These two videos, from completely different sources, showcase ways that people are taking the environment and stewardship for the earth into their own hands and being God’s restoration on the earth.
I remember working in the blueberry field at Spring Rain Farm two years ago, weeding out overgrown thistles and sorrel colonies. The berry plants themselves were still fairly young and we had to be extra careful as we were working around them so as not to disturb their roots. If we grabbed the wrong root shoot, a slight tug would unearth the whole plant and we’d have to re-plant it back into the soil immediately – any time spent out of nutritious soil is shocking to the root system and delays the growth of the plant.
For whatever reason, a fair number of blueberry plants in that field were easily uprooted, having a hard time establishing and grounding themselves in the soil amongst all the aggressive weed pressure.
something I’ve learned about transplanting potted plants in the landscaping business, is that however you prepare the home soil for the new plant (be it shrub, tree, bulb or herbacious flowers), once you do any amending and mixing in of minerals or organic matter, you want to water pretty heavily both before and after planting so that there’s a good supply of moisture for the new guy – water is essential for transporting nutrients through the soil to the roots. And finally, once you’ve planted, you want to stomp the ground around the plant to squeeze out any air pockets remaining in the soil – there are no nutrients in air and though it is critical for life, too much of it keeps the roots from getting fed, which in turn stresses the plant.
In the same way that the soil conditions and quality matter so much to plants, so our own life conditions and quality matter to our spirit.
In Ephesians 3 where Paul write in verse 17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” This rooting and grounding is essential for our growth in Christ. It is through establishing our foundation in Him that we are nourished and capable of expanding, stretching our limbs, and growing.
As most gardeners and farmers know, the size of the plant above ground level is in direct proportion to the size of its below-ground members – with the underground portion growing to many times the size and spread of the parts we can see. The fraction of a person that lives in the visible, physical body is merely a fraction of the whole being. If we are firmly rooted and nourished in our invisible parts with the Lord, the rest of our being will prosper and grow. But if access to nutrients, water or air is hindered in our foundation, our whole being will suffer, being stunted.
The things which nourish our roots are time with God in prayer and thanksgiving (Colossians 2:7), sound teaching and doctrine, and putting our gifts and talents to use (1 Timothy 4:13-15), and being intentional about surrounding ourselves with other Christians and fellowshipping with believers (Hebrews 10:24-25).
All plants want to grow, are yearning to produce fruit and scatter their seeds for the next generation, they will spend their life and full force of energy to do this, reaching out to sometimes impossible depths to get the food and nutrients needed to create and sustain that healthy, vibrant life.
Roots will generally grow in any direction where the correct environment of air, mineral nutrients, and water exists to meet the plant’s needs. Roots will not grow in dry soil. Over time, given the right conditions, roots can crack foundations, snap water lines, and lift sidewalks.
Can we say the same thing about our spiritual growth and life with God? Are we intentionally seeking the source of our nourishment and being? Are we breaking through the concrete of hardened hearts, lifting the oppressive systems that trod on the poor and ‘least of these’? Or are we poorly rooted, allowing the adventitious weeds and empty air to gradually separate us from Life?
God is a God of second chances. Of redemption. Of re-formation. Of new life.
That feeling we get in the Spring when all the flowers are blooming and the trees clothe themselves in rich greens. That reassurance that everything is not dead and the landscape will be filled again with life, lush curves and swaying leaves………God created that. Birds sing about it all the time. (If they didn’t, the stones would start singing, I’m sure: Luke 19:40)
When people rip out the life of creation and smother it with concrete, erect buildings on it and spray chemical showers on what’s left of it, God is not surprised (we can’t ‘surprise’ God) or incapable of redeeming in the midst of the damage.
When people (and “corporate persons”) slay and beat and force the land into submission, stopping just short of genetically modifying dollar bill genes into heads of grain, using other people to do the dirty work (is soil dirtier than greed?) and slaying and beating and forcing them into poverty and dependence, God is weeping but not surprised.
God weeps and works.
He works on hearts. On minds. On relationships – with Himself, people, moving creatures and the earth. God works on greed and in the soil.
‘Guerilla Gardening’ can mean, “illicit cultivation,” “war against neglect and scarcity of green and growing public spaces,” and “activism through gardening.” It’s happening in many large cities (and smaller towns) where abandoned lots and empty, neglected buildings and spaces are just sitting, hurting the eyes, and begging for new life.
When guerilla gardeners take an unused space and fill it with new soil and plants, they are reclaiming what has been lost and giving it new purpose (whether for food or beauty.) Just after Zacchaeus admitted his wrong in stealing money from others and realized his higher calling, Jesus affirms this message by saying: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10. Jesus IS God’s proof of His redemptive heart.
In the book of Amos, God practically coins the term Guerilla Gardening:
“In that day, I will restore David’s fallen tent.
I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear My name,” declares the Lord, who will do these things.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills.
I will bring back my exiled people Israel;
they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.”
The heart of God towards His created. His image-bearers. His beloved.
No matter how much concrete, how many corporate persons, how much spraying. There is always a remnant. Rebuilding is always possible. Restoration is the name of the game.
