“Spay… daaaa,” the little tyke claims, pointing at the large pile of compost we are moving together. The three year old son of the Burmese family has a handheld toy truck for moving compost while I have a shovel and he has taken a moment’s break to survey the contents of the soil.
“Spae-dah!” he exclaims this time. His voice surprised me since, even though I was talking while we filled wheelbarrows, we had only been communicating through pantomimes on account of not sharing the same language. Sure enough, as I follow his finger, a big gangly spider is traversing a ridge in the compost. Whether the little man was excited to use a word in my language or more about the comparison to his favorite superhero Spiderman, his parents Lahl and Zothan were glad to see their older son jumping right in to help build their Opportunity Garden.
Arriving at their house with supplies and tools to build a garden, Lahl jumped right in helping us unload and start to build raised bed gardens. The family would not need much mentoring in gardening as they had grown food in Burma before they moved. The family’s backyard patio was already teeming with seedlings and plants in small plastic cups and buckets, biding their time until they could be transplanted into a full garden. Zothan and Lahl have been gardening since they arrived in Columbia, MO, but living in the far northeast corner of the city, were spending time and gas every day getting to their community garden plot in order to grow and harvest food. As can often be a deterrent in urban farming, the soil at their home was barely keeping grass alive, and certainly would not grow fruitful harvests. They would benefit greatly from their opportunity garden, though, in feeding their family from their backyard instead of miles away.
“I’m so happy our children will get to see our garden now,” expressed Zothan while we installed four raised beds and filled them with nutrient-rich compost. Not only will these children grow up alongside edible plants, but the family’s garden space nearly doubled compared to their previous community garden.
Zothan kept an eye on all the garden installers, frequently bringing out juice and water to keep us quenched. In typical Burmese fashion, she also had a massive scratch-made feast waiting for us once we finished installing the garden beds. If their new garden flourishes, this family will be enjoying nourishing meals from their backyard for years to come.