It was a cold winter day in January 2021 when I first met Shira Berger in the backyard of her Jamesport home that she and her husband Loren purchased in the middle of the pandemic. Shira had found our business, Yard Crop, from a client review on social media and was eager to grow her passion for gardening. That winter day, we measured and examined the plot of land where the previous owners had their vegetable garden. I returned in early spring to rediscover her backyard which had bloomed into a lush oasis intentionally designed by the passionate gardeners who previously lived there. We upgraded the short picket-fenced plot into a more substantial garden with raised cedar beds and a wood-framed fence.
Shira and her family also live part-time in Brooklyn, where the family raises their three children, ages 5, 8, and 11 years old. Their garden story began in 2016 when they joined a community garden in Carroll Gardens. It was a garden co-op where the family worked on tasks like pruning, weeding, and harvesting. They eventually began to use a sliver of outdoor space they owned at their Brooklyn home where they planted tomatoes and herbs “somewhat unsuccessfully,” as Shira noted. When they bought their Jamesport home, she felt compelled to continue the growing and gardening traditions the previous owners had created.
Like every garden story, there is a deeper purpose to why Shira gardens and why she wants to teach her three young children how to grow food. During one of our first planting sessions, Shira and I shared our love for the fragrance of a fresh tomato plant. For me, that unique fresh smell always gives a welcomed sign that summer is coming. Shira told me that for her the smell nostalgically reminds her of her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who came to the U.S. and later retired in Israel.
“My grandfather grew up in the countryside of Lithuania where everything they had was what they grew as it was a self-sustaining community,” said Shira. “My first exposure to gardening was when my grandfather would come stay with us in suburban Connecticut where he created a victory garden for us each summer. He loved getting his hands in the dirt and teaching us.”
Although passing down her grandfather’s legacy of gardening to her children is one of the reasons Shira chooses to grow food, she also sees gardening as a lesson in trying something new.
She noted that she has gotten braver over the past three years of working in her garden while gaining confidence.
“It’s still overwhelming for me as I feel like I have to do everything the ‘right way’. But it’s been a good lesson for me as the garden is mostly a forgiving thing where things can happen in baby steps,” said Shira. “At the beginning of the gardening season, I’m always focused on the many tasks that need to be done and worrying if things will grow. Then nature always takes over in August, and it helps me to stop worrying. It’s an exercise of letting go and understanding that I can’t control everything.”
GARDEN GUSHING WITH SHIRA:
FAVORITE PART OF GARDENING: The feeling of abundance from having a basket full of things we’ve harvested. The kids get excited and squeal over each harvest!
LEAST FAVORITE PART OF GARDENING: I can’t escape a summer without a crazy rash from pruning and bug bites. Little inconveniences like that are my least favorite along with learning to let go of the anxiety of how things are going, worrying about the weather, time away from the garden, bad bugs, etc. My kids would say their least favorite part is definitely the spiders!
CHILDREN IN THE GARDEN: Each summer we send “garden reports” to our oldest child when he is at summer camp. He loves to see photos from the garden and get updates on what’s happening while he’s away. He is super into making omelets so he uses kale, chard, and cherry tomatoes often. Grilling homemade pizza topped with garden veggies has become a family tradition.
FAVORITE CROP: I love growing things I can’t find in the store or farm stands like husk cherries, cucamelons and pink celery. I have affection for things that are reliable and easy to grow, crops that can be harvested in the “cut and come again” method like greens.
FEELINGS THE GARDEN EVOKES: Feelings of pride for myself and my family. I feel super proud of the garden and all we have learned. I’m starting to understand the cycle of succession planting. I also feel a calmness from the garden, and being outside; a welcomed break from screen time.
LESSONS FROM THE GARDEN: The garden doesn’t have to be another living thing to worry about but to learn from and to surrender to. Gardening in the scope of climate change, the importance of becoming more sustainable and what it means to grow your own food and preserve it have been lessons for me. Our property is surrounded by a sod farm so the juxtaposition of the desire people have for green lawns and the need for growing our own food is not lost on me.