In established community gardens, as we well know, there are two classes, the "will do/worker bees" and the "take for granteds." While we have a great steering committee and a dedicated core of volunteers, as well as tremendous community support for the Clinton Community Garden, there are always those who, "don't get it."
One of the later class placed this love note in our inbox:
"i just returned from a visit to the garden and saw that my plot(C30) which i wish to change anyway, is being used as a garbage dump. Someone put a garbage pail and 2 hoses right on the plot. What gives? Who has the right to do this? I know of at least 5 people who would be screaming bloody murder if this had happened to their plot.
I expect someone to remedy this immediately.Each year I send a contribution to the garden. Please be assured that due to this callous disregard by the graden i willnot be seeing any future contributions!"
After a firestorm of e-mails back and forth we discovered somebody had indeed left something on his plot, perhaps because it was untended at the end of the season, instead of in the shed. However, the attitude of this guy, whose remains nameless, is endemic to our society as a whole. The attached note, which I just cranked out to our garden's steering committee/volunteer coordinators may be of interest to other community gardeners who are familiar with attitudes similar to this gentleman's.
Clinton Community Garden
Subj: Thanksgiving & Taking Things for Granted
Date: 11/25/03 9:03:46 AM Eastern Standard Time
Friends & Comrades,
Most of you know my son Daniel who is flying home for Thanksgiving, one of the millions who travel during the holidays,in one of those fuel filled metal tubes we call comercial airliners. In the dense airspace above this city, it is only skill, technology, cooperation and coordination that keeps these vessels holding their cargoes, so precious to their families, from disaster. Air traffic control, something we only think about when we read about the rare disasters and near misses, or when the controllers vie for better pay and working conditions, is something we take for granted every time we plunk down our credit cards and book a flight.
So much of what is good in our lives is taken for granted. And alot of the frustration that I'm hearing from folks on this committee, and feeling in myself over this chap's "outrage," i.e., that his back garden plot had hoses and tools placed in it, during the non-growing season, is that our hard work and dedication to the garden as volunteers has been taken for granted. Doesn't he know how much the volunteers who have worked in our garden have broken our fannies over the last 25 years? How we never see him on volunteer clean up days? How come he had to be embarrassed into helping shlepp a few bags of the soil amendments that we had trucked in? And the fact that he threatens us with withdrawing the small check he sends us each year? Yeah we're all steamed at this guy.
Taking a deep breath, and counting to 20, I think that the issue here is education. Some people really need to have things explained to them, in the immortal phrase of T.S. Elliot, "In Language Cats and Dogs Can Understand."
The fact that he sees us as "employees" and not as volunteers who give so freely of their time and effort shows a basic intellectual disconnect. Volunteers give because that's how we're made and most importantly how we were taught.
It's so easy to take things and people for granted.
Yesterday at 23rd and 11th avenue, I saw this grimy hard hat come out of the ground, covered in stone dust - a common sight in NYC. The manhole cover said, "WATER," so I asked him if he was working on the new big water main project, the one that is going to bring millions of gallons into the water into the city, and is taking 30 years to complete. He said, as he stood next to me at the coffee kiosk, "All my working life - I'm a sandhog."
We talked for a bit about the job, how he showed his kids the geyser in the Central Park reservoir so they could get an idea of what he does. He asked me how I knew about what he did, and when I told him a Sunday Times article a few years ago, he smiled and said, "My wife has a copy of that. We lose a guy a mile on this job. If my number is up, she'll give the priest a photocopy of the article so he'll understand what I was doing." He looked up at the sky for about a minute, bought a bag of donuts for his friends, and descended down the manhole.
When I filled a pot of water for last night's pasta, I thought about him -- how I took turning on a water tap for granted, how this man and his comrades had been drilling through rock, a quarter of a mile beneath the sidewalk, so I could boil water, or flush the toilet.
I know it's a pain in the ass, and easier just do the work we do, without educating the back gardeners or our many visitors on what we do, most of us are so busy....but without being taught, people just take things for granted.
