The earth beneath our feet is poison. The green it sends up into the world, inedible. It saddens me, the way we humans have a way of destroying the very thing that sustains us. Tanneries, foundries, lead paint and several city wide fires are to blame for our soil's misfortune.
Growing food in the city is like being at sea with no fresh water or playing the children's game hot lava, but with plants.
So you do what you can. There are ways to remove the contaminants: grow sunflowers and spinach, which pulls the lead from the soil at the expense of themselves. What then you do with the toxic plant waste I've no idea. Or, as we have done, import soil, build and collect containers. Find as many surfaces as you can spare to put them. Squeeze them in between cars, in your postage stamp yard, on your miniature deck, and when all else fails, on the rooftops. Tell your dear flock, I'm sorry dears, I'd love free range eggs and happy chickens, but we'll all be contaminated, so in the coop you stay. Here's a few treats.
If you're one of the lucky ones, whose soil is only moderately contaminated, like us, you might even get to plant some fruit trees and bushes.
So you do with making do. You squeeze what you can out of your desecrated tenth of an acre. And in the moments when you get frustrated with city gardening you read the inspiring words of others.
You hold onto the good moments in the city. The quiet ones. The ones in which you receive gardening advice from a Vietnamese or Sudanese neighbor who once farmed in their home country. The ones in which a like minded urban chicken raiser knocks on your door for urban chicken coop advice. The ones when some passerby tells you their children had never seen a chicken, until they walked past your yard. The ones when you give said child the opportunity to look inside the coop, spy the eggs, and take them home. The ones in which your Somali neighbor child/self appointed chicken raising assistant finds one of your chickens, dead, and experiences a little bit of the circle of life. The ones in which his little sister, the self appointed mint eater, asks you, for the tenth time in a day, Can I have a mint?
While you may dream of wide open acres of clean soil for your garden, your poultry and more importantly, your children, you'll miss these moments someday. These are moments that cannot be had on the wide open and sometimes solitary acres. These are reserved for the city homesteaders only.
Some day in the future when I'm standing in the big (and unpolluted) garden with my son, sighing over what the wildlife has done to my garden, I'll miss them. I'll think about all my past neighbors, their advice, their glee, their support, and their young voices asking Can I have a mint?
So for now, when I grow weary of leaded ground and small spaces, I remind myself of the things I love about city gardening. I am blessed with a wonderful and diverse community, the friendliest and kindest of neighbors. A safe place to raise my child and grow food, if only a little bit and mostly in containers. (Free from violence, war and famine, something our neighbors have not always had.)
Polluted soil and all, we are blessed.