I hesitated, my finger hovering over the mouse pad. I knew the email would be bad news. I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, and clicked.
I uncrossed my fingers and sighed, my fears confirmed.
It was the lead test for my yard, my perspective garden. To put the number into context, 400 ppm and above is commonly considered too high for children’s play areas and edible gardening.
I had chosen our rental, in part, because it was south facing. Both the back and front yard had beautiful lighting, perfect for digging up a couple of garden beds. Most my gardening before had been fairly half hazard, but this year I was prepared. I was going to have an abundant kitchen garden like the ones that sustained my grandparents. I wasn’t going to worry with spinach or tomato scares, about pesticides or maltreated workers. I would be personally re imagining my food system.
The seedlings had started in the window. I was learning about companion planting. I even called 811 and had them mark all the no dig areas. We had started digging up one of the beds, but I was procrastinating sending in the soil samples.
After we moved in, I heard that our neighborhood, with it’s lovely old homes, was saturated with lead. The more I heard about the old factory down the street and I-40 with its leaded gasoline, the less I wanted to get the soil tested. Ignorance is bliss they say, and I wanted to blissfully daydream of my purple tomatoes and kale crops.
But lead poisoning in myself or even possible future children isn’t bliss. So after weeks of procrastination I finally got the soil tested. On earth day, it came back, and I learned there would be no planting in my ground.
That evening I sat on my front porch and stared at my green grass and budding bushes. I wanted to throw a 2 year old style tantrum, of not understanding why the world was so unfair. I was ready to take control of my food system. I was ready to get back to the dirt and simpler times. I was ready to turn my yard into a demonstration of how to do so. But for reasons beyond my control, I could not.
How was it that the ecological revolution I saw budding in myself and my backyard was so easily derailed by the previous industrial one of my predecessors?
I knew there were options, but I was stuck on this idea that we had tainted the earth. The soil was beautiful, yet the abundant crops it would yield, could very well be poisonous. We are blessed with this earth and it’s life giving and sustaining abilities. Our ignorance and progression laid it barren.
But as I mulled this over, I realized, I wasn’t derailed. I was just rerouted. If anything, I was course corrected.
Ignorance had tainted the earth. Ignorance, certainly would not heal it. The changes we need to our food system, the necessary changes we need for our future, are not simply the reapplication of past solutions. It’s a re imagination of the solution, an appropriation into today’s circumstances and needs. It’s a reaping of human ingenuity.
The victory gardens and kitchen gardens of my grandparents generation, sustained them during war and hard times. Our gardens need to do more, they need to heal. They need to heal our earth. They need to root us to each other and to our food.
And so that is the new daydream for my garden. My plans have changed. It is no longer a harvest from my backyard. It’s the harvesting of the knowledge and ingenuity from my peers and the application of that fertilizer onto my projects, both personal and in my work as a VISTA. It’s not about trying to do all the grand plans myself. It’s doing what I can at the moment, and encouraging other to do so as well.
I’m going to do my part to heal the land I’m on. Leave the property better than I found it. We’re growing sunflowers, which are said to pull lead from the soil. Though there is debate over the effectiveness, a yard sunflowers can’t hurt. We are salvaging wood and icing buckets to make planters, keeping them out of landfills. And we are seeking community, to continue to share these ideas and gain new ones.
Elise Springuel is a PHP VISTA running amok Indianapolis, IN. Her current favorite meal is pizza with micro greens on top. Not only do you get to pretend it’s healthy, you get to pretend you’re a giant eating bunches of kale!