Three generations of Perley women helping me install a veggie/herb/flower garden at my Mother’s house in Ft. Lauderdale, FL during Christmas 2009.

When I was young I spent a lot of my time outdoors… Playing in the dirt, rerouting ant trails, catching tadpoles, building tree houses and laying in the rain. My parents quickly realized that a.) I was a tomboy and b.) I was a natural science geek. Most of my time was spent either working along side my father in his workshop or tagging along with my mom. When I was out in my mother’s garden, we would poke around in the flowers while she told me their names and explained why they chose to live where they did. I found myself at peace laying in our mossy backyard with the jack-in-pulpits, wild columbine, and azaleas. When visiting my grandmother in California, I would climb in the limbs of her avocado tree for hours, only coming down to pick lemons or watch with awe as she tended her bonsai.

I soon began taking part in the maintenance of the garden. At this point, my mother introduced me to her arch-rival, the slug. The seemingly innocent silvery trails of slime always dead ended into mass plant destruction. So what was our strategy for derailing these hungry critters? Well beer, of course. I found this to be hilarious and loved the idea of putting out little watering holes for these gooey little dudes so that they were too drunk to carry on. Yet, we were up against an army of uber slugs that saw through our guise. The next step…. salt. I had seen my mom making lines of it around some of the garden beds but before I could ask her why, my curiosity got the best of me. So there I was, blue Morton salt container in one hand, ginormous slug in the other, when I learned a harsh reality. If you have never seen what happens when these two are combined, you are better off not knowing. Needless to say, I was instantly overwhelmed with the guilt of having tortured this small creature as I desperately tried to wash him/her off. That was definitely the last time I ever tried that “trick”. This small childhood experience was one of many catalysts in my search to understand the delicate interaction between humans and the environment. Who knew one little slug could spark so much?

Flash forward two decades and I am still an avid environmentalist, extremely interested in political ecology, and following in my mother’s footsteps as a lover of gardening. Unfortunately I found myself working in a cubicle pushing paper (recycled of course) at one job and case managing clients in a tiny shared office at my other job. Click HERE for comic relief thanks to Daniel. Over the last year I have been trying to find the things that relax me, clear my mind, and help me reconnect with the natural world. The one place I am always returning to is my garden. I am constantly amazed at how small seeds can produce so much, how insects and birds can find the flowers I plant for them, and how one small patch of dirt can feed me for a growing season. There is a meditative quality to the dirt caked, sweaty planting, veggie picking, and caterpillar flicking sessions out in my self-produced oasis. Having spent so many years with my hands in the dirt, it is funny to me that it has take me 27 years to realize that it is one of my greatest passions. I have planted and tended all kinds of gardens big and small over the years, always a mix of flowers and food. My current idol is Will Allen with Growing Power. He has taken urban agriculture to a level that combines growing food with community empowerment using a truly sustainable business plan (in the triple bottom line sense).

Although I have no time or funding to get a Growing Power model started here, I am working with several fantastic friends to get a community garden going on a pretty sizable lot located not too far from my house. We have tons of interested volunteers, some potential funding sources, and lots of seeds (I already have enough organic heirloom seeds to feed my entire block and I cannot stop collecting more!) I also currently have my sights set on an apprenticeship opportunity in Charleston through Lowcountry Local First. Here are some details:

As with seeds, only time will tell what will come of these ventures!

Written by Nikki