The frost is definitely on the pumpkins
Hallowe’en is upon us
Samhain is the Gaelic term for the seasonal festival that we now call All Hallows’ Evening, shortened to Hallowe’en. In the Celtic calendar, it was the end of the year, the border between the year that was and the year that will be, the time when all things die so that they can be reborn. This annual rupture in the time-life continuum meant life-forms normally barred from our reality – ghosts and ghouls for example – could slip through and be temporarily visible to us. Interact with us. This is where we get our traditions of offering treats to unearthly creatures, so that they won’t play tricks on us. In Catholic-influenced cultures, the same shift is celebrated as All Souls Day – when our dearly departed return, and when everyone puts out an extra place-setting for the family dinner on November 2nd. In Mexico the Day of the Dead precedes All Souls, and is celebrated with sugar skulls and candied pumpkin. The thinking is the same – appease the potentially scary beings with treats.
Now-a-days, Hallowe’en is a time when we take pleasure in being frightened. It’s is a time when the tricks are the treats too. Whether you subscribe to the Celtic, Latin or any other tradition, it seems the right time to consider scary stuff; some of the tricks –and treats – of a community garden.
What’s scared me most this year has been the wastage of food. For example, our big challenge this week is to get those last straggling gardeners to harvest the remainder of their food. Under our agreement with the Municipality, the community garden plots must be cleaned out by Oct 31st. Most people have done so, though to a great extent that involved dumping edibles into the compost piles. Really; it’s harvest time, and people are throwing away their harvest.
Actually, it’s not just this month. Regularly over this summer, I’ve been able to dine from what others threw into the compost pile: beet greens, baby carrots, turnips, broccoli, potatoes, kale. In fact, I grew potatoes from plants found in the compost bin. It’s not that I have low standards. I just feel bad about wasting food. Perhaps it was all those famine appeals I’ve grown up with, ever since those “starving children in Biafra” my mother used to encourage me to finish my liver and onions. More likely it was living through a drought in 1992, and depending on what I grew that has given me a healthier than average fear of food wastage. By the way, I used those potatoes, and beets similarly rescued from the composter, to make my Thanksgiving meal of potato-borscht soup and roasted beets on polenta with a balsamic reduction. Now that was a treat!
Yet how scarily ironic, that people who joined a Local Food Society because they worried about food quality, food security or food sovereignty, people who tended plants in their own little 8×4 raised bed, would then permit edible, fresh, mountain-grown food to bolt or freeze. More than scary, it seems downright evil that the treats given to us so freely –the sunlight, the soil, the water, the magic that generates little seeds into edible plants– could be abandoned, ignored, left unappreciated, unacknowledged, uneaten. Is it that we are too rich? Too used to buying food? Too afflicted with Nature-Deficit Disorder? Too busy? Too lazy? How else to explain people abandoning sweet baby carrots, green onions, Swiss chard, romaine lettuce, broccoli, kale, mint, oregano, savoury? We are supposed to be living in a world more conscious of the environment, more aware that we have a responsibility to give back to the ecosystem that supports us. But other things get in the way – school starts in September; people go on vacation in October and November; sports like hockey start. Our lives get too busy to show respect for the gift of bounty that our gardens gave us. It’s too easy to fall back on imported store bought foods. We don’t save our harvest. We don’t even save the seeds for next year. Scary monsters!
Something else scares me. We asked for, and the Municipality was decent enough to give us, soil now to top up our gardens, and be ready to plant at our leisure in the spring. This gives us a great advantage for expanding our growing season and productivity next year. Two weeks ago we sent out a call, and some gardeners came, put wheelbarrow loads into boxes –-their own and others that looked low too. But there are still more that need topping-up, and there is still soil left. So we resort to last-minute pleas: “Let’s not betray the Municipality’s generosity. If you haven’t done so already, go to the garden today, and put some soil in your box – or in any box that you see is not completely full” . I’m scared that come the Day of the Dead, there will still be soil, waiting to be distributed. What is scary about this? It’s the fear that our dream to “build community one garden at a time” might not succeed.
Actually, I believe we are just still learning: A Community Garden ethos says, whether you think you will be returning to the garden next year or not, you truck soil, top-up your box, and those of your neighbours too. If you are going out of town, you contact someone to go and do your harvesting for you, or to dig what’s left in your box into the soil as compost for next season. You nourish the garden that gave pleasure (and food) over the past summer. You respect the gifts of bounty by eating them. What a treat when that happens! It’s a trick to get there though.
Yes, it’s tricky, getting 50 people, many of whom are new gardeners, to think beyond the edge of their raised bed, beyond the growing season, beyond their individual pressures. But that’s the beauty of Samhain. The old dies, the new is born. We start again. The tricks become the treats to which we look forward. The challenge of building community one garden at a time will be something, that someday, we will look back on with pride. A ghoul will become an ancestor, so to speak. And so as All Hallows Eve rolls over into the Day of the Dead, I’ll be putting out a plate of treats for the Shades who come to visit. Maybe a cake made with late-harvest carrots. Or a pesto made with bolted romaine, kale, green onions and sunflower seeds. I’ll be assuaging my current fears with the pleasures of tricky treats yet to come. Boo!