Therapeutic Benefits of Working at the Market Garden – A Volunteer’s Perspective

farm path

This morning I went to the farm alone. It was the first time I was totally alone here. Moving through this place I have come to know in the past months, I see it as completely new – as I move through it now at this relaxed pace. In the past months I have spent here, I have come to know the market garden as a place of productivity. Time matters. Days matter. Minutes matter. Efficiency, planning, and mindfulness carefully keep the market garden in operation. Timing here is not only limited to how much a human can realistically achieve, working within a timeframe and a state of mental and physical health, but also a matter of the site and seasons; of warm and cool, sun and shade, moisture and dryness, day and night, of soil and sky. Working this way, in collaboration with nature, its complex character is not only humbling as it shows me my complete dependence on it, it also shows me that I am a much smaller part of a larger, complex system. I realize that to truly grow and thrive off of this beautiful food I see growing around me, I first need to deeply see and to listen to the many interdependent layers of the site, speaking to me, and guiding me.

As I move through the garden today, I realize everything is different than I have known until now. Today I move slowly. I am not rushed and no agenda pressures my time. There is nothing to harvest, to weed, to plant or to do, and no other place I need to be right now. And instead of seeing the kale as a number, accessing how many leaves I can snip for this week’s market, I notice it simply for what it is and how it looks. The dinosaur kale is a bit shorter than the other varieties. It is darker in colour, its leaves smoother, perhaps easier to chew. I notice for the first time the complexity of the kales foliage. The purple and Siberian kale grows much taller with giant leaves, bending down, spiraling outwards, and each leaf dissimilarly crinkled and curly. In this slow state of movement and of mind, I can see the garden just how it is – as it begins to introduce itself more genuinely to me.

Tiny white butterflies flutter around sweet pea flowers, twirling their way up and around the trellis Jess built in the early spring. Some land on the delicate pink, purple and white flowers and some dance around one another before settling on a vibrant, aromatic bloom. Bees surround the borage and lavender. For the first time in my life, I am not scared of the bees and instead happy to see them here. In the most simplistic way, the sheer colours, textures, and vibrancy of these flowering purplish plants against todays blue sky makes me very happy. The garden today is so peaceful.

Usually, I hear the voices of the amazing women who volunteer here, keeping the garden running. Some days we talk quite a bit, with scattered words and conversations mixed into maintenance. Other days we are quieter as a group depending on the task at hand, what is going on in each of our lives, the mood in the garden. In the spring when we seeded, it was often hushed. I remember carefully laying the fragile carrot seeds, one at a time, making sure to concentrate to give each seed an equal distance from the others, to plant only one seed at a time, and at the right depth in the soil, not too deep, and leaving enough room for its roots and for the carrot to grow downwards into the ground. Digging trenches, making planting beds and during weeding is when the conversation picks up.

I have learnt so much from the other volunteers and women who run the farm. Many are chefs or passionate about food, often sharing recipes, traditions, stories and tactics for creating delicious things to eat. Together we often brainstorm what we can create with the various things now ready for harvest, often excited for what will be ripe later in the season too. Some days we talk about politics, about our city or the larger world. We often discuss Vancouver’s pros and cons and potentials to improve as a city. Some days we share stories about our families, friends, life experiences, or exchange ideas about things we are interested in learning more about. Of course, we often talk about the farm, gardening, and the joys of being outdoors. What I like most is the ease of connectivity with the others I have met here. We are all different, we have different passions, different lives, different experiences, and even different ideas and understandings of what this very place is – but the farm is a common ground no matter what. It is a place that brings us together, and a place to be together.

There is a slight breeze now and every so often I can hear it move through the plants, each sounding slightly unique as the pressure of the wind rattles the various foliage types. I can softly hear the noise of the city in the background. For me, traveling here takes about an hour. While I am not far, in time or distance, the noises of the city remind me of ‘home’. These urban noises are the ones which surround me, day to day, my audible normality. I have gotten so used to them that perhaps I no longer truly hear them. But now, stepping away and being here in this quieter space, I hear them loudly and clearly again, with a surprising feeling of being ‘absent’. With my view of the city, now blocked by the conifers and maple trees bordering the site, I wonder what is happening in the city – in my own neighbourhood, in the downtown area, in the office towers, the cafes, the shops and on the sidewalks. Being here in this place, so away,  looking, sounding, smelling, and feeling so unique, I feel I am temporarily but entirely in a new world. I am happy to be here now, exactly as I am, and surrounded by the farm – exactly as it is; both of us, simply being.

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