As a child growing up in the 80’s, my siblings, cousins and I used to spend part of our summer vacation at my grandmother’s house on the east side of Detroit. If you know anything about Detroit, you know that traveling from the west to the east side is like going on a journey to a different country.
At that time, in Detroit, at 8850 Treadway Street, most of the neighborhood surrounding grandma’s house was beginning to see the early signs of what some call “Urban Decay“. I remember visiting my first abandoned school during one of these summer visits. The building was still of a sound structure with high ceilings and tall sturdy entrances. But, the rooms looked as if they had been paused in time with books and supplies strewn about.
Being that there were plenty of abandoned buildings and land in my grandmother’s area, she decided to use the vacant lot, which was adjacent from her home, as part of her own yard and garden. Grandma’s entire extended yard would now be filled with all types of healthy things to eat.
She would dig up the pretty grass that was once there, and plant rolls of tomatoes, green beans, squash, mustard, turnips, collards, cucumbers and more! I remember, even as a child, being in awe by this beautiful garden.
As time went on, it seemed that everything grandma grew and eventually cooked, would taste delicious and much better than the store-bought vegetables that were available in my own neighborhood. With more and more experience, my grandmother would soon learn how to preserve her harvest for the winter.
She would make her own jams, pickles and even eventually discover how to make wine from the vines she planted on her fences. As children, we would love when the holidays arrived because even us kids were allowed to taste this sweet homemade grape wine.
When I was a child, I did not know that my grandmother once worked full time and was a divorced mother who raised seven children alone. I learned as I got older that for most of her life, my grandmother was financially very poor.
Since she always had very nice things, which included the best china, linen, and furniture you could imagine. I never suspected that her garden was such a vital part of her and her family’s survival.
As I grew older, my mom told me stories of how while she was growing up, they had always had a garden. She even said that on many occasions during her childhood they would eat nothing but vegetables.
So much that one of her classmates asked her if they were vegetarians. My mom said she thought everyone had the kinds of meatless meals her family often enjoyed.
Needless to say, my mother and her six siblings were very strong healthy kids. The meals her family shared had been not lacking nutritionally from what she has told me. Even my grandmother who lived to be 85 was still able to catch the bus and tend to her garden for most of her years.
In my life, fortunately, I have not had to work as hard as my grandmother did although I still have inherited the drive and desire to do so. I love to watch the emergence of a new sprout or feel the earth between my fingers when I work in my garden. Having the ability to control one’s own source of food is something that I too hope to accomplish in the near future.
As for now, I can only dream of having the skills that my grandmother did. In the meantime, I will continue to keep reading, learning and growing, as I press forward and tread my own way towards my journey to being a Top Shelf Gardener!
© 2015 Topshelfgardener