Every spring the grizzled old man drove his two-horse team down our St. Paul street to the vacant lot he would plow to start his vegetable garden.
By Thom Hawkins
After the first freeze in the Minnesota fall, he would abandon the lot, leaving behind frostbitten vegetables. Then my little gang of hoodlums would invade, gleefully bombarding each other with spoiled carrots, cabbages, celery, melons, squash and tomatoes. Eventually we limped home, proud walking salads.
In Kansas I went to the stables every day to feed and groom Thunder, then ride the plains. Sometimes I would stop to visit with farmers working the land. One farmer out in his field refused to talk to me until I took my sunglasses off. “I don’t trust a man I can’t look in the eye.”
In San Francisco there was no room to grow anything, but when we moved to Berkeley, I started my first serious vegetable garden. I cultivated the driveway, blocking the garage. Fresh organic food is more important than cars. My four-year-old son was a natural gardener. Today he has his own backyard organic food forest in Glendale, teaching his two grown sons how to keep growing.
The house in Santa Barbara had a great yard for growing almost anything, and neighbors had large vegetable patches. We often found bags of fresh produce on our back doorstep. Our giant old avocado tree provided plenty of alligator pears for the neighborhood.
A tiny cottage in Willows became our second home for a few years. In the Sacramento Valley sun, our organic garden thrived on the quarter acre of rich alluvial soil: tomatoes, peppers, beans, corn, eggplant, squash, Chinese bitter melon, Chinese winter melon, cilantro, onions, potatoes. Elderly neighbors cared for the garden whenever we were back in Berkeley pretending to be urbanites. We gave them half the crop, and when we were on the land, they let us gather fresh eggs from their henhouse every morning.
In 1972 my wife and I bought a 1906 Berkeley farmhouse near campus. We grew snow peas and lettuce, and stewarded several fruit trees–apricot, lime, loquat, lemon, fig, persimmon, plum and avocado. In 2007 the marriage ended and the drought set in. Now, at age 84, I’m on the land again at Throop’s Permaculture Learning Garden in Pasadena getting the love that was missing, still waiting for the rain.
You can find me gardening at Throop UU Church every Sunday morning around ten. Come by and I’ll give you a taste of the harvest. I’m growing Italian parsley, red chard, Japanese eggplant, purple tree collards, green onions, celery, Japanese mustard greens, yellow beets, cantaloupe, zucchini, Chinese bitter melon, French green beans, golden purslane, New Zealand spinach and borage. Something is ready to harvest every Sunday and we welcome volunteer gardeners, no experience necessary. Your reward will be fresh organic produce, smiles and satisfaction.
> Throop Garden has a volunteer workday every fourth Saturday morning from 9:00 to 11:00 am.
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