It’s Earth Day: Get Busy!

It’s that time of year again. The time when the Earth starts to wake up. Flowers are popping, bees are buzzing, and everyone (humans and animals alike) is emerging from their homes, rubbing their eyes and thinking…yikes, where have I been all year?!

Yep, it’s spring and with it, the incredibly fun and well-timed Earth Day, a day to celebrate our lovely little planet. This year, the head honcho here at NCSE headquarters, Ann Reid, has given us the opportunity to take Earth Day as a service day. Given the chance I immediately popped out of my chair—how would I spend it? Cleaning trash from the Bay? Petitioning for a carbon tax? Lounging by the pool? All valiant ideas, but following the NCSE mantra of working locally, I decided to do my service by giving back directly to my little neighborhood—in fact, a place right in my backyard, by organizing a work day at my community garden.

Now, I know many of you see “community garden,” and you think, snoozy little tomato factory with cat ladies and pinwheels abounding. And well, it’s true I do own a cat (and a pinwheel, as it turns out), but this garden is particularly special because of what it represents to me and my community: partnership and collective action to enact change.

Fifteen years ago this land was abandoned by its owner, overtaken not just by weeds, but trash, and even the occasional drifter. An eyesore on a major throughway that you’d learn to ignore. Dismayed by the state of the property, several members of the community took action, jumping the fences and starting to dig. First they worked the hardened earth, then they grew plants to feed themselves, and then they built a vibrant and lively community to feed others. When I moved to the neighborhood, I often visited—on a busy road it was remarkable how the spot had acquired the quiet appeal of a secret garden. Sitting in the back with the chickens in the shade of sweet plum trees you’d never guess you were feet from a highway or the bustle of a city.

I soon found a corner that had yet to be cultivated and started to dig in—but I have to say not only was the earth hard and unnourished, it was full of trash. Each shovelful of dirt revealed a shattered bottle or discarded candy wrapper from decades before. I’m certain when people tossed this trash, they never considered that so trivial an act, compounded by similar carelessness of others, would eventually result in an area of urban blight. That’s not so different from what led to climate change—individual actions had unintended consequences, eventually creating serious problems for subsequent generations. But this garden also fills me with hope. Each time we gardeners pull out an old sock or toss on more compost, we are working to remedy the problems of the past. We are repairing the damage that was once done to the land. The challenge has inspired a collection of gardeners to work together to make a better future for our community. What seemed overwhelming, and too big for any one person to tackle, has yielded to the patient, combined efforts of many.

That is really the message of Earth Day—the power of individuals working together to remedy the past, and preserve the future. How are you spending your Earth Day? Will you be picking up trash along a river? Refurbishing the trails at a regional park? Share ideas in the comments below! Need more ideas? Just Google “Earth Day service opportunities [your location here]” and you’ll find lots of places where your help will be welcome. For example, here’s the list of opportunities near NCSE’s headquarters in Oakland.

Photographs courtesy of We Bee Gardeners.