John is a tour guide for the Unity Gardens in a small town in Indiana. People come to the garden hungry for food and for human connection — John volunteers to maintain the gardens and build community with those who visit.
He shares, “They come out here, and they can just talk, and I listen. We’re here to listen to people, see what they got, what’s on their minds. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Meet John: garden guide
John: (yelling through a chainlink fence) Shadow! Ghost! (Speaking to the woman next to him) Should be in that hole right there.
Guest 2: It’s probably hot.
John: Oh yeah, look.
Guest 2: Aw, they’re coming.
John: That hole goes all the way to the school, and it comes back.
(goat comes running toward them)
Guest 2: Oh those are big goats!
John: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John is a garden guide for the unity gardens of South Bend, IN.
Unity gardens provide free access to healthy, locally grown food.
John: When I give a tour, a tour can last anywhere from five minutes to two and a half hours. It depends on how much the people want to learn, how much they want to taste, you know?
(John hands part of a plant to a woman and her daughter.)
That’s the flower. Mm-hmm. I used to hate it.
(mother cautions the girl)
Guest 3: Little, little bite.
John: Yeah. But now I like it. It’s a little hot. (girl tries to spit it out. John laughs.) But in salad, it gives it a little kick.
Guest 3: Like a mustard green, or spicy mustard green or something.
A lot of people come to the Unity Gardens for different reasons. Some come for company, some come for, to talk to somebody. A lot of time when they come pick, I’ll pick with them and we’ll be talking and I’ll have a handful, and I say, “Where’s your bag?” and I’ll put it in. They said, “I thought you was picking that for yourself.” I was like, “No, I’m talking to you.” I said, “It’s hard to talk to you and just stand there and, and conversate with you. But when I’m helping you, we become closer. You know? You know me better and I’m here to help you.” So, — and it’s a lot of different roles that I play, here at the Unity Garden. You never know what I’m going to run into, and when I’m at work, that’s all I’m thinking about. Who am I going to talk to? Who am I going to inspire? Who am I going to help?
(John walks up to a large chicken coop and unlocks it. All the chickens run toward the door.)
Hey! It’s like that. And they’re always hungry. They’re always hungry. I always let people walk around the chicken and enjoy them, and then after they’re done, I say, “Hey, you guys want to go in?” And their eyes open up, “We can go in?” I’m like, “Yeah, you can go in,” and I’ll open the door and they’ll come in.
People come here and they call it all different things like “paradise,” “sanctuary.”
(Woman feeds two goats and one goat tries to eat it all)
Guest 4: Share with your friend!
John: They come out here and they can just talk, and I listen, and the other interns, they do the same thing. We’re here to listen to people, see what they got, what’s on their mind. It’s a beautiful thing.
Afterwards, a lot of kids go home, and they plant gardens, and they would come to the garden and show their mom and dad the Unity Garden, “This is this. This and that.”
It’s not about poor people needing food. It’s about people needing food, in general, that come down here, even elderly people. Maybe they don’t have money for food that week, so they come down to the garden and they get happy, and they go home happy. There was a woman that I helped, just a few minutes ago pick tomatoes, and you don’t know what’s going on with their lives, but I gave her some of the stuff that Patrick sent to us from his garden, some melons, some peppers and stuff like that. And she looked at me and she said, “You know what? I needed this because my son had got in a motorcycle accident. And so, you know, I was feeling real down. So I came to the garden, looking for something.” And, here we were, and we helped her find some tomatoes, and she got some vegetables, and she walked away happy, you know, looking at life different.
A lot of times, we’re not that kind. We’re going busy with our lives. We’re not worried about him or her, but when you take time and find out how happy it can make people, you feel better yourself, you know? You sleep good. And at the end of the day, when you die, you can say, “Hey, I helped a lot of people.” And that’s what the garden does. And that’s why I like being here and helping people.
I always give taste tests and people are, bringing me stuff here and there, here and there. And every now and then I would get something, and I’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s a weed.” So I throw it down, and they laugh. They think it’s funny.