The main thing I grow in the garden that I’m intentional about is for the pollinators. It’s what I pay attention to. I garden these days primarily with pollinators in mind.
I think when you’ve been gardening for a while and you’re thinking about the soil and the ecosystem and the community of the garden…what is going on here? What can grow here? What wants to grow here? What helps? Those are really critical questions queer and marginalized people have to ask ourselves and work on in our lives, and when we take a community perspective, it’s something we’re always working on…how can we create a richer ecosystem? Doing that in the garden is a really interesting way to practice.
Generationally queer folks and people of color, disabled people, we experience a tremendous amount of loss at the family level, and at the community level. Maybe that’s part of why I really enjoy community gardens: they’re carved out, and they’re transitory. This is an apartment building. I won’t be here forever. Something else will happen. There’s something about loss and the transitory nature of gardening in a place that isn’t yours that also is like, nothing of this is ours. Gardening is also a practice in time. It’s cycles. And learning to really live with it. The thing that I plant today may or may not be here in a few years. And that has to be okay.
When I first moved into this neighborhood there were so many vacant lots. And of course, those vacant lots were because of structural racism and disinvestment in the neighborhood. A lot of those lots had been black-owned businesses so that emptiness was someone else’s terrible loss. And for me, what I experienced in those vacant lots was openness, open space, and that’s really hard about capitalism and marginalized people living with and around other marginalized people, sharing our different identities and privileges, and experiences: that someone else’s loss becomes my sense of possibility. This garden, this building, I’m pretty sure it has a connection to that church. This building was full of black people once. When I moved in there were a few black people living here. Now, there’s just a few people of color in the building and as far as I know, none of them are black. That’s always been very complicated to me, as a queer person: I look for spaces where nothing is happening, where I can make a life. But one of the things that has changed for me as I’ve gotten older, and that I’ll always be learning and getting better at, is recognizing there’s always something happening. There’s no place where nothing is happening.
We’re always gardening on top of someone else’s grave.
Read more about Athen’s interview and story
Photos and video by LeAnn Locher
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Thanks very much for the food for thought, Athen. I’ll have to do more thinking about how the garden community might have lessons for the human one. You have a wonderful mind!