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Reflecting on Gardening and Fighting

#28, Meet Rose, MMA fighter and gardener at Rose Roots

I’m a first-generation Lithuanian-American. In Lithuania, the culture is very nature-oriented. My grandmother pretty much grows all of her own food at her cottage. It’s really important to my family. Gardening has been ingrained in me ever since I was little. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which was an urban environment.

We had a small 10 x 10 space in our backyard with a couple of tomato plants, some strawberries, and some sunflowers every once in a while. My childhood garden had a lasting impression on me. The tomatoes were so delicious and the strawberries were way better than any store-bought strawberry I’d ever had.

I looked forward to our garden every year. My chore was always weeding and I didn’t really like it as a kid, but I definitely learned to appreciate it as a form of therapy.

I was put into martial arts as a young child to keep me out of trouble and to keep me active. That has led me to the career that I’m in right now [MMA fighter]. In 2013, my partner and I moved to Denver. In 2016, I bought a townhome, and from there, I established my roots. Even though I was constantly traveling for work, I decided that I was going to have a home base here. I was looking for community gardens to join but It wasn’t panning out because of my busy schedule, and then eventually, I joined a CSA share. It was the most delicious food I’d ever had! 

That next year, I saw that there was a DUG community garden in my neighborhood called Rose Roots. I’m like, “Wow, that’s the biggest community garden I’ve ever seen!” Then everything just fell into place. I decided to find a way to work it into my schedule and just go for it!

I’m really blessed to be a part of the Rose Roots Community Garden. Everybody there is pretty awesome. I feel bad sometimes because I’m always in and out of town, especially this past summer, so I haven’t been able to get to know more people.

But it almost feels like a sentiment of the garden that everybody is busy but it’s still so established there that even with the extra stress of the pandemic and people’s lives, the garden takes care of itself and the people still take care of each other. 

We all take care of the pollinator plants and we switch off watering for each other when someone goes out of town. It’s really cool to see that with the landscape that we’re in right now, the garden is still doing very well. Sometimes when you leave things alone and are hands-off for a while, things flourish on their own. The garden is a very serene, beautiful place. This season, we had two plots instead of just one, so I was worried because it’s double the trouble. But I think because I’m more experienced now and knew to put mulch down and space things out a little better to organize my garden, it’s actually doing really good without needing to put as much work into it. 

When I started out gardening, it was all about productivity for me. What can I eat? Over time, I’ve become more appreciative of flowers and plants that are good for pollinators.

This season, I planted pollinators for the first time. They’re so pretty to look at. This is the first year that I’ve successfully grown the most delicious tomatoes ever. I grew an heirloom tomato plant that was red, green, and purple. It was the most gorgeous tomato I’ve ever had! 

I ferment a lot of my vegetables, so I have a refrigerator full of beets, carrots, and some of the cucumbers I made into fermented pickles. I eat a kale salad with cucumbers and tomatoes from my garden almost every day. I used to be annoyed with making salads before I started gardening. But now, that’s all I want to eat! So it’s really changed my food palette. I’ve been a vegetable-eater my whole life, but making salads always felt like a chore to me. After growing my own kale, I realized how much I liked it and how good it is for my brain. The food I need needs to be good for my brain because of the profession I’m in. I like kale so much better than other lettuces now!

For me as a martial artist, the community garden provides a similar effect to fighting.

Obviously, gardening and martial arts are two very different activities, but what martial arts and gardening do for me is give me a sense of control over myself and my situation. Lots of things happen to us in our lives that we can’t control, but putting a seed in the ground, watering it, doing things that help the environment around you, and then seeing something come out of the ground that you can eat, something that’s good for the plants around it, taking care of something that will take care of you back is the most rewarding thing ever. It gives you a sense of control over your situation when there’s not really much that you can control. With martial arts, you might not have enough money in your account to pay your bills, but you can throw some punches and I guarantee you’ll feel a lot better afterward. 

Gardening and martial arts both take time and patience. There are times when it gets a little frustrating and things aren’t working out. However you are feeling at the time, it is reflected back to you in your garden. Gardening is not only good for when you want to feel better, but it can also point out the moments when maybe you’re not feeling so good. It shows you when you need to address the issues that you’re dealing with psychologically because if you’re not feeling good, your plants ain’t lookin’ so good.

Gardening is a reflection of ourselves. 

There are so many parallels between fighting and gardening. To other people, it probably seems like there wouldn’t be any similarities between them. To me, they’re so closely related. Gardening and farming give fighting a purpose for me. I’m not just in the ring being a brute (even though I do have some brutish tendencies sometimes). If there are any MMA fighters reading this interview, I’d tell them that gardening really gives me a vision for after fighting. There’s a huge epidemic of fighters that take fights for no reason at the end of their career and they have trouble transitioning to regular life. They don’t have a way to do anything else. I would really encourage them to get involved in a community garden because it gives you that sense of balance. It’s really healing for the soul, and you might even find out that you like it better than fighting and eventually that’s what you’re gonna do. My vision one day is to start a program called “fight-to-farm” to help fighters transition to normal life and something beyond their fighting career — to help them live a rewarding life that has a greater purpose.

Community gardening is great for people that are low on time, for beginners, for people that lack the space at home, or for people who lack the resources.

There are people at a community garden that are willing to help and pick up the slack when you’re not there. When you develop those relationships, there’ll be people there who you can ask questions all the time. You can ask them how to space out your plants or what to put where. Our garden already has most of the tools that you could ever need and they have shared compost, so it’s great for someone just starting out. All you need is some seeds. Being part of a community garden is really fun. You get to see what other people are doing and it’s a very serene, peaceful thing to be a part of.

The benefits of community gardens aren’t just personal. There are ripple effects from the actual garden itself to the city. We donate food to the food bank. We educate other people on how to grow their own food. If you look at the effects it has on our food system, we all know that there’s a whole bunch of inefficiency when it comes to grocery stores and how we get our food. Food is delivered from other states and other countries, for that matter. Think of the negative effects that that has on our environment and pollution. It’s not healthy for each of us as individuals. It’s nice to know that you’re doing something good for the environment, too. Eating food you grew yourself versus eating food from the grocery store is night and day. It’s so much more nutrient-dense and some people maybe haven’t had that. To this day, I don’t like buying cucumbers, tomatoes, or even strawberries from the store. So maybe it might ruin you — I don’t know. Ignorance is bliss! The list of benefits of community gardening is endless with so many dimensions. It’s kind of like, why aren’t we doing this as a whole nation? It would definitely be a solution to a lot of our problems. If you look at American history, we’ve historically been farmers. That’s what we started as, so I think it’s good to be in touch with our roots.

I’m working towards owning a piece of land and my ultimate dream is to live on an Earthship. They’re these off-grid, self-sustaining houses that are built out of recycled materials and they recycle water. They’re being built all over the world right now. I helped build one in Indonesia–it was a really cool experience.

Colorado is one of the best places to have one. I’d love to build an Earthship type of community where we educate people in the community and maybe bring kids from the inner city who’ve maybe never had any type of experience like that there and do camps to show them that this is another way of living life.

As a kid, I always wanted to be outdoors even though I was trapped in the city. I want to provide that for kids who grew up like me and want to get out and be in nature.

So, that’s my plan eventually. And community gardens are for sure going to be a part of that plan!

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