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Putting Green Back Into The Urban Scene

I live in inner city Chicago. I once lived on a flower farm on top of a mountain. Needless to say, it’s a bit of a change. All the way through this very cold, miserable winter, I find myself asking, “Green please?” – the one color that doesn’t seem to make an appearance until too late for my taste. How to remedy this gargantuan problem? I’ve found that there are many survival tactics in this concrete jungle, the least of which is to bring the green out from the inside. Grab your gloves, empty chicken noodle soup cans, and some seeds, and produce something most 4H’ers might be jealous of!

Rule number one would be UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES USE THE SOIL FROM OUTSIDE OF YOUR APARTMENT BUILDING. I found out the hard way that lead permeates the soil in a lot of older cities, and thus, if you were to grow some organic lettuce in said soil, well, lead would very soon permeate your body. Not generally a good idea. So, bury your pride and go out to pay $3 for a bag of dirt. If the idea is too foreign to you, grab some friends for moral support and do the process in little steps to make it easier.

Where to put the soil? Such a brilliant question, and this is where your naturally creative spirit gets to run wild like preschoolers in a children’s church program. A coffee can, margarine tub, roommates shoe, or a bottle are some interesting containers that you may fill with your $3 potting soil. When attempting more ambitious projects like an indoor vegetable garden, buy a planting trough with quite a bit of depth for the roots to explore. The most important factor is drainage. Poke holes in the bottom of what ever you use and if you do go with something like a glass bottle, water very, very lightly. A drowned plant is a dead plant. I have an entire windowsill in my kitchen filled with different sized cans and herbs in each one. It looks very urban/organic. The possibilities are endless.

Tomatoes are always a winner. Parsley and lavender are close runners up. Some plants love to be pampered and live in-doors; others are not hip to the lifestyle of the mulched and miracle-grown. Try whichever plants sound interesting to you; the worst thing that can happen is they don’t come up and you spend 30 cents on the lesson. I had friends in college who ended up hacking their tomato plant to death because it became like something out of Little Shop of Horrors and produced more tomatoes than they, or our campus, could ever consume. Most anything will grow given enough care and attention, so if miniature Swedish artichokes strike your fancy, plant them and see if you end up with a raging monster or a modest success in your very own home.

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Growing something lovely in a small apartment or dorm room is fairly easy. I do not have any secret formulas and at one point in my junior year had a thriving strawberry plant, daffodils, chili peppers, tomatoes, green peppers, and all manner of herb – sans roommate. There is no magic touch or hereditary green gene. In most things think of the plants as you would yourself; we all need food, some water, but not too much, we don’t like to be cold, we don’t like to be too hot, we don’t enjoy being crowded or squished, and most people do not enjoy being exposed to constant bright light (and if you do, maybe growing tomatoes is not the kind of therapy you need). Give your plants the same treatment you require and they’ll blossom.

I have found that there is something deeply spiritual in tending a container of seeds and one day finding the first green sprout, soon to be followed by many more. It’s a reminder of how life continues, thrives, and dies all around us. It is also an encouragement to me, to seek out the right “food” and care, in order to grow into the person God has in mind. In an urban lifestyle we tend to get caught up in moving, being productive, and getting the job done. We don’t have time to smell the flowers (mostly because there aren’t any), never mind attempt to grow some in our home. Take the time to connect with something profoundly natural and ingrained in your humanity: to bring beauty into an otherwise cold and depressing time of year, and, perhaps, experience a different aspect of God. All with a $3 bag of potting soil, a couple tomato seeds, and an empty margarine tub.

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