Partner Plots

I have a confession to make: when I volunteered to help get the new Blue Jay’s Perch: Community Garden at Johns Hopkins Eastern off the ground (sorry about the pun) I didn’t really understand what the organizers were trying to do. There was talk of sustainable food and community but to be honest I was most interested in having access to a free garden plot close to where I work.

I listened to what was said at the meetings and even asked some questions, but in the end I was stuck. I got the garden part–getting my hands dirty was easy to understand. Struggling to water withering plants during the summer: been there, done that. But understanding the community aspect was eluding me. At one of the meetings I heard about JHU groups gardening together so I started talking to some of the STScI staff about joining me in raising some plants this summer at the new garden. (Actually my conversations were pretty directed: I talked to my fellow homebrewers about growing herbs and flowers that could be used to make beer.) But I was still missing something. Because, it turns out, the community folks were talking about was bigger than my circle of homebrewers, larger than my collection of colleagues at STScI, even bigger than just JHU. The community was the combination of the JHU and Waverly communities because the garden is the Community Garden at Johns Hopkins Eastern. The name is a place and an idea.

Finally the organizers put together a story that seemed to capture everything I had heard about what the garden could be but that finally made sense to me. The story seemed to resonate with everybody else at the table, too. We titled the story: “Partner Plots”.

Basically, JHU groups–students, staff,  faculty, and even affiliates such as Space Telescope Science Institute–will be invited to apply to garden a single 4’x8′ plot. The group will take on the responsibility of tending the garden for the entire season. But the group will take on a greater responsibility–that of reaching out to the Waverly community and connecting with one local community, school, or church group. The community group will then manage a second garden plot. Two groups working together to mange two garden plots. I think you can see where the “Partner Plots” label came from.

The organizers will supply the JHU groups with contact info of likely neighborhood groups. And then the JHU groups will make the phone calls, visit the community meetings, talk to the folks in the neighborhood to make the necessary connections and arrangements to find a partner for the garden this year.

This is different. It might even be challenging for some groups thinking about taking a garden plot. But the goal of this garden turns out to be pretty simple in the end: prepare the ground, sow some seeds, tend them, and watch them grow. It just so happens we’re talking plants and neighbors in this garden.

I think you can see where this might go in the future. We’ll start out modestly this year with just a handful of garden plots, JHU groups, and Waverly neighborhood groups. But in a very few years the growth in and around the Blue Jay’s Perch has the potential to produce a rather remarkable bounty.

[Steve Hulbert works at Space Telescope Science Institute on the Homewood Campus of JHU.]

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