Turnip Greens and the Trouble I've Seen
- Written by Joel
There's a proverb that goes something like- "More grows in the garden than the gardener knows has been planted." I'm grateful each time I have had the experience of just how true that proverb can be.
It was already late afternoon and after spending the day planting out tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil and sowing some beans out at the Grow Hope Youth Farm I was thinking about putting everything away and heading to the house. But it was such a beautiful afternoon now that the sun was sliding lower in the sky I decided to get the weedeater out for awhile. As I was topping it off with fuel I noticed a woman slowly walking up from the parking lot.
"How you doing today?" I asked.
"My neighbor told me about this place. She said I should come see it. I had no idea... Are those turnip greens? You got chickens?"
I never cranked the weedeater. I spent the next hour remembering why I do what I do, and why it matters.
After I shared with her how the little urban farm came about and told her all about what the young people would be growing and selling this summer, she asked again about those turnip greens. I handed her some scissors and a large bag and told her to help herself. She quietly began stuffing the bag full and every now and then would say, "I can't believe I'm being blessed this way today." I handed her another bag and her face lit up.
After filling the second bag she came into the shade beneath the pavillion, handed me the scissors, quietly said thank you and sat down on the old church pew. I noticed she was holding back tears. She wasn't saying anything, just running her hand along the wood grain as though she was polishing it, so I simply sat down on the old yellow couch across from her.
"You have no idea how much burden I left out there," pointing toward the turnip greens. We just sat for a minute or so and then she began to tell me about her elderly father in a wheelchair who couldn't walk or talk and how bad his dimentia had gotten. He lived with her and she loved cooking for him but described times she went dumpster-diving when things got really bad, and how she's been drinking liquor every night for so long she can't remember when she didn't. She's tired of drinking and tired of the people that come with it. She began to tell me about a boyfriend that she had to get away from and his anger and abuse and how he even hit an 80-year old man. "Who hits an old man? Why?" She told me all about how Section 8 helped pay her rent and how she was nervous about meeting with them and whether she would continue getting assistance. She has no car and can't face having to move someplace else. She told me about her son in the penitentiary and that she was going to write him when she got home; she hadn't written him since March. She said he spent the first few months in prison just him and a Bible and that she tried to be polite and listen to him when he talked about the Bible, but to her it didn't make sense. She was glad he talked about it but that she would mostly just try to be polite. She talked about a lot of hard times; troubles; burdens. But oh man, was she glad to have been blessed with the fresh greens to cook for her father.
It seemed to me she found some peace picking those turnip greens and truly had laid some burden down. Her face seemed so much softer and her eyes seemed brighter when she finally stopped talking and thanked me, promising to bring me a bowl of greens the next day. I watched as she walked away with her bags of greens (and a dozen fresh eggs) and wondered how long that brief peace would last. She's living a hard life. Sometimes East Chattanooga can be a hard place for folks living there, with unemployment over 20% and over 30% percent of residents needing food assistance to get through the month and on and on with statistics and numbers about crime and shootings and housing and poverty and gangs and such and such and whatnot and on and on.
But it's really all about stories and the people who live them. It's about community- good stuff and hard stuff, for whatever reason or circumstances. I think sometimes people just need some time to pick some greens. Sometimes they just need someone who will listen to their story.