What can land mean to an urban dweller renting an apartment? I live in Southeast Portland, Oregon, where people enthusiastically rip out their lawns in order to plant gardens and the local elementary school instructs neighborhood kids in environmental education. Sunnyside Environmental School is one of the reasons I was drawn to my neighborhood—my roommate and I, hopeful transplants from Seattle, were checking out different parts of town last summer when a woman picking fava beans and broccoli from the school's gardens earnestly offered us some of the harvest.
As a renter, my relationship with the earth is more tenuous. The two small planter areas in front of my building teem with weeds and hugely overgrown rosebushes that hang precariously over the parking lot below. When we moved in last year, ripe red tomatoes and peppers dangled in one of the planters and then rotted on their vines—the resident gardener must have moved out. I'd planted flower seeds which had arrived embedded in a friend's homemade wedding invitation, but didn't trust the sandy soil or my own intentions to stay in the apartment to plant my own tomatoes. Some of the flower seeds germinated and budded before they were pulled up by maintenance men mistaking them for weeds. They cleared the whole planter, improbably leaving the rosebush untamed. Next year, I think, I'll plant a garden in a raised bed so it can't be mistaken for weeds—my borrowed land surely better than no land at all.