The Spirit of Gardening

Last night I sat around a kitchen table with a group of relative strangers, talking about the aforementioned "Why Bother?" article. For two hours we batted around the questions it raised in us: What are the most effective ways to motivate change? Whose job is it, and what means are acceptable in times like these? How can we subvert the habitual passivity wrought by cheap energy? What role should and does fear have for us as we approach the future? How can we be more bold?

This particular conversation took place at the monthly meeting of a discussion group a friend and I started earlier this year. We call it the Carbon Footprint Supper Club. It's our attempt to stop complaining that no one is fixing The Problem. Instead, we talk with one other about what we can do, about what real change requires. We each set goals every month and report back on our progress – "baby steps," we call them. Though our actions are small, it feels better to always be doing something.

Many in the supper club are gardening this year and trying something new – new crops, rainwater catchment, c0-gardening, new food preservation projects, etc. We are a group who appreciates gardens, and we were moved by Pollan's words about what the act of gardening does for our bodies and minds: it strengthens both. But we also recognize that growing food is good for our hearts and our spirits. Digging out dandelions, raking in compost, shaping a bed, tucking in seedlings – all these things connect us physically with a particular piece of land, rooting a piece of our lives in that ground. Over time, the garden plot becomes, in some important ways, our home. A good home. It is calm there. The work is slow. The actions are deliberate. The mind can become quiet, the heart can open. What matters in the garden is a keen eye, a steady hand, and – yes – compassion. We care for these plants and want to give them what they need.

This calm, this pace, this attentiveness are restorative. And they are transferable. We come out of the garden refreshed, hopeful, and enlivened. We head back to our desks, our families, our world, strengthened and ready to put our backs into the next task. Our spirits have been fed. We are ready.

And ready is what the world needs us to be.

One book that keeps coming up in our supper club is Sandor Katz's The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements. It's a great read. Katz talks about the many and powerful ways that people all across the country are reclaiming their connection with food and challenging corporate control of its supply: growing their own vegetables, drinking raw milk, saving seeds, reclaiming public land for gardens, gleaning. It is so useful to know that there are others who are acting with creativity and attention. This too nourishes us.

One story Katz tells is about a shrimper from Texas, Diane Wilson, who read an article about pollution in the Gulf and was shocked, horrified, and indignant. Though never before an activist, she organized her community and eventually forced a major local polluter to clean up its act. She speaks eloquently about the need to face that which we are afraid of, and to take action despite our fear. "We need to be bold and imaginative and brave. We've got to be heroes," she says in his book.

That's why we need to garden – or volunteer at our kids' school, or hunt for mushrooms, or swim in the river – because we need to be bold and imaginative and brave. We need to do anything that makes our spirits grow big and strong, because there is much work to be done.

Photo by Acorn Creek Farm

Back to the May 2008 Newsletter