Please take the vegetables. I’m serious: please take the sweet peppers, please go home with kale, haul the chili peppers back to your dorm room, carry potatoes in your backpack, please just take one more tomato. The garden this time of year is bursting, and those of us who care for the garden have been letting anyone harvest produce since early summer. At first, it was just word-of-mouth permission, then we spread the news in group chats and at our gatherings. Now, we’ve all but erected a sign next to the garden that says, “the food is yours, if you want it.”
In my experience, open access to fresh vegetables has not depleted the amount of produce available in the Bowdoin Organic Garden (BOG). Students are respectful of how much they harvest. Meanwhile, the plots are overflowing with tomatoes and kale. I’ve started to think of this part of campus as the people’s garden: a place where anyone is welcome to give and take. While leaving enough for Dining Services, of course, since they feed us all.
Giving means chatting, raking, sowing, walking, organizing. Taking means laughing, harvesting, eating, reveling in the process of change. And more, of course. Fall is the ideal time of year to give to the garden because there is so much that the garden gives back. The energy from the end of summer is transformed into large peppers and pumpkins. The autumnal equinox brings harvest festivals. Around campus, the rhythm of the semester finds me cycling back to conversations picked up in fragments from lunches and dinners and happenstance—conversations about change.
“Every politically engaged person should have a garden,” poet Camille T. Dungy writes. “A garden’s constancy, and also the pace at which a garden will change, these are necessary stabilizers in the oft-buffeted life of the politically engaged.” The BOG is the people’s garden, and as such, it is your place to become engaged; it is your place to untangle yourself from campus-time and its small moments of crisis; it is your place to give and take. If you have access to this land, if you have a place to literally plant your feet and stand with other humans and plants, what will you do then?
Here’s a short list of things I’d like to change: climate change and climate injustice, having ultra-capitalist bankers like Jes Staley on our Board of Trustees, overgrown garden beds, rights and respect not given to BIPOC people in this country and around the world, the political state of our country, rushed days and headaches. The list goes on. Thank you to anyone who has ever called our attention to these matters or who cares enough to address them—in print and in action.
But in the garden, I’m standing next to the greenhouse and looking at the patchwork collection of plant life, abundant and changing as fall begins. The potatoes that we dug up last week were plentiful in the soil; other plants had replaced them on the surface. I imagine how, beneath the surface, the roots all weave together: aren’t these things I’d like to change all connected? Aren’t the things we want to change all coming from the same pattern of exploitation?
Please take vegetables. Which is to say, the garden is for all of us.