Just the People in the Neighborhood, Part 2

Visiting a nontraditional farm in the large town near us was a delight last week. I learned a lot about urban farming and the work of both Purdue Extension staff and community volunteers in making a difference in what is termed a food desert: an area of a city where it is difficult to purchase fresh produce. Another type of education came as I was leaving the innermost part of this city. I’d like to share more about that here.

As I was leaving the former Firehouse #9, renovated to become the education and gathering center of Johnnie Mae Farm, I recalled that several male young adults had walked through or around the property. I shouted out a friendly invitation to two of them that there would be a market day there on Friday and that they were welcome to stop by! My wave to a neighbor on her porch was easily exchanged as I drove my truck away from the vacant lot across the street. Google Maps pointed me in the direction of home about 12 miles away to the north, in a quaint suburb on the other side of the tracks from here. I had visited this area of town just about every week a few years ago when I was working in home health care and knew the joys and risks of walking into homes in a multi-cultural community. Visits were virtually always completed in the daytime; situational awareness and calling your patient from your vehicle before you approached the front porch were procedures shared by virtually all healthcare workers. I never had a problem except maybe my nervousness from being in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

I needed to travel along some neighborhood streets before turning onto main roads; some of the streets looked more like paved alleys than side-streets. I grew up just north of Detroit in the 1960’s when the new neighborhoods were no longer developed with alleys. If you were able to afford one, garages were built in the backyard enclosed by a chain-link fence that outlined your backyard. We played in the streets because we didn’t have an alley; this was actually less safe as our games were often interrupted by passing cars! Often we knew who was driving by or we made note of those we did not recognize. It was our sense of community even in what would become a sprawling suburbia, followed decades later by neighborhood associations. Turns out that the squared-off streets of the inner city where I travelled this day are no different . . .

Suddenly in front of me, I noticed a sedan had just turned onto the street with one of those motorized mini-cars on its trunk: the kind that kids like to drive on the sidewalk pretending to be just like Mom or Dad. I had wondered how it was attached so it wouldn’t fall off when WHAM! it went tumbling onto the pavement into the middle of the street! Pieces of fender and side panels broke off and flew into different directions! Oncoming traffic slowed down and for a second time stood still. I was already past them when I realized that whoever was driving that sedan would have a struggle to retrieve the toy car in pieces on the concrete let alone get it home again. Was it totally broken? Holy cow, what a mishap! I looked back briefly in my rear view mirror. I couldn’t help but wonder what these folks were thinking anyways? Didn’t they try to secure it to their vehicle? Didn’t look like it was attached at all.

Then an overwhelming feeling came over me that I needed to help out somehow. There was no where to turn around easily so I made a left onto a side-street, an alley, turned around, and made a left-hand turn back onto the 2-lane road. Just as I got closer, I saw a man from across the street run over from where he was standing on his front porch and start to help pick up the mangled pieces of plastic. There were two women driving the transport vehicle that were now rushing out into the street, having barely pulled off onto a side street. I practically swerved into oncoming traffic as I lowered the window of my truck and yelled out, “do you want to use my truck?”

I really don’t know what I was going to do if they said, “yes!” We are all living in the middle of a pandemic and person-to-person contact is difficult at best let alone amongst strangers. I guessed that I would open the tonneau cover over the bed of my truck and help them load up the toy car then follow them home to deliver it. But where do they live? How far from here? Is it safe? And before I could even think this through at all, I realize that the man was getting into his SUV on the same corner, as if to move it forward to load up the pieces and such. Or I guessed so. The two women looked like a Mom with her Mother and gestured over to the man as if to say that he was going to help them. It all happened so fast. The oncoming traffic was getting closer an now I was blocking traffic!

And then it happened. As I was trying to jackknife myself into the correct side of the street, I exchanged full eye contact with who I believe was the Mom of the child for whom this fun toy car was lovingly being brought home in her vehicle. It was possibly the only means of transportation she had available that day. Perhaps she was bringing the toy car home for a birthday present or surprise for a good little boy or girl. She looked at me squarely and said, “thank you.” The older woman looked over just as my attention turned to my task of getting out of the middle of the street. The man looked my way as well. Just like that, the problem would be solved by one neighbor from another street helping a Mom and a Grandmother on a hot Monday afternoon.

