By Suzanne Hurley
“I had a garden in Mexico when I was 10 or 11,” Maria Ana Guevera remembers. “I didn’t do anything special. I just put the seeds in the ground and the stuff grew easily. I didn’t trust I did the right thing, but peppers, tomatoes and flowers…they come.”
Nearly 40 years later, Maria Ana has become a gardener again, this time in her own backyard in East Austin.
And, once again, her crops grow easily and abundantly—she proudly displays pictures of her huge, homegrown tomatoes alongside framed photos of her children and granddaughter. “My favorite thing about the garden,” she says, rubbing her palms together in anticipation, “is when everything is green and I see the vegetables there. Some people may complain that a garden is too much work, but for me, it’s fun. It’s not a job.”
Guevera’s garden is one of 26 that Green Corn Project (GCP) volunteers have built for Habitat for Humanity homeowners so far.
GCP, a local nonprofit, has a longstanding alliance with Habitat, and installs organic food gardens for individuals and families in need (as well as for schools and community centers). All Habitat homeowners are eligible for a GCP bio-intensive vegetable bed.
For many recipients, the vegetable garden is the final piece that makes their house a home. Melissa Orren of Habitat’s Family Services Department describes the gardens as a gift of legacy. “The families are often reminded of parents and grandparents who grew their own food,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to bring the family together in a whole new way.”
Installed in 2003, Maria Ana’s garden was one of the first created through the alliance. And her continued involvement with GCP led to an unexpected, but welcome, offer to become a board member (even though she worried she didn’t have enough experience to help). She needn’t have worried. The knowledge she brings as a gardener and Habitat homeowner offers invaluable insight into why these gardens are important to the recipients. She also encourages potential gardeners to think about their food. “The vegetables in the store look pretty, but we don’t know where they come from,” she says. “When you grow your own, they go from the garden, to the kitchen, to the table. It’s fresh.”
Guevera also recruits, and mentors, Spanish-speaking gardeners—including her neighbor, Matilde. With a wee bit of envy, Maria Ana recently spoke of Matilde’s okra, which grew to be five feet tall last summer and yielded many fruits, while Guevera’s okra didn’t fare as well. “All the board members kept telling me how beautiful the okra flower is,” she says. “But I never got to see one.”
This season she’ll change things a bit. Like all good gardeners, and board members, she’s always learning and adapting.
If you’d like to help Green Corn Project install and refurbish gardens this spring, check out our website, greencornproject.org . For five days in March, we will be digging and planting gardens around Austin. And we also offer this hands-on workshop:
GREEN CORN PROJECT GARDENING WORKSHOP
Saturday, March 22, 2008, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Further information can be found at greencornproject.org .