Slow Food Prescott broke the pandemic isolation with a celebration of the Grow Food in Your Backyard Project, connecting teachers and gardeners in a project co-sponsored by Slow Food Prescott, the University ofArizona Extension Office, and Master Gardeners.
We matched 20 experienced gardeners with 20 beginners, with the goal of teaching them to be successful backyard gardeners.
We received generous community support of soil (PrescottDirt), lumber (Foxworth-Galbraith), supplies (The Home Depot and Prescott True Value Hardware), liquid fertilizer (Agro-Thrive), seeds, plants, labor, and money.
Delisa Myles captured the garden lessons in the poem below. Delisa is a former Prescott College professor, dancer, choreographer, educator and co-creator of Delicious Earth Farm.
What to Expect in the Arizona Garden
by Delisa Myles, June 2021
Expect images on the seed packet to be what will grow in your garden. Expect feeding your family, friends and neighbors the overflowing abundance, the cornucopia of colorful foodstuffs harvested on the dates predicted on the packet. Expect big flowers and cantaloupe, peaches heavy on the limb.
Expect unrealistic expectations.
Expect insects, aliens from another planet, who appear overnight and suck the life right out of every hopeful leaf. Insects who munch with their relentless mouths, carving diminishing designs out of petals, leaves and roots.
Expect javelina, deer, gophers, chipmunks, skunks, rabbits, finches, quail, snails and other unnamed crawling, flying, jumping, wily creatures who invite themselves to dine in your garden beds. Expect the disappearance of entire plants, roots and all. And expect the clean-cut stems of flowers just about to bloom, laying shriveled on the ground.
Expect starting over.
Expect daily work and watering. Expect bindweed and foxtail as your most prolific crop. Expect the wonder of a minuscule seed turning into a green shape all its own. Expect to look closely for the smallest of changes, in color, size, plumpness or wilt.
Expect to look to the sky and pray for rain. Expect to love clouds, the ones that bring rain and the ones that give shade, just a little relief from the blistering days. Expect 100-degree temperatures, expect drought. Expect existential angst about global warming.
Make magic. Hang crystals on your fence, like raindrops, to inspire and seduce the clouds. Charm the clouds with your tears so they will show mercy on your parched patch.
Expect high water bills, and dry wells.
Expect deep fear for the longevity of the water table. Expect to think about moving to a wetter place. Expect to wrestle with the saying, “bloom where you are planted.”
Expect plants to grow where they prefer, where you didn’t plant them, like hollyhocks growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk. Expect cucumbers to complain about the heat and petition for shade. Expect even tomatoes and chilies to ask for shade. When the seed packet says plant in full sun they did not mean Arizona. No one here, not one plant, even a cactus, or any human would not rejoice with a sliver of shade or a few cloudy days and a good soaking monsoon.
Expect exhaustion, frustration and overwhelm.
Expect dirt in the cracks on your heels, dirt on your face and dirt permanently under your fingernails. Expect to wear a large hat and long-sleeved shirts.
Expect awe at the tenacity of sunflowers, yarrow and mullein. Expect pampering your basil a little, just till it gets to a certain size and then watch it take off. Eat pesto for months, and freeze some for February.
Expect to feel quiet satisfaction when you eat a salad from your garden, each lettuce leaf a testament to your good work.
Expect to treat your tomato plants like blood children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Expect to save seeds for generations so those tomato children, with your diligence, will continue.
Expect to fall in love with life a little deeper, to respect yourself a little more for accompanying your garden through another season of failures and victories.
Expect to believe in faeries, the rare desert variety, and to put your faith in invisible friends, the allies and the aliens.
Expect to gaze deeply at the vibrating colors of flowers, how they emerge out of nowhere, how they open, attract and wither. Expect to see your own face do the same.
Expect to learn firsthand that you are an indivisible part of this Mothership Earth. You are the living history, the one kneeling down as countless ancestors before you, tucking seeds into soil. Expect to make a promise to the future, that you will keep believing in magic, hard work and the miracle of water falling freely from the sky.
Expect to open your garden gate with a silent prayer, with curiosity and presence, with hunger and humbleness.
Please contact Delisa Myles for permission to reprint: email@example.com.
Join the Grow Food in Your Backyard Project: PrescottAZ@slowfoodusa. org, and learn more about Slow Food Prescott at: facebook/slowfoodprescott.
Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.