Today’s chore is to crawl and stoop about the beds to haul in Ms. Johann’s final harvest.
You can ask as many times as you want and use all the interviewing tricks you know but she won’t give you the recipe. “They’d go ahead and screw it up and then it’d be ‘oh, Ms. Johanna’s cake isn’t good at all,’ all over around here.”
Ms. Johanna’s been telling me that the old straw hat I wear is too heavy to do any good when we work in the garden (it does just fine). She said she needed to teach me how to make a real hat but we had to have some newspaper, specifically The New York Times.
Ms. Johanna came upon the vacant lot on one of her walkabouts after she retired. Bamboo and trashed choked, it seemed a perfect place to park her considerable energy. She brought a machete the next time she came around. By summer’s end, the soil had been replenished and mulched Four raised beds overflowed with herbs, some beans, corn and berry bushes. That was twenty-two years ago. Now 82, she’s still working this portion of earth pretty much by herself.
I went out yesterday searching for community gardens in Brooklyn. My idea was to see how, during this particular planting season, a community is managing to work together in narrow plots coached from the rubble of vacant lots.