On 250 acres cornered between North County streets and a dense backwoods of possibility, I am working the land. This is no estate in the country. It is an urban farm, a suburban paradise. The land switches to rural once my car enters this enclave. I pass rows of lettuces and herbs, gardens trimmed by the work of volunteers and happy workers. There are banana trees to my left and right, small stumps that look like tiny Californian palms. (They will not make bananas). I don’t quite know why they are here, and not back home on a beach. I pass peach trees, budding with firm fruit. They look like gooseberries, feel like fuzzy beginnings. Am I in Georgia?
People wave hello. There are smiles on faces I have never seen before: a man who seems like a hipster with his nose ring, long hair, and burning blue eyes, but talks softly and slowly and carefully as he washes kale… “Hey dude,” he says, and I am comforted by his calmness. I envy his style: a soft collared shirt tucked beneath bright yellow waders. A lady with big round glasses shows me her herb garden (zen is an understatement). I rub my fingers through her chamomile, and my hand smells like staying home in bed all day.
I approach manicured rows of greens with curiosity and caution; I realize I don’t quite know what this place is. Even the hawks circle overhead with slight confusion. Wind blowing off the occasional car lifts them upward. I want to tell these hawks there is no prey here, but raptors do not speak english. Instead they soar in the bright blue sky where the clouds are simple, unlike those of the thunderous tropics or those raggedy and wispy ones from the cold north. They’re a blend of those long, outstretched mats of white on the great plains, and the cotton shapes which peak through my city’s skyscrapers.
A car rolls by and the hawks pitch away. They do not know what to make of this patch of prairie—what with the street grid confining it and the metropolitan area surrounding it. I don’t either, so instead I let the wind guide me.
Pea plants nudge themselves up from gravel and the three propeller leaves of strawberry dot the walkways. There are garlic shoots, comfrey bushes, marigolds and sunflowers.The landscape is immaculate. Every plant has purpose, and has a companion. I see stems of false elm rooming with the peach trees. Behind them, in the fields are patches of beans, and last season’s cover crops. From this nitrogen bomb, the lettuce grows high in the fallout. The war of the summer has begun, and fittingly the lettuce will win it. In the next row there are white buds of cilantro and yellow petals of mammoth dill—flowers everywhere to attract the eager pollinator.
Cool air pushes across plots as if it were exhaust from the hawks’ tail feathers. It shakes leaves of garlic and planks of hearty purple cabbage—rustles leafy lettuce and tall rye. That rye—sticks tastled with grain—rocks back and forth. It is out of place: its time to prosper was the winter; it does not belong here. There are houses across the street; they all have trimmed kentucky or bermuda grass, not covercops like rye and vetch. The rye will be pulled soon to make way for this summer’s watermelon. Then it’ll return in the winter, when the neighbors will look out their windows as snow falls, gazing across the street at heads of green which’ll push through white.
In another plot there are pepper seedlings, bushels of bok choy and tatsoi. The mustard greens are fragrant against the smell of asphalt and oil. (They taste much better too). Down the road, kids are in school. Here, a child walks past me with his mouth wide open, mesmerized by a wand dispensing iridescent bubbles for the wind to take. Others run across the gravel path, playing with each other with nothing but their young bodies under a hot sun.
I see people bent down, picking white cabbage and collards. Music plays and I am more unsure of my location. First I hear the strums of Frenchmen and -ladies in a dimly lit bistro—then some Spanish guitar and a South American bongocero. I could be in the borderlands of France, the rare plains of Panama, but the distant telephone lines and buildings across the street bring me back. Where to? I am not fully sure.
A child with a speaker makes it harder to tell. Memphis’ “Jailhouse Rock” makes me want to rock and roll as I help a farmer build a trellis. A lady with the 50’s blues migrates up from the deep south. Punk rockers, indie girls, and alternative boys invite themselves too. A family and I jam out to the visiting Mr. Bombastic. His flight from Kingston arrives as we nail down a tarp over composted grown.
I’m on all fours, straddling mounds of fertile soil beneath my body. The ground is squishy from the weight of my knees, shins and hands, and I feel like an infant on his mother’s belly. That would make me but a child to the ground I call Earth. I get up, and find more of my kin.
I stand over a row of the victorious lettuce, from left to right a pithiness of life and color: spotted green and red (a Very Hungry Caterpillar), shimmering ruby (a sprouting rose), dull and steady green (a turtle shell), bright emerald green (a green giant). I look closer at the row while at the same time blurring my vision. A hearty worm emerges from the ground, takes with him leaves and wood chips. A ladybug falls from the green giant, which sprouts outward like a particularly vain tulip, then flies to the ruby rose. I didn’t know she could do that. Words I remember and wings I see teach me the truth of this fair lady.
The exhale of an Italian accordion. Startled, I stop to ask myself if this is a cult or some smoking circle! I only see smiles and despite all the sweat and heat, the toil is not hard. The only clamor comes between a lost tray of purple basil, and the children are only angry with each other because they can be. This place cannot be another world, for it’s entrenched in this city’s boundaries: the strip mall and liquor store, credit union and fast food joint are only a mile away. No, this place is here for a reason. I can feel it in the Northside’s desperation, in how little green can be found in the grocery store, and in the abundance of the antithesis of food like this: food grown locally, sustainably, and beautifully. As I look at the rows of color and am driven through the backwoods to the Missouri River, I think about all those gas stations, liquor stores, and drive-thrus. Soon I reach the river—a brown aquatic ogre lined with pretty little yellow flowers—and I’m reminded how special a place can be.
G.F. Fuller is a young writer from St. Louis striving to accomplish the feat of making people think. He has been published by newspapers in the Midwest, as well as the writing journals Élan and Teen Writers Project.