaria’s insightfulness constantly gives us different ways of looking at a problem and finding solutions. (When your complete operation is spread across several vacant lots, some with no water pipes, you come to rely heavily on creativity for problem solving).
Qamaria’s playfulness continues to remind me of the simplicity that is usually at the root of any issue. Our fearless leader.

Long after the garden is over you can find Ippy fixing a tomato bed that wasn’t exactly 2 feet in width, replanting onions that aren’t spaced correctly and making plans to arrive early the next day without the kids to catch up on any tasks that need to be done. The woman is driven!

I met Ippy when she came to GtC as a youth with her sisters, Qamaria, and Jalilah. She was 14. When given her own plot to design, along with the other youth, Ippy made sub-plots with her space, measuring each bed perfectly.
This year Ippy became the Director of GtC. When she’s not yelling out instructions, her laughter can be heard all over the garden. She combines her leadership with her exuberance making even the hardest work of GtC an act of joy.

The woman who started it all.

Nine years ago Betsy Corner, then NOFA/Mass‘s Social Justice Coordinator, was referred to me, a Springfield Resident, in order to start a community youth garden project in Springfield. We got together and designed a program called “Community Gardening/Gardening the Community” (later shortened to just Gardening the Community) and GtC was born. Starting on a small 1/4 of an acre. We worked together to find land, youth, and support for GtC. Betsy’s vision for what GtC could be was clear even then. She pushed me along when I thought no one would listen and showed me immense patience as a budding organizer.
Today GtC is my life. Not just because of the work that we do but because of the principles and the people behind it. GtC represents a community that is there for each other and comes together to live, work, and laugh. GtC is a new beginning every spring and a peaceful ending each fall. It is the wonderful mix of old friends and new ones and the memories that bind us all together.
I am proud to have known these women, and work side by side with them. I believe there are many more Michelles, Ippys, Mabellines, Kristins, Qamarias and Betsys, out there in other communities and gardens. Lending their vision, their laughter, their determination, and their compassion. They are a great source of strength, joy, and reconnection to the land.
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One Response to The Other First Ladies of Gardening

  1. Ippy says:

    Awwwwww Ruby Maddox!! This is such a sweet post, I have tears!!!!!!! (((tears…tears)))

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