77, Invigorated, and Ready to Grow: The Gloucester Gardening Revolution through Pat’s Eyes
(A Garden Spotlight)
Pat exudes joy. She’s a delightful conversationalist, and after an hour spent chatting in her living room, I left her home inspired about the ways gardening has the power to change lives.
“I lived on a farm in Mississippi 10 miles up in the hills on a dirt road for 6 years. I wanted to try to go back to basics and see what it was like. I had a garden there that had to be almost an acre— it had everything!”
As I sit on Pat’s couch with her pup snuggled up next to me on a windy winter day, we watch Pat’s eyes light up as she regales us with stories of her southern garden back in the 60’s. “They have a lot more vegetables down there because the growing season is so long, so I had everything you could imagine. And I canned! I had everything— canned goods under the bed, I had two freezers. It was incredible!”
Pat is a backyard gardener in Gloucester as part of Backyard Growers’ founding program and on a crisp December day I met with her to reflect on her first year growing in her raised bed. The audio from our conversation is interrupted with dog whimpers and funny interludes assuring her that I do want her dog to be fully perched on my lap. We talked about how gardening has followed her through the decades and what gardening looks like now as an older adult.
“The thing is, I’ve been up here for about 30 years and I never knew how to grow the things here or the season, or the ground, and a lot of the vegetables I wasn’t used to growing; I always wanted to do it, but I never had the opportunity or a place to grow them. When I heard about this [Backyard Garden] program I said, ‘Oh my goodness! I’ve got to call them!’ So I did and I think I was the first person to put in their application like a year ahead— it was wonderful. [giggles] The whole process was great.”
The Backyard Garden Program is BYG’s flagship program that started back in 2010; residents of Gloucester get a free raised garden bed in their yard, soil, seeds and seedlings, free access to workshops and events, as well as continued support through mentors. Throughout the years we have had over 150 gardeners in our program enthusiastic about growing their own food and love knowing Pat’s vigor is contributing to the garden revolution.
I asked Pat to tell me most fun part about her raised bed this season, and with a bright grin she began to tell me stories of sharing with friends: “I had so many tomatoes that were so good! I go to physical therapy and I gave them to my friends there— I shared my garden a lot! It was certainly enough for my son and I, so I had all those nice vegetables and I would take them in and give them to people and they would love it.”
Alongside all that joy, there are challenges in every growing season. Pat recalls struggles with birds. “I got my free seedlings from Backyard Growers–little chard and little spinach, very new and tender–well, I planted them and I was out on the porch one morning and there was a bird that just pulled the whole thing out! I was so upset that they ate everything so I started improvising to try to keep the birds away.”
Pat crafted what is called “gardening predator eyes” fastened out of pie pans and paint. She discovered these in a seed catalog. The reflective properties of the pan can scare the birds and the eye pattern of red, yellow, and black circles trick birds into thinking it is an eye of a hawk or a larger bird preying over them. Even though the birds were frustrating, they didn’t keep her from a successful growing season.
We talked more about the joys and victories of growing your own food; nothing compares to plucking a crisp cherry tomato right off the vine and feeling it burst between your teeth. “What you get in the grocery store has a little flavor, but it’s just nothing that compares,” Pat continues, “plus picking it right out of the ground? It’s like catching a fresh fish and frying it up.”
At Backyard Growers we believe that the power to grow one's own food doesn’t just make a difference in taste, but that it has the power to enhance the quality of life.
In the winter her bed might not have much to boast about, a simple raised bed filled with frozen crumbles of soil, but come the spring I can’t wait to see the abundance it becomes. As our interview was wrapping up, I laughed as I asked Pat my final question: “What does it mean to you to be a part of the food revolution here in Gloucester?” I laughed because I was actually giddy to hear her response; I was joyful to be in her house learning from a change-maker in my community.
The giggles are contagious as Pat responds to my lofty question. “I feel great about it! [laughs] I feel in the know! If someone said something to me about it, I would be able to talk to them and spread the word. If I can do it, they can; I’m 77 and in better health now because of the garden! It’s invigorating watching it grow. I feel better, I’m happier, and I know from moving in the garden that I’m stronger!”
Interviewed and written by Mackenzie Sains.