Neda Ibrahim is a second-year biological sciences student emphasizing in Ecology. She is currently the UCOP Carbon Neutrality Initiative fellow for Community Resilience.

Cultivating Connection and Resilience Through Gardening

By: Neda Ibrahim

Published: May 27, 2020

In light of being home more than usual due to COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, I have turned to gardening to fill my time. I’ve always enjoyed it, but never made the time to dive deep and start a garden from seed! I have learned many skills and lessons along the way, and I urge you to try it for yourself too. Spending so much time and effort in my garden allowed me to reflect on the love and resilience that we can cultivate through gardening, just as my grandparents have been doing for decades.

Gardening is woven into my family traditions. My family practiced gardening and growing food in Afghanistan, which is where they immigrated from. Along with my mom’s grandparents, many of my uncles and cousins made their living by working on small plots of land to grow and sell food. In the culture of my grandparents’ hometown, keeping a home garden was very common. Most households grew an assortment of fruit trees, basic vegetables, and ornamental flowers; and raised a handful of chickens.

Courtyard garden in Charikar, Afghanistan featuring a homemade grape trellis and mulberry trees in the background

My grandparents kept a garden once they moved to California not only because they enjoyed having it, but it was also a way for them to have access to whole, nutritious food. Without knowing it, this was one way they practiced sustainability and resilience.

My grandfather would plan and establish the garden while my grandmother would watch after it when he was away at work. They grew traditional summer garden vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers; but what was most special was the produce you couldn’t find in grocery stores. This special produce included Afghan leeks, Armenian cucumbers, sour grapes, and sour plums.

Two-year-old Neda picking Armenian cucumbers from a trellised vine

Observing my grandmother harvest Afghan leaks

From summer backyard parties to watching my grandmother sweep the patio, my early childhood was intertwined with gardening. Some of my earliest memories are sinking my hands deep into warm and soft soil. I remember picking and eating fruits and vegetables on warm summer days and proceeding to become covered in sticky fruit juice. According to my aunt and grandmother, my first ever steps were from the inside of the house out to the garden.

My grandfather accompanied by my little siblings

To this day, gardening is something special for me. It’s a way that I connect with my grandparents and a way for me to stay conscious of our culture and my family’s history. Whether it’s amending their soil, starting seeds that my grandfather saved from previous years’ crops, calling and asking for garden advice, or exchanging a surplus of fruit and vegetables; it continues to be a part of our relationship with each other and to our food and soil.

In addition to strengthening those connections, gardening fosters community-based sufficiency. Having healthy food available locally decreases dependency on external sources; which becomes especially valuable during times of crises. Considering the current COVID-19 crisis, turning to gardening and growing your own food is one way to have a stable and available resource. When access to resources is limited, underserved communities can co-empower each other through local systems.

“Hard at work”

For me, gardening is a way to connect with the earth, food, and family. It is a way we practice resilience and create memories. I encourage you to try it and see what it can mean for you.