Economic frustrations become the seeds of an edible garden.
For the millions of Americans whose careers suddenly imploded in midlife, the struggle to find employment, learn new skills, and make a new start has been tough. Somewhere, some way, somehow, jobless workers, with battered egos, empty bank accounts, and shattered dreams, must find their way back to a life with purpose, or just a reason to get out of bed. It’s at those times, we need to dig deep and grow. For me, digging deep turned out to be more than just a metaphor.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan. Sometimes the unexpected brings us great joy, and other times unbearable pain. For the long term unemployed, the once proud, hardworking providers who lost it all, the extremes of pain and joy are luxuries they can no longer afford. Our natural defense mechanisms dull our senses to keep us sane. Hope becomes caution and cold rejection morphs into “maybe next time”.
Unlike many of those whose career and finances were wrecked through no fault of their own, I have no one to blame but myself. None of that matters now. Regardless of whether our economic wounds were self-inflicted, the need for healing is universal. Battling the twin demons of paralyzing disillusionment and irrepressible rage, requires tremendous fortitude that, at times, seems impossible to maintain.
The darkness before the dawn bears a striking resemblance to the abyss of failure. It was in those dark days, when even fast-food companies refused to give me a job, that I grabbed a pickaxe and began assaulting the hard clay soil in my backyard. I had some vague idea of starting a garden, but at first, I really just wanted to swing that pick for as long and hard as I could and a garden was a plausible excuse for doing so. I was desperate to do anything that took my mind off the painful reality of not knowing where my next dollar was coming from. Eventually, that would change.
Once the clay was broken up, the rocks removed, and my temper even, I began to see some possibilities. Tomatoes, peppers, peas, squash and zucchini would all become a part of that first garden. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but that didn’t matter. I was doing something – something that would eventually put food on the table. Once again, I was working to support myself and producing something tangible.
What little money I had went into seedlings, topsoil and tomato cages. Soon, I found myself digging another garden. This one, along the side of my house, would be half corn and half strawberries. In the front yard, I planted rosemary and broccoli in the flower garden I inherited when I bought my home. Some of my garden combinations seem a bit odd to those who fail to appreciate the aesthetics of unfettered possibility.
Whatever else was going on in my life, and there was a lot, I cherished every opportunity to harvest the fruits and vegetables of my labor. Later years would bring a multitude of changes to my gardens and the harvest. I grew cucumbers and made pickles, turned tomatoes into salsa, and topped homemade pizzas with fresh zucchini.
An unexpected surprise came when the tomatoes I’d turned under in the fall produced nearly two dozen plants the next spring. I donated tomato plants to several of my neighbors. The garden had brought me out of isolation and into my community.
An impulse to do something, anything, had done much, but could not do everything. My career was still in ruins, but gardening had brought me back from the edge and provided sustenance for healing. It gave me a reason to get out of bed and go outside on days I would have preferred to remain cloistered in the fetal position.
I did whatever I could to make ends meet. I took seasonal jobs, worked for temporary agencies, landed a couple of contracting gigs, and began pursuing a career as a writer. My career is still not all that I would like it to be, but I’m planting seeds wherever I can and my gardens are doing great.
We now have a wide array of herbs, wildflowers, fruits and vegetables growing in our yard. To cut our long-term costs, we’ve invested extensively in organic gardening – complete with rain barrels, compost bins, and a worm farm.
Of course, having a garden more often than not depends upon having some parcel of land to call your own, or at the very least, a patio or balcony. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have any of those things. For that, I’ll count gratitude as one more gift from my garden.
What began as an act of desperation has turned into a way of life and an opportunity for growth.
Greg is an avid gardener, photographer and freelance journalist. He graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in Accountancy and worked as Certified Public Accountant for several years before transitioning to a career in education.