TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fruits of My Hands: Scissors in the Garden

Fruits of my garden.

I have to admit that my eyes sometimes roll around in my head when I go to a blog to look at textiles or art and all I see are the artist's flowers.... Well, this summer I had a bit of a conversion experience as I tackled my yard. I planted flowers and foliage, cleared a plot of land for a vegetable garden and labored to fight invasive vines, grasses, and weeds. I pulled, yanked, tilled, watered, seeded, and did my best to coax a yard which had been neglected for decades into something productive. Every bug in the book came to feast and then weird spots and molds showed up on my precious babies...

My baby veggies, so eager to live!

When you nurture something from a seed, there is a great source of pride and fascination to see it grow into a plant, especially if it also feeds you. At least, this is true for me. I have always had a few potted plants, but had never really tried to be the backyard gardener. I figured farming was in my blood and it should come naturally. Ha! I planted everything too close and had no idea that a tomato plant could grow to be over six feet tall. My friend, Tom, is the director of Angelic Organic's Learning Center. I called him for help and he recommended that I read John Jeavon's book, How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains and other crops).

What a great resource! Of course, I had done everything wrong, but there was still time to correct some of the mistakes. The soil was nitrogen poor so I added some organic fertilizer and started a compost pile.

Garden plot in June 2009

Some things grew very well, while others got eaten up by bugs or a pest. I had the best luck with tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Oh, and I got lots of wonderful basil!

Garden plot in August 2009

The sweet peas dried up with the heat of summer, the lettuce shoots up into large stalks, I did get some green beans, but then a worm got on to them, and forget the broccoli! My goodness, did that get infested! Jeavons and other authors in books I checked out from the library, all talked about what can feast on your precious plants. But, the worst of all are snails and slugs. Jeavons described how they go slug hunting at night, so I figured I should go out one night with a flashlight and take a look. The slugs were everywhere! It revolted me so much that I was almost sick! I had nightmares from them, big, fat, slithering monsters invading my veggies and chomping away. How disgusting! I tried the salting and that was too horrific to endure, plus it is not good for the soil. So, I bought pellets, similar to "Sluggo" which are approved by organic gardeners. The slugs eat them and dry up in a few days. But, one slug can lay 300 eggs, so it's a long process, especially if your neighbors are indifferent to what lives outside their doors.

My cucumbers, zucchini and green beans.

It has been fascinating to go outside and decide what I am going to eat that day based on my little harvest! I feel sad to see that Fall is upon us and that soon I won't have these delicacies. My respect for my peer artist friends who also garden has grown. I was just in Chicago visiting friends and a few of them had some gorgeous gardens, all of which renew the spirit and provide beauty to the eye. My friend, Roberta, is a ceramic artist and her garden is adorned by sculptural pieces.

Roberta de Oliveira's garden in Chicago.

Chris and Joyce won a neighborhood award for their garden. Their goal was to do away completely with grass and the result is a lovely mix of flowers and veggies.

Chris an Joyce's garden in Skokie.

The most surprising garden I was across the street from my husband's apartment. He lives in a densely populated urban area on Chicago's north side. A couple of Vietnamese women have taken up a bunch of the grass areas and planted vegetables. Apparently, they are out there every day, bent over their plants, and they share the produce with whoever wants it.

Vietnamese women gardening in Chicago.

Chicago has made a commitment to become the greenest city in the United States and has even established a successful green roof program, so I guess I should not be surprised to see any plot of available earth being used to grow food.

However, there has been a consequence in my ability to produce another fruit: I have only touched my scissors to cut off veggies and bad leaves, no fabric! This is the age-old pattern of the farmer/crafter. Food is the priority in the summer months and the time for waiting becomes dedicated to production of functional goods. For centuries, people have worked the soil and then used the winter months for projects which can be done inside the home.

One of my favorite photographers on Flickr, Baba Steve, has caught many of the vendors from around the world. These places also produce many of my favorite crafts!

In fact, the production of handicrafts and farming are recognized as partner industries by most development organizations. The Peace Corps has combined the two in their strategies for decades. They were the ones that brought Scandinavian sweater knitting patterns and techniques to the indigenous Quechua of Otavalo in the 1960's. This has grown into a multi-million dollar industry with traditionally dressed Otavalo Indians selling sweaters in markets all over the world. (See some consequences.) Oxfam International works with similar groups in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The United Nations reports on how poverty is especially dire in rural areas and how the internet has become the new tool to bring income into these distressed areas.

Does that sound familiar? Am I not doing the same thing? I live in a small town in Kentucky where job opportunities are limited. My income is mostly generated by my online stores. A friend of mine from Ghana told me how now business is all done on cell phones, both by farmers and handicraft traders. Having the ability to live where you grow your food and make your craft also has deep implications in how societies are able to structure their family units, preserve their traditions and maintain ownership over their land, a problem that USAID identifies for many struggling communities who live in rural or forested areas.

No, I will not roll my eyes anymore at other bloggers who garden and love their flowers. Whether our scissors are inside, cutting some fabric or thread, or outside, harvesting some fruits, we are all part of this wonderful tapestry that makes Earth a better place to live!

Making some earth...


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(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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