Conferences are not really my scene. The crowds, the terrible coffee, the frenzied schmoozing—it all makes me grumpy, even (or maybe especially) if it’s to celebrate a rather quiet and solitary pursuit like gardening. But I’d landed in an auditorium in the Bronx with thousands of other community gardening folk for 2012 GreenThumb GrowTogether, listening to the NYC Park Commissioner tell us that children needed to play with mud pies instead of Xboxes. It’s a sentiment that I don’t disagree with, but something about this preachy and half-assed pandering to the crowd sparked a flame of irascibility in me that was to burn steadily for the duration of the event. Luckily, the political speeches were broken up by a group of adorable Brooklyn dancers recreating a scene from Harlem’s Savoie in the 1930s. Everyone was too relieved to question what any of this had to do with gardening.
I will admit that the women from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden who ran the first workshop I attended did not have a particularly easy job. Due to a vague description in the program, it was unclear whether they were supposed to be teaching kids about gardening or teaching adults to teach kids about gardening, and it led to a confused mash-up. I gave the instructors an icy glare during a session of Simon Says that I hope communicated the message, “No, I am not going to stomp my feet to show you where my roots are.” Anyway, a lot of what they were saying was drowned out by the caterwauls of bored children, and I found myself thinking, Scooby-Doo villain-style, “This Kitchen Botany for Kids class would be so much better without all of these pesky kids around!” Nevertheless, I left the workshop with a nifty reconfigured milk carton in which I’d planted some lettuce and a bulb of garlic, and I saw other conference attendees gazing upon it with envy.
At lunch I reconvened with Jason and two longtime gardeners from our block who were not novices to the GrowTogether. In fact, Ms. White exhibited a downright professional approach to the event in her attire (sweatpants), accoutrements (street vender iced tea to counter the terrible coffee) and attack (she led me by the hand to the free t-shirts and then watched to make sure I secured them). When I asked her if her morning workshop about healing herbs had been worthwhile, she told me about how you can make a tea out of just about anything and most of them have the power to cure some ill. Shielding her mouth from Jason, she explained that garlic can flush out “female problems” and when I asked if one drank the aforementioned garlic in a tea, she told me that a more direct application was necessary. I laughed and said I would let her try that one first.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em
After lunch, I passed through a long gauntlet of sweetly earnest non-profit warriors waving pamphlets at me and arrived at what I now believe to be one of the main reasons people attend this conference every year: enormous boxes of only slightly outdated seed packets, free for the taking. The crazed pillaging reminded me of a particularly traumatic trip I’d made to Target during last year’s holiday season, the scene left me shaking my head. Are not even gentle gardening folk immune to the overwhelming seductions of greed? And then I saw a packet of pie pumpkin seeds and elbowed a couple of old ladies out of the way to get at them.
I’m not sure that the GrowTogether really won me over to the idea of conferences, but I did leave the event with a strong urge to be alone and plant something, so maybe it fulfilled its purpose after all. By far, the best part of the day was when Jason and I were back in our own kitchen, pressing seeds into little containers of dirt. Mud pies, indeed.