By Emily Cardenas, 2019 Cashin Fellow
I fear salads. Their mysterious toppings and agonizing crunch have made it so hard to enjoy them, especially since they weren’t part of my diet growing up. I was taught to believe that vegetables were bitter and only eaten by the “bad kids” as punishment for their misbehavior. In fact, salads became so intimidating and scary that I imagined them as some sort of character out of an eerie Tim Burton movie with their big cucumber eyes and thin leafy bodies. This past week at the College Avenue Community Garden in the Bronx, however, has inspired me to reflect on why I thought that way.
New York City isn’t exactly a farmer’s paradise. It is one of the world’s most innovative city, filled with endless skyscrapers and complex machinery. To be exact, it is an artificial world of convenience and commercialism. What we see is a city deeply disconnected from things that are natural and sustainable. This is especially prevalent in disenfranchised communities where access to a more natural world can seem like a novelty. But things are not as they seem. In fact, New York City has over 600 community gardens and close to 1,700 parks that cover 14% of the city. That’s acres upon acres of green spaces! If that much greenery exists around me, why was I ever scared of the greens in my salad bowls? Looking back, I realized that I never took the time to see past this modern world and understand the natural one blooming right under it. And boy oh boy was I missing a lot!
The day was perfect at the College Avenue Community Garden. The birds sang their sweet morning tune. The sun shone its bright rays onto the dewy grass. Bees hummed as they zoomed past me; the wind gliding by hushed their rumble. I dug my hands into the warm, moist earth and plucked out the overgrown weeds from our beds. I watched as the beetles and worms wiggled over the soil, impressed by their amazing work down below. Peaceful, isn’t it? Then came the best part: planting new life. The youth leaders and I carved our rows for our plants. We planted cucumbers, basil, tomatoes, lettuce, berries, and more. As we sat under the copula, I imagined the plants growing tall and blossoming in the summer sun. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs, ripe and flavorful, would be ours to enjoy. I imagined it to be delicious, considering the hard work that went into growing it.
The Tim Burton characters in my salad came alive that day as I planted their beginnings for a journey of growth and cared for their home. By Immersing myself in the natural world, I felt connected to the land and its beautiful gifts. For the first time, the Earth spoke to me and it said: Let’s make the time to get to know each other better.