by GeaVonna Johnson
Life was a bit different when I first met Mr. Sam. It was in the midst of COVID-19. The summer of 2020, to be exact. I was driving down the street next to Wabash, looking for homes for sale in the neighborhood, when I saw this community garden. The car almost jumped the curb onto the sidewalk from so much excitement. In the midst of the garden was this tall, slender, almond skinned, silver gray haired man, with a mask on in 90 degree weather, might I add. I jumped out of the car so fast, I had to second guess if I had put the car in park. My sister walked, and I ran up to the gate!
"Excuse me, Excuse me. Is this your garden?"
He looked at me and I could feel his smile as his mask rose about an inch.
"Hey there, I'm just a steward. This here belongs to Morning Star Baptist Church. Our Pastor is John Miles. It's the church and the community garden."
I said, "Can I volunteer and you teach me how to garden?" Direct and straight to the point is my methodology.
He said, "So, you want to garden?" I said "Yes sir!"
He replied with a slant in his eye of surety, "Don't I know you?" Shocked, I said "No, I don't think so".
Then my sister said, "G, I think we do know him." She began to explain and I remembered. Ahh, indeed we did. A year prior, I knew a silver sneaker who had just suffered a heart attack. I would cook for him. I went to check on him and guess who was there? Mr. Sam. And guess what he had a basket full of for this particular silver sneaker? Sweet Potatoes! that he had grown from the community garden.
Afterwards Mr. Sam asked me to stop by sometime.
Needless to say, I took that as a bonafide yes. We are going on 5yrs of stewardship and have been thick as thieves ever since.
The garden is life. From the passing of my grandfather from Covid, to advice on career changes, to letting things go and learning to forgive, it all happens in the garden. He has guided me in soul and soil lessons.
A silver sneaker from Ghana said that the garden has a way of healing the soul. Her husband passed away earlier, and all she wanted to do was be in the garden as a refuge. Mr. Sam began to teach me the lesson of using the little that you do have, that doesn't seem like much, and watch it bring forth a bountiful harvest. I learned the basics of how to make straight rows with a twig and string to growing my own wheatfield garnering 80lbs of wheat berries in 2021.
I remember once, I missed my window to plant my garlic during the fall because I ordered my bulbs too late because I didn't know, I was so heartbroken. He gave me some of his garlic bulbs and said that I can plant them in the spring. He said to keep 'em cold and when I plant them, they should bulb up and split. So, I did what he said and I kept them cold. I put them in a brown paper bag on my patio during the winter, protecting the bag from getting wet. Then come spring, I soaked them in seaweed kelp overnight and then planted them, 'and would ya look-ah there' (in my Mr. Sam voice), they bulbed and split.
Beside the numerous garden lessons I've learned from being with Mr. Sam in the community garden, I would say the most adventurous would be recently in the orchard. I've always wanted to have my own orchard, helping someone else with theirs is the next best thing. Mr. Sam has entrusted the trees to me this year. I was so very lost. Thank the heavens for Melinda at KCCG. She taught me how to prune and get the trees ready for the season.
KCCG also offered volunteers to help us revamp the orchard for a fresh start. I was extremely appreciative. I felt so intimidated by the task. Not anymore. They gave me the confidence and I was able to prune 10 trees over the course of 2 days. I never really had a favorite plant. They are all so beautiful. However, this year, my favorite chose me. Trees!
When I climbed into the arms of those trees, it was breathtaking. I would've never known that this city-girl would find serenity and solitude while pruning the trees. They have become the elephants of the garden to me. Majestic, brazen...saged. The orchard has twelve trees through KCCG's Giving Grove program; pears, apples, peaches and figs.
We were able to link with a youth group this year and have the children come out and pick fruits. Wow! You guys should've seen it. The children were so enlightened and they were filled with wonder to learn how to pick their own fruit and produce. The peach trees were their favorite.
Mr. Sam was so overjoyed to have the children there. The other half of the orchard will be used for regenerative farming. We'll be working on the soil. We're going organic with the fruit trees this year, using oils and Korean natural farming methods. Its new for Mr. Sam, hehe. However, the garden and orchard has always been his classroom. He always offers his support and says "Lets try."
We are so excited about 2024 growing season. We've made some more connections and are revamping the garden and orchard, getting it ready for the new growing season. We plan on having a u-pick fruit day for the community and a harvest day once a week. It's going to be so much fun, with so much to explore, learn and share!