In the middle of a tough neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, there is a vacant lot filled with refuse and infested with rats. Inspired by a little girl, a diverse group of strangers converge upon the lot and make it into a garden. In the process, they discover the amazing gift of community.
In early April, on the tenth anniversary of her father's death, nine-year-old Kim takes a spoon, a thermos of water, and a handful of dried lima beans down to the vacant lot a short distance from her family's apartment. She chooses a small spot among the rubbish, far from the sidewalk, and digs six holes in the hard ground—one for each seed she has brought. Kim mourns the fact that her father, who had been a farmer in Vietnam, died with no memories of her. She hopes that he can see her "patience and [her] hard work" in the little garden she is starting now, and will recognize that she is his daughter.
As she returns regularly to tend to her bean plants, Kim is observed from afar by an old Romanian woman named Ana, who is watching from her window. Ana, who has lived in Cleveland Heights for decades, is at first suspicious, thinking that Kim is "mixed up in something she shouldn't be," and is most likely hiding "drugs...or money, or a gun." One day, she decides to see for herself what the little girl is up to. Hobbling down to Kim's makeshift garden, Ana hacks at the ground with a butter knife. When she discovers the beans taking root underneath the soil, she is embarrassed and contrite, and puts them back gently into the earth.
In May, Ana notices that Kim has not come to tend her beans for four days and that her precious plants are in danger of dying. Because Ana has hurt her ankle and cannot go down to the vacant lot herself, she calls her neighbor Wendell, who looks out for her. Ana sends Wendell over to water the plants, but when he is down at the garden, Kim arrives, and regards him with fear. Having grown up on a farm in Kentucky, Wendell knows about planting. He has scraped up a ring of dirt around one of the plants to hold the water in. Smiling as he backs away, he tries to indicate to Kim that he is just giving her plants some water. Although no words are exchanged, Kim understands that the man is only trying to help. When Wendell returns to the lot that evening, he sees that Kim has made a...
(The entire section is 2634 words.)
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"God Almighty first planted a garden," Sir Francis Bacon once noted. In Paul Fleischman's novel Seedfolks, a junk-strewn, rat-infested city lot is transformed into an urban oasis, a process that transforms the gardeners' lives, as well. From the day when the secret plantings of a nine-year-old Vietnamese girl named Kim are discovered to be nothing more illicit than lima beans, the ugly lot is headed for changes. Neighboring apartment dwellers of all ages and many cultural backgrounds begin planting there, too, and soon a new society—a vital and diverse human family—has developed. Every main character has improved his or her own life as well as others', all the while setting in motion improvements among relatives, friends, chance acquaintances, and even passersby.
Many have proved to be much better than they seemed before they joined the gardening, and most have learned to enjoy one another's company. Along the way, they have relinquished their prejudices and misunderstandings about one another, generally with no other help or deliberations than the prompt and productive responses that they give to the demands of their gardening projects. Fleischman shows the faith and work of the farmer—along with the curiosity of the researcher, the imagination of the activist, and the precision of the wordsmith—to be a promising approach to both personal and societal reform and a reliable source of practical information.
Having ended their...
(The entire section is 574 words.)