by Mercia Ckaba Thomas

What do I love about gardening? Well, there is so much to love: the cold, fresh water from the pipes running down my arms, the sun over my head, the dirt beneath my palms, the smell of the trees and grass – just being outside and surrounded by nature!

In all honesty, my love for gardening started when I was much younger, around age seven or eight. Back home in Gabon, my uncle grew masses of fruits and vegetables in front of his home. Imagine just walking up a hill, and there it all was – tall, vibrant plants all around. I was always amazed at the way the plants grew. At that age, because I didn’t understand the life cycle of plants, I thought there was some type of magic my uncle used. Looking back, I know now that it was all hard work and dedication. My uncle was determined to grow whatever he could, so he took care of his plants.

I wanted to do the same thing. So each time I visited my uncle in his garden, I would pray that he would allow me to use one of his special tools to dig a hole and plant a seed like I had watched him do a million times. I wanted to see what sort of magic I had up my own sleeves and if I could grow something, even something as small as a flower. But no, each time I was stuck watering the seeds instead. No weeding, no digging, no planting, and no harvesting. Just plenty of watering, day after day. So I started taking packs of seeds from his seed bucket, and hiding them in my pockets. Then when I went back home I would try planting those seeds in my own backyard.

Fast forward, and the year is 2017. I was in high school sitting in a meeting with my “Make It Happen” advisor, and she introduced me to a summer youth gardening program named Cultivating Community. Gardening! Now that was something I wanted to try. I turned in my application, completed my interview, and boom! I was working in a garden. When I became a member of Cultivating Community as a youth grower in the summer of 2017, as well as the following year, I found myself wanting to be part of the program again. So I ended up becoming an intern.
Cultivating Community interests me to this day because it wraps itself around the idea of making a difference and reaching out and helping as many people as possible. Cultivating Community really lives up to its mission of seeing people as individuals – and for who they are – no matter their race, age, or background. Always being ready to lend a hand has been part of the program’s mission since it was established in 2001. And this is the main reason I love to garden! To be a part of something that makes a difference in people’s lives. Gardens do just that.

For a long time, I wanted to be able to help my uncle in his garden, to help him grow his crops. Now I get the chance to do that. I love that when I grow a seed in a garden, that seed grows into a crop, and that crop is used to help a family. As I have educated myself about food insecurity, I have learned that being able to provide a family with vegetables and fruit goes a long way toward that family’s next good meal.

Looking back now at my seven- or eight-year-old self, I no longer have to hide seeds in my pockets. Now I can go into a garden and plant as many seeds as I want. I can harvest and deliver good produce to someone else’s front door steps.

Gardening is a lot of fun, but it is even more fun when it’s something I can use to help others.

Mercia is a summer intern at Cultivating Community and a University of Southern Maine student entering her sophomore year.