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When It Is Time to Step Aside: A Small Wisdom I Have Learned by This Point in My Life

Posted Jan 29 2012 7:45am
There is a place where the sidewalk ends . . . 

And so starts Shel Silverstein's poem, Where the Sidewalk Ends, the first stanza of which children recited at the opening of the community garden I helped start two and half years ago.  It is in a formerly unused, unloved field located literally where a sidewalk ends.  Over time, as this community gathering and growing space has transformed from the photos above on the left to the photos on the right, we have taken to saying, "Where the sidewalk ends, community grows."  More than 10 tons of food has been grown, with more than 4 tons of that donated to a local food pantry.  It is now the largest community garden in the metro-Atlanta area, especially when you add in the greenhouse and surrounding grounds just up the road in the same public park.

And so it comes to this, the day I knew would happen.  It is not necessarily inevitable, but common, that founders of organizations must eventually get out of the way and let go so that the organization can grow, not as a result of their passion anymore but in the direction supported by the community. It is called "Founder's Syndrome," it is well-documented, and it stands in the way of organizational progress.
I started having this realization last year during the annual renewal of membership fees, but at that point I still felt too attached to the cinder blocks that formed my community garden bed (pictured here when the garden started, and last summer).  I know that sounds petty, but if you read the finally segment in my book , which tells the story of those cinder blocks, you will understand.  But how ridiculous would I have looked picking up my cinder blocks, one by one by one, and carrying them to my car and taking them away?  How easily misunderstood that would have been.  And so I waited.  I named my bed Patience .  I donated what I could.  And I waited.  It wasn't time yet.
Many new board members were elected last summer and the organization has a "master planning" process going on.  I offered my recommended complete draft of a master plan for the garden:
Respect the core tenets.  Treasure each other.  Trust the journey.  And have fun.
This went over like a lead balloon, except for one response I received.  It was beautiful, and I will hold it close to my heart.  It came from this man, Rod (taken Friday at the farm where he pours his passions now, 70 miles away), whom you met first in a post titled "What the Children Found that Was Important" and then in a post titled "Precarious Nature of Life" and I am not done yet telling his story.  But I am now done as a member of the community garden.  My goal has always been for that garden to be successful long-term, there is a growing number of many good people doing good things there, and knowing when what I have to offer is no longer helpful is perhaps a small wisdom I have learned by this time in my life.
And so I harvested one last time.  I added a load of compost, and planted a cover crop named lupine, which Rod had recommended, so that if my bed doesn't "rent" right away, at least there will be a demonstration cover crop bed for the members, and the soil will be further enriched.  At least I will have paid it forward (as was my plan, if you read that part of my book).
Take just one, I heard myself saying as I brushed dirt back from the cinder blocks.  Take just one as a memory of what happened here, of what this meant to you, my mind's voice tempted.
But I didn't.  I am building my bridge to elsewhere now (although I still have a few small projects there--a food pantry bed I'm stewarding, the shopping cart, and the middle school project), and cinder blocks are a weight I don't need. ( See my Eat Pray Love Hope Chest here .)
I took a photo of the cleared-out bed, and then the photo I've taken over and over again, from the upper corner outside the fence.  Finally, I lingered at the spot where the sidewalk ends.  And I said out loud, to the birds, perhaps, "Let it go, and let it grow."  And I left.
Within 24 hours, I received a request to help create a garden for a family living in transitional housing in a nearby city.  Yes came easily to my friend Bob and me.  This is what we like to do, and we've gotten efficient at it, having started or revived many gardens in the last three years.  My friend Fred of the Atlanta Community Food Bank says to "stay close to the people in need and you will never question the need."   There is no master plan necessary for me but trusting the journey, and where I am needed is increasingly a gut feeling I recognize now.
That very night, I got ten bales of wheat straw and transformed my backyard from a garden into an "urban farm" in appearance.  Rows.  I've wanted rows (with the exception of the square bed where my younger daughter said she wants to plant a flower garden).  It was peaceful and my mind wasn't pulled elsewhere for the first time in ages, and I think I heard the lemon balm and sorrel whisper, "Welcome back!"   For those of you who have been reading FoodShed Planet for close to its six years (hi, Kate, Maggie, and Ed!), you remember when it was just me out there in my home garden.  (The photo on the right is from my home garden in 2007.)  A truckload of compost comes this week, and I've cleared my afternoons to deal with it, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow.
And there the grass grows soft and white,  
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.
Mint crushed beneath my bare feet as I made my way to the corner of the yard to catch this photo of the golden setting sun across the wheat.  And, finally, after these very long and busy years, I sat down and watched the day fade, and I rested.

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