I recently moved to an apartment in Louisville after living in a house in Berea for the past 18 years and now I am getting used to my apartment complex of ten buildings and 42 apartments. In my old neighborhood people would emerge after the winter and start enjoying the spring while working the soil. My neighbors’ passions were varied including flowers, trees, shrubs, fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Berea has encouraged gardens in the front yards for the past several years and that was where my little raised bed grew tomatoes and basil for the past several summers. I knew it would be different living in an apartment, but I have been happy to see that my landlord allows us to put out pots, a couple of raised beds and even a compost bin off to the side.As I walk my dog each morning and evening, I get to watch the progress of my neighbor’s plants and their attempts to prevent the rabbits from being the only consumers of their garden of fresh vegetables. This has been a positive addition to my apartment life, not only the pleasure of watching food grow, but also knowing that there are landlords who embrace the gardening spirit of their residents.
I have worked in affordable housing for the past 20 years and I believe that whether a person owns or rents their house or apartment, it should be affordable, quality, safe and a place you can call home. Being able to garden when there is available land outside your apartment door allows people to make it more of a home and provide their family with fresh food grown with their own hands. It brings us that much closer to the food chain that typically is only at grocery stores or farmers markets and actually allows renters to participate in the cost savings of gardening.
I am a big supporter of community garden plots, but nothing beats the experience of doing a little weeding and watering on your way in and out of your home each day. Once the vegetables start ripening you can wait until the perfect day to pick it as you prepare the meal it will be used in.
At my home in Berea, mulberry season has just ended. I have a large mulberry tree in my front yard and during these few weeks my neighbors will stop by, pick, eat and try in vain to get the birds to eat the ones at the top of the tree, leaving the lower branches for those of us without wings.
Later in the summer my neighbors, who have a large garden on their parents’ farm 20 miles away, would often call at dinner time and ask if they could pick a couple of tomatoes that would be perfect in their salad. The answer was always yes and often led to us sharing dinner together and/or a bag of vegetables from their garden later in the week.
My apartment is beginning to feel like home and watching the vegetables take form and talking with neighbors about the various garden pots and raised beds makes it that much more welcoming. There is even a mulberry tree on my path where I get to strategically walk to avoid the purple stains of the fruit; but sadly there are no low hanging branches for picking.
I hope to encourage my friends in the affordable housing field to not only allow residents to plant gardens if they chose, but to encourage it. A garden of flowers and/or vegetables goes a long way to making any place feel like home. Creating a home, not just a house, was one of our goals as developers of affordable housing and for many of us that includes some flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs.
Gina Chamberlain is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Presbyterian Hunger Program working with in Louisville, KY.