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Column: Carefree days in a berry patch

Ripe strawberries from the garden.

I don’t remember what it’s like being in a garden when I was 3 years old, but watching the neighbor kid gives me an idea of what it’s like. I don’t know what her name is but I do know that she doesn’t want those poor tomato plants I’m trying to plant to be buried in the dirt.

As she enthusiastically stomped her way through the other garden plots to get where I was, I knew my plants may not be spared the same fate as the others in her path. It would go like this. Me, trying my best to communicate with a 3 year old, which I have absolutely no experience with, tried to stop her from pulling up the plant by it roots. She forcefully proclaimed, “No!”, and grabbed the plant. This happened several times as I tried my best to articulate to her that the plant actually liked being buried. Thankfully Leslie Konyndyk, the Garfield Park Community Garden Coordinator,  saw my situation and intervened, taking the garden monster to the strawberry patch where she was neutralized by the abundant offering of strawberries to squish, and sometimes eat.

That brief time when her and the other neighbor kids were “helping” us in the garden struck me as a special moment. It was the first time this year that the garden actually felt like a neighborhood garden and not just a labor of love for me and the handful of volunteers who spend so much of our time in the dirt.

My earliest memory of harvesting a food directly from a plant and putting it in my mouth was picking blueberries on one of the many blueberry farms west of Grand Rapids. All one has to do is travel 20 minutes west on Lake Michigan Drive to find Michigan’s freshest berries. My siblings and I had a riot shooting blueberries out of our noses at each other and eating them until we got sick.

I hope every child gets a chance to do that. Gets a chance meet some of their first bugs while pulling weeds. Have a monarch butterfly land on their shirt. Find out what dirt tastes like. Now as an adult, I still pick plenty of berries. Still occasionally shoot them out of my nose, maybe. But it sure had a lot more magic to it when I was a child. I hope she grows up and appreciates these carefree times of childhood as I did, and spends more time in a garden than being glued to a screen.