Gardening: Communities of Change

Having no green thumb is only an excuse to try to find plants or methods that grow plants. Since I have no green thumb, I know this.

My sister and brother-in-law send endless pictures of what they manage in Colorado Springs’s meager growth season. Sunflowers the size of large hub caps hold up one side of their garden, and they grow beautiful tomatoes and onions, cucumbers and squash, and some great flowers. My uncles and parents? They do the exactly the same thing in towns in Missouri and in Central Texas.

They all garden, and I’ve read enough of Norman Wirzba and Alice Waters to really believe that gardening offers a great opportunity for learning and community formation. Even Ellen Davis weighs in with her book Scripture and Agriculture on why our relationship with Christ and our relationship with the land are important.

Ellen Davis is an Old Testament Professor at Duke Divinity School. Her books are inspiring and accessible. She walked to school everyday as I waited for the bus to stop. She walked on, some of the best conversations I had at Duke happened when I decided to walk along with her.

So, I know I should garden, and I want to garden. What remains is whether I have the discipline to garden on a day to day basis. Over the next few monthsI plan to do some research on how to garden in Amarillo, TX. So, we’ll try it out this summer. Nothing really made me realize how much I wanted to garden like reading Norman Wirzba’s book Food and Faith that highlights the incredible relationship our faith and our food come together. As I get ready to teach The Daniel Plan  in a few months, I look forward to pulling information from him and the incredible references he has within his book. 

The thing about gardening as a community: it builds  a community. Aristotle taught that friendships were forged as we tasted salt together. He meant working or playing hard together, or more to the point, he met risking our lives together. Gardens aren’t exactly life threatening, but they do give an atmosphere of sweat in planting and weeding and tending that can truly bind a group together.

Here is Alice Waters one of the pioneers of the edible school yard project. Teaching kids through gardening.
Alice Waters

Gardens are good school yards as well. If we learn mimetically or learn through imitation, a garden provides a place for us to imitate tactile processes and patience that few other activities in our instant gratification culture provides us. Think about all the skills we now teach in class rooms that would have been learned in gardens just a couple of generations ago. Counting is all over the place in gardens: seeds, harvests, plants, weeds, blossoms, or just about anything else that’s out there. Dexterity is learned through pulling weeds, pruning branches, tying vines up, and tossing tomatoes at one another. You learn colors, the yellows and reds and greens of bell peppers andblossoms, green onions, red tomatoes, blue berries, black berries, straw berries, purple egg plants, and the shades of green of cucumbers. Patiences is learned waiting for the color change that means something is ripe and ready. Weather patterns and regional calendars are taught by necessity and constant exposure. 
We live in isolated bubbles with no weather, no seasons, no patience, and no yearly schedule, and as far as I can tell, I’m extremely comfortable in my bubble.

But we keep discovering reasons that this isn’t the best for us. Doctors tell us to eat the rainbow to get the most nutrients. Cancer they say can come from over eating processed meats, and some how my cheese can last for 3 months in the refrigerator. I’m disconnected from the food my family eats. Even living in NC in a farming community, I never really went to the farms. I only made a few trips here and there. Despite getting my food from a farmers market, I still hardly ever knew where my food actually came from. I never asked where they were at. 
Socially, I think our stomach for justice is intimately tied with feeding people. How food is grown and used and transported, all of these are tied in with ethics. I ate some mangos from brazil. How were they grown? Shipped? Treated? How were the people treated who grew them? Harvested them? Transported them?

This is Anathoth Gardens – Anathoth is a region in Israel that Jeremiah purchases a field as a promise of hope. This community is working together to grow and feed people. Read more of their story at their page!

Anthoth Gardens

It isn’t just this globalization that makes me question. It’s the local effect. Communities and families got together to work together. Other than chores, we don’t do that to work together, and that is more about appearance than helping feed one another. Gardening requires a different pacing for our community lives and our family lives. It’s truly counter cultural to me, and I suspect to most people.

I’m hoping to learn more about gardening. In my heart, I want to jump in and make an edible school yard, a theological school yard of all different colors. But I know, I have to build up to it and do it in partnership with those around me.


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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