I met Bridget on a bright, sunny day. Like most conversations in Nashville the weather was the first thing we talked about. It wasn’t a topic to break an awkward silence, rather Bridget was enthusiastically sharing that she was hoping for a few more weeks of winter. She explained that some of her seeds need cold weather when they are planted in order to flourish so she’s hoping the sunshine will hold off for a few more weeks. This is just one of the many lessons that Bridget has learned in her time as a community gardener at Wedgewood Urban Garden.
Bridget grew up helping her grandfather in his garden. She enjoyed helping him harvest black eyed peas and picking flowers with her grandmother. However, she says that her community garden was the first growing space that she was able to call her own. I asked Bridget to explain how being a community gardener over the past four years has impacted her life and she shared her life lessons with me.
Treat the earth right and it will return the favor
Growing a plant is a simple balance of water, soil, and sunlight but it takes time and attention. Being in tune to the needs of plants and patiently watching them grow gives you an appreciation to how delicate the act of growing is.
When you give the earth and plants what they need they will give the same back. Last year Bridget grew enough produce to make a meal every day. Even last week she made a dinner with bell peppers that she harvested and stored last summer.
Don’t be afraid to try new and different things
Christina Bentrup, former TNFP Garden Director, spent time with Bridget in the garden probing her to try new things. “She would say ‘try this’ and eat something right off the vine! I’ve learned that from her.” This was the first step in her trying new things - she seeks new vegetables for her garden, like kiwano and squash, and grows them using trial and error. This process has been a gateway to Bridget’s personal growth.
Don’t judge a plant by its foliage
Bridget’s favorite addition to her garden is kiwano, an African jelly cucumber. It took a long time to grow with an abundance of leaves but no fruit in sight. While preparing to pull the plant from the ground she was surprised with several cucumbers tucked under the fence. Unlike local varieties that soak up the sun, these cucumbers were hiding beneath a plethora of leaves. The taste and texture of the plant was equally unexpected. “It was interesting to see people’s reactions to how [kiwanos] look. They look like a weapon but you cut it open and it’s so opposite of its hard and thorny exterior...[It’s] soft and gooey on the inside.” It was so tasty that Bridget is growing it again!
Share what you learn
Growing a garden has pushed her toward healthy eating. “It feels good to eat what you grow, I know what I’m putting in my body.” Bridget has started a chain reaction in her community. She sells and shares her vegetables with community members, co-workers and friends and created Zysis Speaks, a blog sharing tips for gardeners growing in small spaces. She has seen the impact that her produce has made with others. “Last year I grew spaghetti squash and posted live videos, pictures, and info about how to cook it. The next thing you know someone else posted their pictures showing that they did it, too. If I hadn’t grown it I probably would have never tried spaghetti squash.”
Find your roots
The connection of growing her own plants has led to healthy changes in eating and appreciating the beauty of nature.
In her garden she has also developed a new connection to her grandparents and ancestors who had a farming background. “Now I can understand why my grandfather planted black eyed peas. I also think of my grandma out there picking peas when I’m here in the soil and the dirt.”
Reach for the sun
Bridget noticed that some seedlings were growing tall and skinny, and she wondered why. She learned that when plants are not getting the sunlight that they need to grow they will elongate towards the sun.
“[The plant] will reach to get where it wants to be. If plants can overcome their struggles so can I.”
For more tips and information, view Bridget’s blog Zysis Speaks or follow her Facebook page. If you are interested in signing up for a community garden plot at McGruder Family Resource Center or Wedgewood Urban Garden please submit an application at bitly.com/tnfpgardenapp.