I’m standing in a two and half foot hole that once belonged to an oak tree. From this perspective, I can see the garden from the point of view of the elementary school students I serve. From the outdoor classroom benches to the perennial beds, everything feels bigger. Moments like these take me back to when I was in kindergarten. My friends and I would spend hours hiding behind ornamental bushes on the playground, building homes for pill bugs or making plans for future adventures. While the world has changed since I was their age, Cordata’s students play and appreciate outdoor space in the same imaginative and joyful way. This year has taught me the importance of gardens as spaces that nurture the entirety of a person–not just one’s belly!

Tending the garden has been a source of healing for me.  Over the last year I’ve experienced a lot of heartache and feelings of helplessness, whether that be from life events or just being a young adult during the pandemic. Managing Cordata’s garden helped develop some of the same skills that I was learning from my counselor. Concepts like self-reliance, embracing playfulness, and practicing self love naturally align with gardening. Like a dog that needs to be walked, the garden pushed me to go outside and care for it–even if I didn’t feel like it. It fed me with veggies and fruits I could share with volunteers and the community. It even gave me bright flowers on overcast days! Although it never intended to provide these benefits, I appreciate how much it has literally grounded me in these uncertain times. I’d like to think that I wasn’t the only one this year that felt the same way.

Besides my mental health and a killer farmer’s tan, my time in the garden has also been defined by laughter and profound joy. From hectic potato transplants to weed relays, kids found creative ways to get their wiggles out. Younger students especially needed little direction to immerse themselves in activities in the garden. I especially enjoyed helping students experience things for the first time. These tiny celebrations were a source of daily joy and fulfillment for me. 

I’ve been involved with Common Threads as a volunteer, intern, and an AmeriCorps member. This relationship with the organization has made a difference in my understanding of the importance of reciprocity and community. The aforementioned benefits of gardens go way beyond myself and impact thousands of families in the county (from students to retirees!). Like a garden we are nothing without our relationships. 

I’m standing in a two and half foot hole that once belonged to an oak tree. I’m surrounded by co-workers and volunteers and I feel happy.