Something happened in my heart as I pulled away from the scene. Her look penetrated what had become a little distancing from my love for helping people since no longer working in healthcare. This moment transcended the tension that I didn’t realize I had brought with me on that trip that day. Another dynamic going on in our society as I write this are violent protests in large cities over race, political extremism, and control. Many of our cities are struggling for law and order putting businesses, the flow of societal norms, and the ability to function in our communities into varying levels of chaos. People everywhere are on edge. This has included our smaller city of 300,000 at times but not-so-much where I live north of these innermost parts of the city. Yet here I was just blocks away from where most of the violence took place just a few weeks ago and in its place, witnessed the BEST part of what “community” really looks like. Nothing has really changed! People still see each other and help each other out for the most part. Spontaneously! Without regard to checking the time of day, political correctness or narratives, along what street your toy car lands on the pavement.

Lastly, the people that I just encountered in a friendly little neighborhood in the big little town of Fort Wayne, Indiana never looked at outward appearances before reaching out to help each other. We represented four different races. We each lived in 3 different neighborhoods. We stopped traffic for a moment and it was a good thingy, for a good cause, for a little kid or two waiting in the wings. This experience was a wonderful marker in time and an important reminder that people still do see each other, do care about each other no matter what is going wrong in our society. I want to remember this encounter the next time I see someone in need. I will still invite the two dudes in gang-banger type garb walking down the street to a produce market day! I want to remember all of this the next time I am tempted to feel something different than the warm reality playing out in front of me.

Save the toy car people! It’s worth fighting for, eh? JJ

6118-07122502 © Masterfile Royalty-Free Model Release: Yes Property Release: No A Boy Riding An Old Fashioned Toy Peddle Car.

A Rain Garden in the Making 8.4.18

Jumping from a home landscape to a specialized garden in the community is a huge leap on many levels.  The size and the scope of the project just multiplied by too many factors to count.  I have barely pitched the project to the President of the Board of the 501c3 that owns the Community Park and drawn up a basic Site Plan.  Just 6 days later, there is a 22 x 26 hole dug in the ground!  Wait, what?

rain garden, site plan, design, storm water, runoff, public park, initial, proposal, draft, drainage
Initial Site Plan Huntertown Family Park Rain Garden, August 4, 2018

When I heard that there would be a Kubota tractor available to scratch-dig the rock hard base of the proposed Rain Garden, I had to move quickly!  I was going to try to attend the Community Park work day on Saturday to get a sense of how things worked, meet some of the volunteers, and learn more about the park facilities.  The Pres gave me a more detailed tour of the grounds, introduced me to “the guys,” shared some more history and vision, then mentioned that they would be finishing that afternoon, the prep for a sidewalk adjacent to the proposed rain garden area.  The tractor would be available after that, wow, in about 3 hours!

I noticed some mega weeds around the entrance to the park so I grabbed my shovel to do some impromptu weeding; I did what I could in the hot sun.  A really nice man came over from where he and his wife were staying with family across the street and offered to donate some mulch to the Park.  His brother-in-law had just bought a local landscape supply business and this man wanted to know if we needed anything before an event coming up the next weekend.  I gave him the President’s contact information and mentioned the rain garden project ’cause, hey, there are already mountains of mulch already on the property but not landscape-quality; tell him Julie would love the offer of some “dark hardwood mulch!”  (Later the Pres just smiled; I’ll bet it’s a go!)  By the time I left the park, I had met this man’s wife who became my first volunteer for the Rain Garden Project.

Off to Walmart I went to pick up some marking paint for the Pres then came home to prepare some treats for these amazing men.  My energy was waning but some kind of momentum had taken over.  A bunch of food, a glass of chicken bone broth and a ton of water helped revive me enough to keep going!  I had most of the ingredients at home for chocolate cookies and a gallon of lemonade; surely some “appreciation treats” would be welcome as temperatures soared above 91 degrees?  The conditions were tough on everyone for sure.  By 1:30 p.m. I was back at the park to hang out in the shade of the picnic shelters and learn.

