Lessons from the gardens: Hope in the wake of tragedy

This week’s tragic shooting in Orlando weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of people all over the country.

There is so much violence in the world and so many who suffer at the hands of others because of prejudice, ignorance, hate, and fear. Reports of mass killings, suicide bombings, and hate crimes in other counties are so frequent that they blend into an unending stream of sorrow – easy to push aside as being “not here.” The deaths in Orlando are just as shocking and undeserved, and they bring the sadness and anger closer to home. In recent days, pain and frustration have been overlaid with public mourning, outcry, unity, and rhetoric and passionate conversations at the national, state, and local levels about terrorism, community, bias, gun control, homophobia, compassion, religion, inclusion, rights, and more. Some of these discussions are deep and thoughtful, others are fueled by fear and dogma.

On Monday, the day after the Orlando nightclub shooting, a small group of visitors to Burlington joined VCGN staff and local garden leaders on a walking tour of community and school gardens in the Old North End. Over an afternoon, we circled the neighborhood and visited pockets of life and hope, learning about the different garden communities and how these vibrant spaces connect all ages and backgrounds to fresh, healthy food – and to each other.

Along the way, we also saw greenbelt plantings that beautify streets, home plantings of mustard greens and bok choi sandwiched between doorways and sidewalks, pots of tomatoes on front porches, and other tastes of how people are incorporating growing food into their lives.

The tour was a bright spot on a sad day. After the tour, local volunteer/artist/community leader/food champion Bonnie Acker sent me this message. With her permission, I am sharing her words with all of you…


Bonnie Acker talks about the energy and positive spirit of children and their connections to the gardens at the Integrated Arts Academy in Burlington’s Old North End during the community and school garden walking tour on June 13.

“What made yesterday so special for me was that I was really depressed about so many things, feeling so weighted down by the world’s horrors.  But then this tiny group of amazing and kind people from nearby and beyond assembled and you, Jess, welcomed everyone together with such a genuine friendliness.

And then we were all walking about and chatting and in some remarkable way I forgot all the terrible things going on.  I truly felt lifted up by the goodness of all of you and the goodness of our cheerful visitors.

Tragically, gardens do not stop massacres and gardening cannot prevent wars.  But gardens and gardening must go on to show as many people as possible that the world can be a different place, and hopefully will be a different and better place some day.  And in the meantime, people of wonderful backgrounds and ages and perspectives get to share some great vegetables and dream about peach trees having abundant harvests.

So thank you all — each of you — for lifting me up on an afternoon when I was feeling near-to-hopeless about the state of this world.  ‘May all be fed’ is my favorite saying these days and you gave me sustenance for mind body and soul yesterday in a very tangible and lasting way. Mountains of appreciations and my love, Bonnie.”

Bonnie’s words helped lighten my my heart and mind… I hope they do the same for you.

– Jess Hyman, Executive Director

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