Making Transy’s gardens grow, even in winter

“I really like what the earth looks like in the winter,” Margaux Crider begins, “because everything is so subtle. You can’t always see what’s happening.”

Crider, Transy’s AmeriCorps VISTA for sustainability, is known for waxing poetic about the earth. (Read her ode to dirt in The Rambler.) She cultivates ideas and relationships in the winter and bounty and community through the spring, summer and fall. 

As the rest of us scurry through a frozen December, focused on the shortest path to shelter, Crider is spreading compost and winter rye over the prickly landscape, conscious of the living, regenerating world beneath our feet.

“So many things are happening below the ground,” she reminds us, contradicting the stark, desolate-looking London Ferrill Community Garden, where Transy students volunteer alongside neighborhood gardeners and other partner organizations from spring through fall. 

“Roots are still growing, energy is being stored,” she says. “All of the compost is going back into the soil and replenishing the nutrients. The garden is dormant, yes, but it’s still working and preparing. We just can’t see it. And we can’t really do much with it, because you just have to let it do its own thing.”

The land she helps to manage is owned by Christ Church Cathedral and includes a cottage and cemetery on East Third Street in Lexington. The community garden, named in honor of a former slave and remarkable preacher, The Rev. London Ferrill, is a collaboration between Christ Church Cathedral, Seedleaf (a nonprofit that has a network of community gardens), the Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association and Transylvania, with the help of AmeriCorps in providing a VISTA service worker.

Born into slavery in Virginia, Ferrill came to Lexington in 1811 after his wife purchased his freedom. He ministered to the First African Baptist Church, growing the congregation into the largest of any denomination in Kentucky at the time. He is buried there in the Old Episcopal Burying Ground, the only person of color.  

Crider’s mission is to make everyone feel welcome in the London Ferrill garden and to inspire people everywhere to garden. She has helped establish community gardens at a nursing home and elementary school and is in talks this winter to begin gardens at a local mosque and Hindu temple.

Members of Transy’s Delta Sigma Phi volunteer in the London Ferrill Community Garden.

At Ferrill Garden, just down the road from Transy, visitors experience their first whiff of basil. The garden is a “food oasis,” Crider explains, that provides the neighborhood with easy access to fresh produce.

On campus, one of Crider’s winter projects is to make a moveable garden—a garden on a wagon—that she can pull around campus, from the Brown Science Center to the dorms. “I want people to think about urban gardening and to ask where our food comes from and where we can grow food.” The answer, she insists, is “everywhere.” We may have a limited amount of arable land on earth, Crider says, “but if we can just build on top of that, we can have arable land anywhere we want.”

She sees gardening as a realistic solution to significant problems in human and environmental health—opportunities to be active, connecting with other living things, growing and eating good food, and avoiding “the consequences of industrial agriculture.”

Everyone can garden, she adds. “There’s something for all ages and abilities. I feel that everyone needs to have a garden—as it was one and two generations ago. That would solve a lot of problems.”

Ultimately, community gardening is about building bonds with each other. “A garden isn’t just a place where you grow food,” Crider explains, “it’s a place where people gather and work together, and learn new things.” Being outside, getting dirty, connecting with nature and not looking at digital screens are all part of the benefits.

When asked to name the star of the winter garden, Crider smiles. “I love the fig tree in the Ferrill Garden,” she says. “I wrapped it up in mulch and hay and leaves to keep it warm. It looks kind of funny right now all bundled up. But in the summer, the figs are delicious.”