I am learning as much about general carpentry and construction as I am about how members of a community can work together, how much fun these men have just hanging out with each other no matter what they are doing.  Most of them are retired from the trades and in their 40’s and 50’s.  Building this Community Park is how they love to spend their free time together after breakfast at the Kitchen Table restaurant down the street.  Perhaps it has a lot to do with the years they all once worked together in one way or another and the small town friendliness I had never witnessed up close from our housing addition across the highway.  The Pres treated all of them like contractors, co-workers, brothers, and sons alike.  It was beautiful to witness as they helped to craft the public facility already enjoyed by dozens of folks every day.  They worked REALLY HARD that day in their respective projects!

Kubota, rain garden, community, project, Huntertown, family, park, runoff, storm water, digging, construction, volunteers

About 3:00 p.m., the man in the Kubota tractor was ready to scratch-up the base of the rain garden.  Its claw-bucket digging down few inches deep didn’t loosen up the nasty crab grass in the compacted clay/sand mix so down a full foot he had to go.  It took about 30 minutes to complete the 22 x 26 foot area, much like the shape of a baseball diamond in miniature.  As I do additional calculations we might need to increase the size of the rain garden yet that is still bigger than the initial site plan noted above.  I realized that those dirt clods would be rock hard within half a day so I tried to weed a few chunks of those grass plants as I could in the searing heat . . . with a couple of breaks just to cool off a bit.  It took a long time, leaving much more for another day and team of volunteers.  Even I was munching on a chocolate cookie and drinking lemonade before the day was done!  🙂

Sunday morning the guys would be meeting again for breakfast at the Kitchen Table before finishing adding the mesh to the sidewalk plus other preparations before the delivery of concrete on Monday by 2:00 p.m.  I was glad that the Pres had shared with me about the sidewalk so I could ask if they cold add the crushed limestone instead of dirt along the outer edge; this would match the other stone edge already in place along what would become the top of periphery of the rain garden (i.e. the front horizontal and right perpendicular edges in the photo above).  It might not be the most aesthetic choice of materials however those two stone borders would definitely be easier to maintain than a berm made of dirt that would eventually grow weeds.  While I have begun seeking  volunteers from the Master Gardener and Native Gardener groups locally to help build and maintain the the rain garden, I see signs all over the park of “good idea” projects that don’t look as good anymore, lost to poor follow-up.  Low maintenance must be part of this garden design!

Some interest in the rain garden project grew among the guys, just by being there, hanging out, and helping here and there where I could.  One gentleman told a story of how he used Roundup to kill all the grass in his yard before re-planting his lawn.  So we talked about the effect of glyphosate on beneficial insects, how it can effect plants in the area for up to 6 months, and how it would basically not work with the project here.  Beneficial insects pollinate the flowers of the tap-rooted plants that hold and filter the water runoff plus help prevent all the flooding that lasts for days on this side of the bathroom building after heavy rains.  No insects, no healthy plants, no rain garden.  Another man suggested using the extra pavers they had on the property which we could use for the outer border (i.e. to form the berm that prevents spillover; we would add drainage windows too).  Even the Pres said he could probably work with a local landscaping company to build a flagstone path through the area which would enhance  interest for visitors in addition to helping with weeding and such.  I agreed, taking lots of mental notes.  Chances are that I will see these hardworking men again . . .

rain garden, Huntertown, family, park, runoff, storm water, native plants, Monarch butterfly, community, project

So tonight I put together a flyer about the Community Family Park Rain Garden project.  How poetic to set in motion something like this that will actually come to fruition through the “organic” interest and talents of so many wonderful folks in my community.  Momentum has started as I continue to recover from a setback in July.  So grateful to have something else focus on:  my own Horticulture Therapy!  The flyer will likely become a temporary sign along the edge of our big dirt hole so that folks attending the Heritage Festival this weekend will know that something really cool is about to happen there soon.  Maybe some will join in and help?  I feel really privileged and honored to have this opportunity that came about just by taking a little online class, just by making a little post on Facebook, .  There is so much more going on here and it transcends me for sure.

Then again, that is always the case now isn’t it Gentle Reader?  Yeah God!  JJ

Isaiah 58:11

11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.