I know I pissed some of you off with the tomato theft story. With so many garden-oriented readers, I can’t help but think I half-hoped to stir up a little controversy with my presentation. And you have a valid point. Stealing is wrong, regardless of the scale, regardless of the circumstance. But let me give you the rest of the story, not to excuse it, but to put it in a larger context.
The garden in question turned out to be in back of my older son’s elementary school. That there was a garden back there was news to me. No one had ever mentioned anything about a school garden before. My son had never laid eyes on it. The woman who had told me about the tomatoes was affiliated with the community farm through which we have a CSA share, but I didn’t know much more than that. All I knew was there were unblighted tomatoes behind the school, possibly the only local tomatoes I would see all year, and I needed to figure out a way to get some. And, yes, I realize that stealing from children only worsens my case for clemency, but let me finish. Sheesh!
When I showed up at the building, boldly holding two pint containers in my hands, it was a week or so before school was starting. Teachers were preparing for the new school year and so there was some activity inside the building. I headed for the office to ask the school secretary about the garden. She said, what garden? I said, the garden in back of the school. She said, we have a garden in back of the school? I said, don’t you? Nobody else in the office seemed to know. This is when I started to doubt the veracity of the woman at the farm. Where did she get this information? I asked if I could go out back and look. The secretary said, go ahead. I asked if she wanted me to pick her a pint of tomatoes while I was back there. She didn’t seem to care.
If you missed the tomato story, what happened next is here. The plants were big and beautiful and yielded tons of ripe little sungolds. Tons. I took two pints and change, and barely made a dent. It was clear that somebody was taking good care of that garden, but who? Then, when the janitors started banging trashcans against the windows, I figured it was probably them. I resolved to get to the bottom of this mystery as soon as possible. As soon as possible after I got those tomatoes into a salad.
Once school began, I started volunteering at the school library. The library has a long bank of sunny windows in the back that happen to overlook the garden and its woody surroundings. I asked the librarian about the garden and, as it happened, she knew the e-mail addresses of the two people who planted it. I contacted them and one of them wrote back to say that the garden was part of a pilot program at the public schools designed to teach kids about where their food comes from and the growing cycle. One of the grades had planted pumpkin seeds before summer vacation and would be harvesting them that fall. She said they were looking to expand the garden and get more kids, and perhaps the parents, involved. Can you guess who the person in charge of the garden was?
The woman who told me about the tomatoes in the first place!
Damnit! I hadn’t been stealing after all! She had practically given me her blessing. (sigh)
Well, that garden left such an indelible impression on me that I immediately volunteered to be the parent liaison. Now I help Healthy Waltham, a city-run organization that aims to improve health and quality of life, in organizing parent volunteers to help maintain the garden over the summer (weeding, watering, and, yes, harvesting) so it’s in good shape for lessons in the fall. They’re hoping that, with more parent involvement, the garden can grow, become more integrated in the curriculum, and serve as an example for other schools around the country.
Nine families signed up to take care of the garden for a week this summer. During our week, the kids and I watered the plants, weeded, and mulched the pumpkin patch with straw. And by “the kids and I,” I mean me. They sat under a shady tree and read books. That’s fine, too.
I’m not sure the end always justifies the means, but, in this case, it didn’t turn out too badly.