My decision to demonstrate stewardship toward the land and the abundance it can provide fills me with mixed emotions.
Nearly anyone who knows me knows that I love gardening. It gives me joy. It calms my anxious mind. It provides tasty and nutritious food for my partner and me because of the daily care I strive to devote to my raised beds. And, again, as anyone who knows me can attest, I love the beautiful pictures I get from the heirloom vegetables that fill my plot.
I want to be clear: my garden gives me more than I alone can provide to it. This would not be true if, in some alternate reality, I had to do the work that nature offers right now. I don’t pollinate the plants. That is mainly the work of bees, butterflies, and birds. Their work provides some of the joy I get when I am in my garden. I alone don’t build and retain soil. That is also the work of earthworms and microorganisms that turn dead dirt into healthy soil, as I often say. And I am not the sole provider of water to my garden. I am thankful for the rain that reduces the time I would spend watering a large part of my backyard.
That said, I do have mixed emotions regarding the stewardship I have decided to bring this 16’ x 35’ plot. At least three other emotions come with the work I do: obligation, sadness, and hope. This should not come as a shock to readers of this blog. As my favorite author, Wendell Berry, notes, eating is an agricultural act.
One of the pieces of advice he gives to city folk who ask what they can do to act on this truth is to “eat responsibly.” I try to do this. I’ve written about it. But I must also note that I’m a hypocrite; I sometimes succumb to cravings for highly-processed food-like substances. My guilt is assuaged by real food advocate and academic Marion Nestle’s statement regarding making good food choices, “More is better than less, and some is a lot better than none.” I am usually a good boy, okay?!
But let’s go back to my garden plot and Wendell Berry’s advice. He also instructs city folk to “[p]articipate in food production to the extent that they can” (even if that means simply growing some herbs on your windowsill) to “preparing your own food” to learning more about the origins of where your food comes from.
I plant herbs (in my raised beds). I almost always prepare my food. (Granted, I have a limited diet.) I suck at learning more about the origins of where my food comes from (except when it comes from my garden). And, as I pointed out earlier, gardening is a daily chore. So I know quite a bit about where much of my summertime food comes from. Applause, please.
Now to the sadness in stewardship. I’d likely garden without the instructions of Wendell Berry, Eliot Coleman, Barbara Damrosch, Carol Hupping, Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan, or the other authors on my real food bookshelf. Why? Because I think many of us need to learn how to be better stewards of the land, need to free ourselves from the produce and food-like substances of corporate farming, and must look and feel how the world around us is changing.
Humans are making the planet one not-too-hospitable for humankind. Yes. The oceans are rising. Weather patterns are changing. The number of droughts and fires is increasing and becoming more dangerous. Because of corporate farming, our seed diversity is in jeopardy.
And yet, we act like nothing is happening. And that makes me sad.
But I can’t end there. I also feel hope. You see, I know a little bit about turning dirt into soil. If you read my garden story, you’ll find that while I crave pre-packaged and highly-processed cheesy-what’s-its, given the right amount of land and community, I also know how to grow enough food to last me several months out of the year.
There are others like me. And given the right information, context, or mentors, more will join our ranks. My hope is that there will be enough of us willing to bring stewardship to our land, water, and air before it’s too late.