Oh PLAYMATE, come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three.
Climb up my apple tree,
Look down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we'll be jolly friends forever more. (by Saxie Dowell, 1940)
I had no idea what a cellar door was, much less a rain barrel! But now I know. My little house came with two rain barrels which have yet to be hooked up. Yesterday, I went to the first work day for the Hazelwood Food Forest to start spring clean-up and to see a demonstration of installation of a rain barrel. What fun!
The picture above shows Luke and Matt celebrating the successful hook-up (following a not-so-successful one). The project definitely required ideas and labor from the small community of workers - many of whom did not know each other before yesterday.
The Hazelwood Food Forest is a project that was developed by some graduates of Slippery Rock University's programs for sustainability and environmental education. It is located in Hazelwood, a community that is almost a food desert with no easily accessible full-service grocery stores. Michelle C. and Juliette are leasing an urban lot (or four contiguous lots, I think) from the URA. The project depends upon volunteers from within and outside of the Hazelwood community. There are work days on alternate Saturdays (next one is April 16).
I have volunteered there a couple of times. I know very little about this kind of gardening, but I love the idea of working with a group of people on an outdoor project like this that has the potential of benefiting an entire community. I love the learning that happens - yesterday, for example, I learned what "flange" means and saw it in action! I love showing up, not expecting to see anyone I know, and joining with these strangers toward a common purpose.
Yesterday, I met Michelle and her father - Michelle is a high school senior who plans to study environmental engineering when she goes off to college next year. Michelle's dad (John, I think) built the platform for the rain barrel from old bricks left over from demolition of the condemned row houses that once stood on the lot - I wonder what stories are embedded in those bricks.
I met Jane and Jim, who recently moved to Edgewood. I met Luke who works for the Nine Mile Run Watershed Organization - he supplied the graffiti-ed rain barrel and described how to do the installation. I watched Matt scavenge wire for the rain barrel installation. I talked with Michelle C., one of the creators of the forest, and heard about how her seven-month old son loves being outdoors with her while she is gardening in her Lawrenceville yard. Juliette, the other initiator of the project, is coming to my class on Psychologists in Communities and Organizations next week to talk about her work - and some of Chatham's Food Studies students are working with the project to figure out how to involve community members more actively in the planning and implementation of the work.
I hope to get to know all of these people, and more, as the project moves ahead. This is a community. One of the things that we know from psychological research is that a sense of community is one of the most important predictors of happiness and well-being.
This calls to mind many of the communities that have been important to me over the years - my book club, the people at the Square Cafe, my friends at Chatham, my fellow youth group leaders at Sunnyhill, the moms and teachers at Julie's preschool Mushroom Family Learning Center, another group of moms - Phase II, all the way back to my graduate school cohort and the marching band in high school. When I am with these people, I can be myself, and know that I am appreciated for who I am. I can receive and give support. I can laugh and cry.
Question of the week - what are your communities? Who are your "playmates"? These could even be "virtual communities" - an on-line support group for parents of children with autism - or they could be very select - feminist birdwatchers who knit, for example. My brother, Ray, has an urban farm in Louisville, KY (more about this later) - when I visit him, I see neighbors stop by with their children and grandchildren to see the rabbits and chickens, to receive a plant from him, and to take home some compost tea for their own gardens. Share with us what your communities are and why you love them...