In the chilly, post-holiday calm of January, I moved with my boyfriend to Portland’s charming East End. I fell quickly and hard for our new neighborhood, which has been likened to the San Francisco of the Northeast. The comparison, I suppose, refers to the hillside bay windows and spectacular views. And lest we forget, the food (if ever I make it to San Francisco, I’ll comment further on the matter).On moving day, we lugged boxes, borrowed furniture and too many of my most-cherished possessions up the wooden staircase to Apartment 2. Standing on the small exterior landing, we thought, “Oh, what a lovely porch for a miniature garden!” Or something like that. Anyway, we decided on a shared New Year’s Resolution: Together we would grow something — something we could eat.
When the meager snowfall of Winter 2012 had vanished into soggy, spongy patches of lawn, we decided to put our plan into action and purchased two tomato plants from the store. They arrived potted, with instructional tags calling for sunlight, water and 70 days’ patience. At the end of those 70 days, we envisioned strong, vibrant green vines decorated in swollen, sweet spheres of fire engine red. Unfortunately, we overestimated our tiny porch’s exposure to that life-sustaining ball of gas in the sky. By a long shot.Despite our best efforts to position — and reposition — the plants for optimal exposure, chasing the sunlight in an arch across the porch, the stems and leaves withered from green to yellow and finally, on one plant, to brown. Until one day, hark! A lovely yellow bloom. And later, a green marvel, the size of a marble. Despite shadowy elements and a fallen mate (plant no. 2, it was a good run), we held to that little green promise of sustenance. It grew. And grew. And at last, it was proud, plump, and ready for pickin’, approximately as scheduled. The other day, we ate it — the lone fruit of our labor (yes, botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit). It tasted like success.
Resolution resolved. We learned something, too. In the future, we’ll position our garden experiment closer to the decidedly sunnier street, where our neighbors enjoy bountiful results. More importantly, our experiment in urban sustainability reaffirmed what we already hoped and believed to be true: Sustainability means never underestimating small victories. Perhaps next year, we’ll even start with the seeds.