One of the last images in the book of Revelation describes a garden, with a huge river flowing through it (a river coming from the new city of God, by the way):
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
City and garden are finally reconciled.
Here’s a taste of what that can look like. Though it doesn’t end well for Adam Purple, the fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption and restoration is still lingering. There’s still work to be done; vacant lots to plant, workers to be healed, chemical action to be amended and greed to be addressed.
If I can’t be a sustainable farmer right now, I can at least be a sustainable shipper! Meet the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative, a non-profit co-op (transitioning into a member-owned co-op as the resources and legalities present themselves) offering petroleum-free transportation of local food to people in the Seattle/Olympic Peninsula region.
On a crisp, bright northwest Saturday morning, myself and 4 others met at Finnriver Farm to load down our bikes with nearly 300 pounds of farmstead cider to be delivered to the harbor in Port Ludlow where the order would be transferred on board the Soliton to make the 5 to 15-hour sailing journey across the Salish Sea (formerly, the Puget Sound) to the Aster Coffee Lounge in Ballard, WA.
In anticipation of our low-energy future, skipper Fulvio Casali, an Italian-born naval officer turned sailing instructor, is choosing to help his community power-down through sustainable transportation. Using his home, a Catalina 34 named Soliton, Fulvio makes the 20+ hour trip from the harbor near Ballard (an area of Seattle) to various ports of the Olympic Peninsula (rich in farmed and sustainably produced goods) to load up and sail back again with a cargo of shares. Over the 2011 season he will have sailed round-trip 11 times, and when he’s not sustainably delivering sustainable goods, he can be found giving sailing lessons or representing the co-op at green-power and sustainability festivals.
In keeping with the fuel-free inspiration of the co-op, the 5 of us made the 3 1/2 hour, 25-mile round-trip bike delivery of hard cider and fruit liquors loaded into panniers and onto a bicycle trailer. With a couple of stops to regroup and once to swap out trailer hauling, we rode the shoulder of the main highway into town, over slightly rolling hills and with relative ease. We reached the dock after an hour and a half of pedaling to meet Fulvio, a couple of his volunteer crew and a reporter from Edible Seattle covering the co-op’s green transportation mission as well as Finnriver’s award-winning cider cargo.
Life. That’s what has happened for the past 4 months. Busy-ness. That’s how we roll in Port Townsend. Fundraisers, dance parties, fundraiser dance parties, volunteer projects, short-term house-sitting jobs, restaurant work, complaining about the weather and trying to sneak a or two into the mix are all some of the excuses I’ve used to neglect this portion of my life. Those, and the fact that there isn’t really a portion of my life that is farming right now (which was the original purpose of this blog.) But I’ve been doing plenty of gardening, personal and community, and finally feel rested and ready to reinstate relating to you my reflections on different representations of farming.
This is my community garden.
Known as Wayward Farm Community Garden, it is one of more than 25 community gardens that have emerged in Port Townsend’s community at large of 8,000. In the past few years the initiative to create community food security (mainly influenced by this grassroots collective) has simultaneously raised people’s awareness about what a secure food economy and community looks like (thus, all the community gardens and the surge of support the Jefferson County Farmer’s Market has seen the past few years) and raised the bar on relationships between the growers and the eaters (our market was voted the Best Farmers’ Market in Washington state!)
Statistics show that Jefferson County is the county with the highest percentage of its food dollars going to local food. Folks, that number is a resounding 4%. Of all the counties in Washington state, none are spending more than 4% of their food-buying power to support local growers and cottage-industry entrepreneurs.
Now one caveat to take into consideration (especially in Port Townsend)
is the amount of community gardens, where money isn’t being used to buy food to eat, but rather to purchase seed, fertilizer and tools to grow our own food. Those are dollars not accounted for that contribute just as much – if not more – to local food security. Having an abundance of small farmers and local food producers is a great thing to support, but taking the growing power into your own hands, working your own plot of soil and harvesting a bounty you helped to create, that’s the definition of securing your own food.
And even with the year we’ve had here in the northwest corner of the country (until about two weeks ago our temperatures were topping out in the low 60’s and it has been recognized that this has been the chilliest, wettest year on record since weather records have been kept starting in the 1950’s!) the production capabilities of the earth here are bountiful.
Eating locally means kale, broccoli, peas, carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, arugula, cilantro, lettuce, Asian greens, Swiss chard, potatoes, blueberries, blackberries, string beans, onions, garlic, strawberries, huckleberries, thimbleberries, salmonberries, spinach, zucchini, raspberries, orach, cabbage, plums, apples, pears, celery, salad burnet, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, chives, artichokes, and even grains like spelt, triticale, rye, wheat and quinoa. It also means raw Jersey milk (legal for sale in Washington), artisan cow and goat cheese, pastured lamb and beef, free-range chicken and ducks (and their eggs), beet, carrot and cucumber pickles, jam, hard cider and wine. (If you have a greenhouse, or a cold frame for starts, it can also mean tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil.)
