The Luxury of Gardening

Home gardens, community gardens, rooftop or terrace gardens: these things have become almost a fad in the last five or ten years. ‘Vintage’ books my father gave me as I started some gardens at Sky Lake Camp, where I worked for a number of years, are now being reprinted in revised editions. People like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman are writing bestsellers with ideas taken from the pages of Wendell Berry and the World Community Cookbook More With Less.

It’s nothing new. I’ve had books like this passed down to me by people like my 7th grade science teacher, who helped lead my hometown in participating in the first Earth Day, in 1970. Friends who happen to be older than me sent me extra copies of guidebooks on the theological imperative of caring for all of creation through our consumer choices. But that’s not even the point.

When I was in Elementary School, we were asked what we thought the new millennium would be like. We thought everyone would wear gender-neutral, high necked suits out of space material and would fly around from place to place on our jet packs. In middle school, we thought we would be able to get all our nutrition from packaged food products. In high school, we thought the year 2000 would cause a computer crash that would stop civilization in its tracks. And then we went to war, thinking the world might be ending in the not-so-near future, whether we got our jetpacks or not.

But here we are in the new millennium, getting nostalgic and taking ‘old-looking’ photos with an iPhone 4S. Learning how to crochet and can and … garden. The thing is, in the current culture of the people who are probably reading this blog, these are luxuries.

Actual farming for a living is terribly hard work and even if farmers use the ‘factory farm methods’ prescribed by corporations who purchase said food (which requires immense amounts of land and money just to start!), they typically hardly profit at all. I have friends who are farmers. It is grueling. No one does it for the money.

Now, I do intend to write a post on how great it is that we are tapping into our natural connection to agriculture. But I accidentally opened an article today. It was hanging out in my Word files, which are slightly jumbled right now. And it was an article that I wrote when I was spending time at the Asian Rural Institute in Japan. This article was on a woman* who lived in India in very poor tribe. Between her poverty and her Christian beliefs, she and her family were risking their lives simply staying in the country. At 15, she had to run away in the middle of winter to avoid a bloody conflict in her community. The houses were burned to the ground. She told me, “Nobody supports the poor tribes. There are people who donate rice, but what I want most is a neutral mediator. I want that more than food.”

She is one of the bravest people I ever met. But her words haunt me: “If there is no peace, agriculture is of no use.” My husband and I spent a few hours clearing out our garden plot and I got upset because we were losing some top soil in the process. We really want to be able to grow our own food. But even that is a luxury. Because if there is no peace, agriculture is of no use.

I am not saying all agriculture is a complete luxury. But I am saying that when I go out before visiting parishioners in the hospital tonight and plant some seeds and hoe some weeds, I’m going to be really, really thankful. I’m going to be thankful that if my potatoes and tomatoes get the blight, I won’t go hungry. I’m not going to feel guilty when I remember my friend in India who wishes for peace more than food – I’m just going to remember her, and be proud of her and of her community. As I garden, I can pray for them and hope for the day when everyone can grow their own food.

I’m going to be thankful that there is peace here and that among the worst things I have to worry about in my garden are the feral cats pooping in it and someone getting lost and thinking that my painstakingly pruned Romas are theirs. And I’m going to bask in the luxury of having a garden.

*The woman I write about asked me to not use her name in publication because she fears for her life. I respect her wishes, and only give the information which she allowed me to use.

2 thoughts on “The Luxury of Gardening

  1. Kellyann says:

    Have you read any Gene Logsdon? He’s an nth-generation farmer whose perspective is basically, everything you think you know about farming is wrong. It certainly doesn’t need to be as grueling as many farmers make it. Small (ten acres or less) diversified farming, using animals to do a lot of the work of fertilizing and even gleaning, is (he claims) a lot easier than what we think of as traditional farming. He boasts about his free time, and that of his Amish neighbors. It sounds idyllic, but it does require a certain amount of community support, such as for corn-shucking parties. 🙂 And his model *must* include animals; there’s no way vegetable-farming alone can be anything but grueling. There are similar models around the world. Masanobu Fukuoka calls his rice-duck-shrimp method “do-nothing agriculture.” This gives me hope that, as we learn to mimic ecological patterns in our farms, we will find farming easier than most people assume.

    HOWEVER. That does not vitiate your point about agriculture in the midst of war. I’ve always been particularly horrified by accounts of armies burning crops and slaughtering animals not for their own use, but simply to be destructive. I cannot imaging such hate, or such loss on the part of the farmers. Sowing fields with salt is like a whole new level of destruction. Thank you for reminding me to be thankful. The only “enemies” I have to worry about are brassica-eating worms and groundhogs.

    Thank you for this moving post!

  2. Kellyann, you’re absolutely right. Farming doesn’t have to be as grueling to humans or to the earth as it happens to be in the ‘mainstream farming culture,’ post ‘Green’ Revolution. Small-scale farms with larger variety and more interdependency between crops/animals is less strain on everybody and everything! But community involvement is necessary… what would be even better is a community farming together (or a church farming together… sigh… my dream faith community which I work towards a little bit each day). And unfortunately, it seems to be the case around here at least that sustainable farming isn’t a sustainable income. (Especially for people with student loan debt or debt from purchasing their land and equipment)….

    Anyhow, at ARI, the methods taught were ALL ecologically based. They had ducks in the rice and pigs turning the soil. We could feed 50 people with 80% on-site produced food with very little work from each of the 50 people. Each person spent 2 hours a day working at ‘Food Life’ jobs, and then 6 or 7 hours a day at other jobs… some on the farm, but many were just students! You would love it there. . .

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