Son Daniel is now 19, a sophomore in college and registered for the draft, when (not if) the fools need more bodies for their wars. He's a good kid and I'm humbled to say has a sweet disposition and good heart. Makes me believe in evolution. Some of you are parents or remember having been kids. None of us are angels, and part of what parents and society are supposed to do is to teach by example, when we're not nattering, "Do what I say, not what I do," at them.
Daniel, who was then 10 years old, having been exposed to television and acquisitive classmates wanted some plastic, ephemeral, highly advertised item that he thought was "cool." He had a fiddle under his chin, was doing his school work, and the $20 bucks wouldn't have broken us, but the idea of shelling out dough for a piece of crap that would break in two minutes really irked me. On the refrigerator was a note from his Hebrew school for a "canned good drive." Like most of the stuff in his backpack, it had been hidden there for a few weeks until Allegra had fished it out and put it under a magnet, the date underlined -- "tomorrow." So I asked Daniel how much the toy cost with sales tax, and he said in a split second, "$21.65." So I said, "OK, we're going to buy the thing, but we're going to buy those canned goods first."
So we walked downstairs with the shopping cart and walked across to the A&P that has just been torn down to make luxury housing on 55th & 9th. This building is now called, get this, "The Nicole." Then the A&P, before they upscaled it to a "Food Emporium" was the place where folks in our neighborhood could get the most bang for their dollars and foodstamps. It being a week and a half after the welfare checks had come out, the prices were about 10% lower, again, on canned goods. So we took a pad and pencil, and loaded up our wagon on two and three for a dollar canned soups, beans, canned milk, pre-made stews that could be heated up on a hot plate in a "furnished" single room. There were some seniors and harried mothers also stocking up, when the prices were low, for the time of month when money was short, so the choices between rent, medicine and food might not have to be made. Daniel, who has never gone hungry, thank God, was watching as we shopped, adding things up, working towards the magic figure of $21.65. We ended up with three heavy shopping bags full, dropped them off in the apartment, and then set off to a cavernous toy shop, where we bought the plastic thing he wanted. It sat on the table next to the shopping bags until that evening when he came back from music school. It being late, we ate dinner and got ready for Hebrew School the next day.
Now these bags filled with cans were heavy! As we took the bus across town, they sat between our legs and strained the cheap paper and plastic bags they were in. I carried two and Daniel one, and it was a real struggle to get them from the bus to school for him, but he did. And then we got into the elevator, and put the bags down with a sigh. Other parents were there with bags, just like us, except for a very well dressed lady, with a shimmering bangle bracelet that was easily worth two month's pay for me. In her gloved hand was a single can of Campbell's condensed soup. She looked at all of us heavily laden parents and asked, "Do you know where I can deposit my canned good?"
I bit my lip, because I have the habit of being blunt. But my son, bless him said, "The note said, canned goods -- that's more than one, plural." The lady looked at him and us with our bags and said, in the eternity it took to get to the 6th floor, "I didn't know." As she scooted to the bin, a dropped it in with a relay runner's speed and got back into the elevator, Daniel said, "Didn't anyone teach her?" As we deposited our $21.65 worth of canned soup, canned beans, Dinty Moore ready-made heat and serve soup, franks and beans, 4 for a dollar canned corn and succotash in the bin, I said, still shaking my head, and removing my teeth from my lower lip, "Maybe they didn't, Daniel, maybe they didn't. But she sure knew where to buy things she wanted."
Daniel said, "Like her bracelet, like what we bought at Toys Are Us."
Now Daniel played with that thing for a while until it got buried in his toybox and got given, miraculously unbroken, to the Salvation Army with outgrown clothes to make space for new clothes and sports equipment. But to this day, he periodically goes to the cheapest supermarket, loads up a few bags and drops them off at a food drive -- usually at a firehouse during the holiday season (they have boxes which they drop off via truck at food pantry warehouses).
Sorry for the long story. If I had more time, it would have been shorter. My idea is that we have to let people know what volunteers do, all the time, and not be bashful about it. Serious. It's for their own good to know, and for ours. It's so easy to take turning on a tap for spaghetti water for granted.
Thanking all of you for the marvelous volunteer work you have done over the years. Happy Thanksgiving.
Clinton Community Garden