MR. JONATHAN WILSON
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Jonathan Wilson. Today, we're delving into the world of wisdom. And in just a bit, we'll hear from some D.C. kids about the lessons learned from their tangles with law enforcement. First though, we'll talk about that trendiest of hipster fads, urban gardening. But is this really just a fad? An oral history project, put together by the nonprofit neighborhood farm initiative aims, in part, to dispel that myth through recorded interviews with dozens of gardeners, young and old, from around the city.
MS. GERALDINE CYDELL
A vine takes up four feet, and if you get three tomatoes on it, and the squirrels take off two of them, it's kind of a waste.
MS. GYELL NASH HUBBARD
I'll never forget when I pulled up the first green bell pepper, like, look how small that is. That is so cute. It felt like fine treasure or gems in your hand.
That's 88-year old Geraldine Cydell talking about the challenges of growing heirloom tomatoes followed by 23-year old Gyell Nash Hubbard talking about the joys of bell peppers. Recently, I met the man at the helm of the oral history project, David Quick, at Mamie D. Lee community garden in Fort Totten to talk about what he hoped to accomplish by gathering the wisdom of all of these D.C. gardeners.
So, the oral history project. Where did the impetus, or the idea for this, come from?
MR. DAVID QUICK
We grow food and teach people how to grow food, but we've noticed that a big part of what happens with a garden is also sharing of stories, connecting with each other, making bonds, kind of learning from each other, and my professional training is as a librarian and an archivist. I worked at an oral history project at the Library of Congress, and just kind of, just became a big fan of it. I think it's a really powerful way to preserve knowledge and stories, but also to empower people. Empower people making relationships with each other and building community.
MR. DAVID QUICK
So, I and a few other people, a lot of people were kind of thinking about it at once, thought, you know, I wonder if an oral history project around gardening could fly. And we applied for a grant from the D.C. Humanities Council to do it. We got a Heritage Grant from them.
What has it been like so far?
It's gone really well. You know, one of my fears was that people would just kind of think that was a weird thing to want to come interview people about. But people really responded to it, and, you know, one of the things that I was interested in doing, you know, gardening and growing food in the city, urban agriculture, has become kind of a hot topic, like a buzz word. And I was in interested to see what was going on before it became a hip thing to do again in 2000's.
And, indeed, there's a lot of people, you know, who've lived here for a long time, and, you know are -- they're experienced people. They're older folks, and they've been doing it here, they've been growing food in the city for a long time, and I was interested in hearing those stories. And we found a lot of them.
You know, one of, if there's one theme that came out that shouldn't have been surprising to me, but did, is that gardening just takes a lot of work. If you're gonna have a successful garden, it just, it's hard work, and you have to be out here and weed. And that is the constant. That has never, ever changed. And I think some of the people who have been here for a long time -- they know that, and they can kind of pick out very quickly whether the new gardener is going to succeed or not. Like, but based on whether they think they can come up once a week and have a successful garden, you know? So…
That strikes me. I'm wondering if there's any sort of, you know, resentment or amusement from some of the older gardeners, seeing this like new kind of hipness be attached to urban gardening.
Yeah, I think you can hear that in some of the interviews. Amusement, but not in any kind of, you know, kind of, deeply, oh, what fools kind of way. You know, like, I think, you know, the people we interviewed who've been doing this for so long have like a deep reverence for this activity. You know, for whatever reason, they do it. And that, at least, they have a lot of respect for somebody trying it for the first time. And some of them, really, like, are teachers, and really want to be out there and a source of knowledge, and then, not so much.
But like, you know, there's no, kind of, oh my God, what are they doing kind of thing?
I'm wondering if part of your impetus or hope is that by collecting this, people will actually have more success at gardening, or be able to commiserate with gardeners from different generations. Because, like you said, this is a difficult thing to do. You really have to have some commitment, have a work ethic to make a garden work.
Yeah, I think in a roundabout way. I mean, you know, the funny thing about gardening is, you know, like, there's a lot of wisdom about it that isn't necessarily consistent. There's a lot of folk wisdom. You know, like, one person says, I'll do it this way, and another person says, I'll do it that way. Every garden has its own little micro climate, and what grows here might not even grow down in at Fort Dupont Garden, or something like that. But even beyond that, in a more indirect way, you know, just to know that people, Washingtonians who live here and like we walk past every day do this.
And it works and makes their life good. I mean, like, I think that's one thing that comes out in it over and over again. It's just that it's a really healthy, wholesome thing to do. And it's good for you and it's good for your body and your soul and your mind. I hope that that will plant some seeds. Sorry.
That was David Quick of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative talking with me about the D.C. Gardeners Oral History Project. If you'd like to see a cool map showing where all the different interviews for the project took place, along with some more audio clips, you can find a link on our website, metroconnection.org.
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