As this year of service comes to a close I look back and recall the times where I felt at home in myself and in my work. Moments where joy overcame me and I embodied my belief of success. These moments grew more frequent as I became more comfortable with myself as a teacher and mentor and as I gained fluency with my programs and partnerships.
Words of affirmation battered down my anxious walls and replaced the knots in my stomach with pride. Throughout the Winter I worked with 1st Graders across Gloucester to build their relationship with food and farmers. When these programs came to a close and the 1st Grade class, sad to see me go, but excited for the coming of Spring, surrounded me with love as I was bombarded by a group hug and cries of “Miss Sarah! We’ll miss you!”, “Can you come back soon?”, “Miss Sarah! I can’t wait for the garden this year!”
As the teacher approached me after the children had been sent off to recess he offered me praise and affirmation. You will make a great teacher, you’ve taught us so much, you’ve been so professional and intelligent, the children love you! Receiving written praise through the mail in the form of year end feedback made the smile that I thought couldn’t beam any brighter stretch wider across my face.
This elation spanned across all of my programming. In my community gardens, I had gardeners that I convinced through fliers, traipsing through the neighborhood on freezing winter days, call after call after straight-to-voicemail call,Working through rain and snow to beautify the garden so they would see its appeal. Success lit up my face when someone would return my offer for a free garden bed with a “Yes”. As the Spring turned into summer my hard-won gardeners and I transformed the Riverdale Community Garden into a luscious, green, fruitful space. I worked to build relationships with each of them as individuals and build on their existing knowledge to cultivate their confidence in the garden.
One moment highlights the experience of gratitude we gardeners feel towards one another. I had worked a full day at the preschool and was exhausted as I pulled into the Riverdale Garden for my weekly program. It took all of my energy to get out of my car and great the children that waited for my arrival with excited eyes every Wednesday. A surprise awaited me in the garden as a first year gardener who recently immigrated from Morocco and is still learning English walks in to the garden to greet me with her three boisterous children. In my head my mind was already thinking how am I going to entertain these wild kids, I dont have the energy today ugh. When she sets down on the bench in front of me a porcelain teapot of tea that she brewed from the herbs I brought her for the garden the week prior. If that wasn’t enough, my I-didn’t-pack-a-lunch-stomach grumbled as she pulled from her bag freshly baked, warmed from the oven, flatbreads. A recipe from her home country she told me as I praised her work and poured out my gratitude and a cup of tea.
Riverdale offered more than one surprise this season as the “most challenging garden” offered me moments of calmness and bliss. The children ask me questions sit as I explain and pass along my knowledge to them. They beg me not to leave when 4:30 rolls around and I find I’ve been enjoying myself too and find mentorship and role modeling, though not always glamorous, fit me quite well.
The moments that come to mind with this bittersweet transition could make a pile on my desk a mile high and bring me laughter, tears, and heartache as I have to tear myself away from these gardens and people that I’ve grown to care about. Seeing how embedded in the community our little organization has become and how important in people’s lives, a backbone of their family; Backyard Growers is a dinnertime conversation, an activity that brings parents closer to their kids, a healthy safe after school alternative for neighborhood kids. We are so much more than a gardening nonprofit. We are a part of Gloucester.
Written by Sarah Visnick.