It just might be for you
If you are like me, a bundle of contradictions, then you will love Bartram’s Gardens. It’s a haven for the crunchy realist: someone who can accept that nature is dead — we’ve destroyed it all — but still wants to play in the dirt that remains no matter how ridden with chemicals or littered. So long as we still have fruits attached to plants, we’re in luck.
No other place offers an opportunity to exist simultaneously and equally in the green and the grit. A walk down the bucolic field to the river bank reveals the sad reality of human mistreatment of natural spaces. There before you, you will see…TRASH. Potato chip bags. Fishing lines. Beer cans. Cigars. McDonald’s wrappers. Tampon applicators. Bottle caps. A tv one time. And the ten shopping carts that were found in the river last year.
After spending a few hours picking up the trash, you might begin to feel a bit blue. Emotionally exhausted, you wander over to the farm. At least the food justice movement is alive and well here. Food sovereignty is the practice of a community that lives in a food desert growing their own food. The farm at Bartram’s employs youth from the area to plant, weed, and harvest. Among the showcase fruits and veggies, we have kale, sungold tomatoes, okra, peppers, arugala, cucumbers, squash, and much more.
The farm has the benefit of being protected by the institutional support of Bartram’s Gardens. Some are not as lucky. Guerrilla gardens in Philly have similarly attempted food sovereignty by planting food crops in vacant lots — an illegal practice that pisses off developers, not because they actually want to develop on the vacant lot but because a community has taken over space for themselves, unwilling to let the forces of the market and gentrification determine their neighborhood’s fate. But what about the more benevolent development efforts? Well, there was once a tree planting organized by University City District that demolished a productive guerrilla garden. I am sure the community couldn’t be happier that they now have a few pretty trees to look at but their effort to bring fresh food to the neighborhood was destroyed.
But, Bartram’s isn’t off the hook. While the weekly farm stands sell food for cheap and while the farm offers youth employment, it’s not clear how far they are willing to go in trusting the precious farmland to the community. Two summers ago, I was hoeing when all of the sudden I felt the most awful burning on my left leg. I looked behind my bubbling, red calf and realized I had brushed against some stinging nettle. Then I realized that there was an entire, perfectly aligned row of stinging nettle. “Chris! What’s with the nettle?” “I wanted to keep the teenagers off my watermelon.” Unfortunately, my poor leg became the victim of community mistrust that time.
There’s been a recent addition to the farm this year. Bart. The most aggressive-looking dog. Some kind of pitbull mix. Every time I arrive at the farm, he comes charging towards me. When he finally reaches me, he sits and makes the sweetest whines while excessive amounts of mucous and saliva pour out of his wrinkled, pink face. What an ugly sweetheart.
Sometimes I sit down on the swing set, watching the cabbage moths descend on the crops and the large vessels gliding up the Schuylkill. I don’t pay attention to the black and yellow sign behind me that reads, “WARNING. PETROLEUM PIPELINE.” Instead, I melt into the back and forth rhythm of my swinging. Bartram’s is the imperfect world for the imperfect person.