Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gardens for Plainfield

A children's story I've been mulling for awhile. I hope to make collage illustrations and submit it to a children's book publisher sometime soon. -KW

Marisa lives in Plainfield, New Jersey, with her mother, Elena, her father, Paul, and her baby brother Sam. She lives on the third floor of an apartment building with four stories and many families, and also many balconies where people put pots of flowers and herbs to bask in the sun.

Marisa and her family go to church at the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield. Once a month, the church has a food pantry, to give out bags of rice, noodles and canned goods to their neighbors who have a hard time earning enough money to buy food.

Three times every year, Marisa, her mother and father and many other grown-ups and kids at the church get together to cook hot meals for the neighbors. They peel mountains of sweet potatoes and stem box after box of kale, collard and other greens. They mix big bowls of cornbread batter and cook the bread in the shiny ovens. People bring cooked turkeys and apple pies, and pounds of coffee are put to percolate in the big coffeepot.

When everything is ready, and the scents of coffee, baking cornbread and glazed sweet potato mingle in the warm air, the people come in and eat as much as they want, for as long as they want. The big kids bring bread and butter to each table and the little kids dance and stomp around under everyone’s feet. In the kitchen, the grown-ups put dirty dishes in the dishwasher and then open the door to a cloud of steam to pull out the clean plates. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, every year.

One Christmas, while she was watching the people eat, Marisa started thinking about the pots of flowers and herbs on everybody’s balconies. She got an idea, and the idea got stuck in her head. Gardens for Plainfield!

Elena and Paul liked the idea, and helped Marisa write a plan and take it to the City Council.

The City Council liked the idea and set aside some money for seeds and tools.

The neighbors liked the idea, and walked around their houses and apartment buildings, marking out sunny spots with Popsicle sticks and string. They found 57 places to put new gardens to grow fresh fruits and vegetables.

By early March, seven weeks before the last frost, Marisa and her neighbors were ready to dig. They had a digging party, and served lemonade and cookies to everyone who helped.

Every Saturday for the six weeks before the last frost, they had seedling fiestas in the Parish Hall. They spread newspaper on the floor and brought in big bags of dirt and planted dozens of trays of lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, peas, cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, basil, onions, radishes, lima beans, green beans, kale, collard, chard, parsley, eggplant, dill, cauliflower, celery, cantaloupes, watermelons, honeydews, spinach, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, strawberries, carrots, garlic, zucchini, chives, marjoram, and sage.

One Saturday, Marisa’s neighbor Bill came into church and whispered an idea to Marisa. Marisa whispered it to Elena, who whispered it to Paul and pretty soon everyone in the neighborhood began looking for extra sunny spots to plant fruit bushes and fruit trees: raspberries, blueberries, currants, blackberries, apples, peaches and pears.

Finally, Planting Day arrived, and the whole downtown was filled with streamers, balloons, and people with muddy knees and muddy hands holding muddy trowels. Kids pulled the seedling flats from garden to garden in their little red wagons, and some of the teenagers set up their bands and played music on the street corners.

All that first summer, everyone checked all the gardens. Never before have gardens been so well watered and weeded! People collected jars for canning, and big pots, and made a schedule for the church stove at harvest time. They dug root cellars, and found a room to store seeds, and collected books for a gardening library. They started up compost piles to get ready for nourishing the garden plots in the fall.

They planned a giant Harvest Festival for the first weekend in October. The Mayor gave a speech. The City Council chair cut a ribbon at the first garden plot to be harvested.
Day after day, baskets of tomatoes and cucumbers and melons and every other sort of fruit and vegetable came into the church in the little red wagons, and came out again in boxes filled with rows and rows of shiny glass jars filled with tomato sauce, pickles, apple butter, sliced peaches, a whole rainbow of foods.

At the end of November, Marisa and her family came to a different kind of Thanksgiving Dinner at their church – a potluck. Everyone brought something to share – from fresh bread to apple pies to green bean casseroles to spaghetti and tomato sauce.

And everyone ate, as much as they wanted, for as long as they wanted.

The End.


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