Diane Small holds a small green tomato that is a thing of beauty, just ready for slicing, dipping in batter and frying up for a delectable lunch.
But rather than eating that tomato from her own backyard garden herself, she plans to give it away — and is happy to offer the recipe, too.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Small has turned her large, sunny backyard in the Waunona neighborhood into a community garden, where she and a legion of volunteers, many of them students from UW-Madison, till, plant, weed and harvest food for neighbors and nearby food pantries.
"I've already given away 40 bags of collards this year," said Small, who named her 40-by-40 foot space “Mamie’s Backyard Garden," in honor of her late mother, Mamie.
The two used to garden together in the yard after moving to Madison from South Carolina, where Small's youth was filled with backyard chores and home-cooked dinners fresh from the garden. But over the years, Small had moved on to other things, and the garden went quiet.
In 2020, friend and fellow gardener Jill Lundberg worked along with Small to secure a SEED Grant from the city of Madison, which provided $1,500 to cover a large part of the yard with organic soil and to plant collards, tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, squash and more for the neighborhood community. This year's projects have included increasing the number of plants and adding fencing to ward off ravenous neighborhood rabbits.
"Everything in this garden is free," said Small, who gives credit to the many volunteers and donors who have helped her, and who are acknowledged on her garden website, mamiesbackyardgarden.org. Small's church community from the S.S. Morris Community African Methodist Episcopal Church -- also beloved by her mother -- has been a huge support, too, she said.
"We've been praying over this food and talking over this food," said Small. "It's a lot of work, but it's going to feed a lot of people."