Dave finished hoeing a row of beets and looked over the garden with a smile. He wondered why everyone didn't have a garden when it worked this well. Wiping the sweat from his face he paused to check on the chicken pen; six busy chicks were scratching the grass and chasing gnats. Crouching down to admire them he could see their wings and tails were fully feathered and they were growing nicely.
Pulling the list of addresses out of his pocket, he noted the next garden was two blocks away. With the hoe slung over his shoulder, he set off, waving to Mrs. Burnett as he went. As usual, she hurried to the door and called him back for a glass of lemonade before he left. Everyone on his list was elderly or disabled, so he knew most of them from the boxed food deliveries. While a very few were genuinely grumpy, the rest looked forward to his arrival and loved to chat. Some came out and talked non-stop while he worked, others waited with cold drinks for him to finish. Today, Mrs. Burnett pushed a handful of radishes across the table and insisted he take them. Gratefully, Dave thanked her; knowing she couldn't afford to tip him money, but would be terribly hurt if he refused and any addition to their food stores would be welcome at home.
His next stop was Mr. Haskell, who would have a lawn chair in the shade so he could direct Dave's work. Approaching the house, Dave stopped in dismay; there were bees flying and crawling all around the sidewalk. He had never seen anything like it and was afraid to go any closer. The door swung open and Mr. Haskell leaned out, "Come on in! Those are just ground bees. Don't mind them."
Dave eased cautiously past the bees, staying on the grass and as far away as he could. "What are ground bees?"
"They live in the ground instead of a hive. Those out there live under my sidewalk. Don't worry, they aren't aggressive." He led the way through the house to the backyard, still talking. "Of course, any bees are good for the garden but the city won't let us keep hives, so I'm happy to have ground bees."
"How does a bee help the garden?"
"Pollinating! Actually, any bug that doesn't damage the plants helps carry the pollen around, but bees are my favorite." With one of his characteristic sudden topic changes, he continued, "You're a bit early, still staying for lunch?"
"Yes, sir. I would like to." For three days each week Dave worked gardens and was settling into a routine of where he would be at certain times. This was the third week that had him at Mr. Haskell's around lunchtime. Naturally, he brought his own lunch but it was nice to eat at a table with ice water and interesting conversation.
Settling down to the work, Dave carefully hoed between tomato and pepper plants. When asked why he only planted those, Mr. Haskell had explained that he liked making his own salsa and this would give him enough ingredients to make an abundance.
"What are you thinking about so deeply over there?"
Dave jumped a little at the sudden question before answering, "I was thinking how each of the gardens is different and wondering what all the rest look like. You know I tilled a lot of plots up but I only get to help out a with a few."
"Huh, I can guarantee that some of them are already lost to the weeds. That always happens when people start gardening for the first time and don't realize it takes work."
"Will they give up?"
"Some will. Some might even put in the hours to save what they planted this year and learn from their mistakes. When you finish here can you bring in half a dozen rhubarb stalks? I'm going to start my lunch."
Later, over the meal, talk turned from gardening to harvest. "Listen, Dave, I could use a hand with the salsa this year and you could learn how to make it. What do you say?"
"Sure, I think it would be fun to see the whole process. It will have to be on a Saturday though." Something about the idea of taking a plant from a seedling all the way to making food out of the produce struck a chord in Dave.
When he got home that evening, digging into his backpack for the radishes, he found six rhubarb stalks neatly washed and packed in a plastic bag.