I got lucky and found myself in a community garden that has been taken care of by its members. They have amended the soil, compost religiously, established some wonderful
rows of perennial fruits (raspberries, strawberries, currants, blueberries and thornless blackberries) and play well together. We consist of a landscaper, a dental assistant, a home-designing consultant, a computer whiz, a fiber artist, a full-time mom and her insect- and dump truck-loving 6 year old, a couple of retirees, a rowing club member and me. Since we began turning under the winter cover crops back in April, we have seen at least 2 sowings come to bear in each of the 7 beds dedicated to annual veggies, with a third promising time to harvest before winter cover crops will again be sown.
We work together on Sunday afternoons and often bump into each other during the week as we stop by to harvest our suppers. We have potlucked together a few times and some of us have found common interests bringing us together outside the parameters of the garden. But mostly we all know that our reasons for joining a community garden, whether for human interaction, to learn about growing food, to celebrate good food or just to have a chance to work outside for a while, unite us when we probably wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise.
The highlights of my weekend:
-Taking an awesome road trip with a good fellow farm gal
-Great road trip soundtrack (think Amy Grant, The Duhks, Celine, Fiona and DC talk)
-Visiting a wonderful friend in Portland over pots of steaming chai tea
-Being able to check off Oregon as one of the states I’ve visited
-Getting incredibly inspired by our Eugene hosts’ home garden (complete with backyard chickens, a worm composting bin, high tunnels on over-wintered beds, some of the fattest turnips I’ve EVER seen and a greenhouse made completely out of recycled materials.
Not-so-high lights of my weekend:
-Being disappointed in a Food Justice conference that skirted around anything practical we could do as communities to get real, fresh, whole food to those without
-Being disappointed that far-removed government policy-driven mindsets were the bulk of what said conference had to offer
-Being especially disappointed that said Food Justice conference – where the buzzwords of the weekend included equity, availability and access – would choose to throw a fabulous dinner party complete with a host of organic and sustainably raised produce and meats and local beer and wine, and offer it as ‘invite only’; excluding many attenders in the process
And so this past weekend, with most people having that extra day off of work, the University of Oregon in Eugene held their Food Justice Conference complete with art displays from numerous artists, 3 days of speaking sessions and workshops, open visits to the Urban Farm operation and Vandana Shiva as keynote speaker. What was set up in my mind to be an outstanding conference, paled in comparison in reality.
As speaker after speaker gave their talks, it became more and more apparent that problems were the focus of the discussion and no one had any real solutions to present. Most speakers hinted at policy reform and government legislature, and sat behind shiny place-tags with their names and credentials in bold print, emphasizing their expertise and specialization. But after speeches incorporating such large words as to lose much attention from the willing audience and to be more fitting for a Masters thesis than an honest look at how to get true food from point A to point B, I was already beginning to feel the first heaves of disappointment. And these were only encouraged as religious and political jabs were made multiple times when agriculture and farming practices were the topics of focus and politically-correct semantics were courted time and again (it’s not “global warming,” it’s “climate change.” No wait, it’s “climate instability”). And an entire speech centered on ‘the deliciousness of food’ (which skipped from the definition of ‘delicious’ to the fact that many people are ‘super tasters’ and some are ‘non tasters’ to the fact that organic strawberries taste better than their chemically farmed counterparts to what does our sense of taste say about the nutrition of a certain food) wound up only confusing the majority of listeners and causing our graduate-degreed speaker to admit she needed to do more research in certain areas (especially when a front row-seated Shiva corrected her on what the flavors of foods mean in traditional Ayurvedic philosophy.)
Overall, I was struck by the realization that academia (and politics) have very little to do with sustainability, agriculture and truly living out justice in our very un-just world. Being so far removed from the reality of growing food, planting seasons, garden work parties, human needs and rumbling bellies, higher education can philosophize til it’s blue in the face, but until anyone in higher positions will decide to move into the projects or trailer parks and start a community garden, give up a meal for someone in need who is hungry, or become a better neighbor to the underprivileged by spending time and effort on their well-being (not just on charitable donations, food bank giving or policy-reform jargon) they will be stuck arguing about politically correct terms with which to categorize said neighbors and their socio-economic potential towards nutrient-deprivation and ignorant cave-ins to mega-corporations’ unethical advertising schemes.
If being a Christian has taught me anything, it’s that we need to walk the talk. We can’t set out with agendas to convert as many people as we can to our way of thinking or believing, even if we honestly believe it would be the very best thing for them. The best way to love someone and show care for their well-being is through forming a relationship with them. Non-Christians don’t want evangelical nuts all up in their face anymore than fast- and processed-food eaters want organic health nuts up in theirs. And the ‘underprivileged’ and ‘undernourished’ that speakers at the conference had in mind, just might care more about being invited over to supper or given a chance to harvest from a neighbor’s garden, than being presented with a graph recording their chances of contracting a diet-related disease if they don’t get enough of A, B or C in their diets.
But where does the line between being a ranting action-less philosopher and a radical health-Nazi fall? Perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of caring neighbors and real relationships. A person’s health is much more than what calories they consume, just as a person’s spiritual life is much more than whether they sit in a pew once every 7 days.
Are we willing to live out our beliefs by example and relationship?