What growing my own food has taught me the last year or so.
There is something about withdrawing to the oasis of my garden. I remember one afternoon, I was feeling mighty stressed about an assignment so I decided to water the small seedlings who were just humbly making their way through the earth towards the sunlight. I put on some music, and as I began to mindlessly water, the light creating a small but beautiful rainbow arc I could feel the tension of the day leave my body. In being forced to stop and be present there was a settling that occurred. I was reminded to just be, in awe of natures’ beauty. As I recall this memory, I am reminded of my fickle nature, and how frequently distracted I become, my heart not always open to this simple pleasure.
This year, alongside growing more of my own food, I have been exploring the important and deep connections we have to food, waste and the collective implications our consumption choices have on one another. However, many times when I have had conversations, it’s ended with a sense of powerlessness, “What can one person seriously do?” But I ardently believe when we become more self-aware we can make empowered choices to support the earth, acknowledging that we function within a system which places people and the planet far down the list of priorities.
Wendell Berry (Environmental activist, agriculturalist and Christian) states, “Eating with the fullest pleasure- pleasure that is that does not depend on ignorance- is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection to the world.” Although, I don’t think this pleasure is ever fulfilled as we live in a society where we have to make ethical and environmental compromises.
However, we do have the right to ask questions. Wendell Berry posits we don’t think critically (although increasingly we do) and traces our current disconnection to processes of food production to our passive role as consumers. We don’t ask the important questions of, Is this orange locally produced or imported from America? How much water, energy went into producing this meat on my plate? consequently distancing ourselves from the production cycle. Food is grown or produced somewhere “out there” an abstracted idea until it appears ready to eat on our table or grocery shelf. As I have eagerly sought to learn more about producers and growing my own food I have become increasingly connected to the way we are all linked into a terrifying reality. I have meditated on the widespread use of round-up on our predominant crops (a known carcinogenic), the way farmers have not sought to work with nature, rather working against it, clearing the large majority of native flora from their land and planting monocrops. Often our land becomes cracked and parched with disrupted water tables, our soils unable to support any life (yet alone produce any food.)
However, such economic rationalism which has lead to our current environmental crisis may slowly be coming to an end. Agriculturalists in Australia are awakening to the ways are landscapes are more fractured from past practices, how they need to be holistically cared for. There is hope in farmers dedicated to restorative practices which work with nature, taking a whole systems approach. Replanting native vegetation, ensuring there is a diversity of trees appropriate in providing our soil with vital nutrients. (see: Brookfarm Byron Bay as an awesome example https://brookfarm.com.au/about/farm/)
I attended a Farm Chat at Pocket City Farms, where a panel talked on an array of subjects including waste, regenerative agriculture and sustainability. Mark La Brooy, founder of Three Blue Ducks, explained how important it was for him to experience in nature. That when he engaged in practices of either surfing or spear fishing, he was reminded of our integral, connected place in nature and thus these experiences increased his sense of responsibility to ardently pursue a different way of engaging with our world. This really resonated for me as I have strong memories of growing up, being shown the beauty of the bush by my father (an environmental scientist.) These memories, imbued by the smell of eucalyptus and the feeling of contentment after a long walk, are instrumental in producing an environmental ethic in the very fibre of who I am. Strangely, in spite of this strong connection, I have the tendency for abstraction, to think and chat about things I’m passionate about all day long. There’s something I’ve found in gardening that counters this. The practice of planting, tending and watering acts as a reminder that if my convictions aren’t embodied in the way I live, the everyday routines I engage in I become engulfed by an overwhelming sense of fear and insignificance. I really love how funneling my energy into small action galvanizes the love and care I have for this earth.
I can’t remember where I heard these wise words, but they really resonated with me. When we believe we are solely consumers we are cut off from a fundamental part of what it is to be human. We are creators, investigators and innovators and should aim to create more than we consume. I could purely see this illustrated in my own life when I consumed things (food, material products, my relationships even) without a degree of awareness I was filled with a sense of emptiness. Jonathan Cornford’s book Coming Back to Earth, argued the home can be the starting point for awareness to grow. He quotes, Wendell Berry, who supports the idea that our convictions should become enfleshed in the everyday, the home becoming a reclaimed space of productive, creativity and abundance. “The work of the home is the health of love. And to last, love must enflesh itself in the material world — produce food, shelter, warmth, surround itself with careful acts and well-made things.” This year I have pursued making this so in my little world. By having my own little path, engaging in the home economy and or practicing hospitality has filled me with such pleasure. It has also affirmed that small actions truly do help in feeling less disempowered in the face of ecological degradation, climate related challenges. Equally, I worry that when we begin to see environmental sustainability purely on an individual level we forget the systemic, structural problems facing us. To help me, I think of change happening multidimensionally. 1. Individual practice; ie. Active consumerism, growing your own food. 2. Communal practice ie. Being a part of alternative economic structures, ie. Food Cooperatives, community gardens and repair hubs/workshops and 3. Challenging broader systems of injustice. Ie. Advocacy that tackles some of the big issues we face. Ie. Stop Adani Campaign.
Ultimately, this last year has really highlighted to me the interrelationship between people and planet. I have been awakened to the way small, intentional acts like growing your own veg are actually big acts of resistance to a dominant consumer culture which insists time is currency. That we must live fast paced lives of convenience which forces us to not think of the way our consumption is wasteful and may have a negative effect on the environment.
My above thoughts I hope do not disempower or trivialize the issues raised. It is hard when we lead busy lives, or work several jobs and study to to live differently. I find it very complex and hard to find a balance. Nevertheless, I’ll just be here in my garden, hands in the dirt, seeking the simple pleasures. Dreaming about one day owning a goat.
References/Articles I’ve drawn from:
Berry, W (1990) “The Pleasure of Eating,” from What People are for?, Counterpoint
Cornford, J (2016) “Coming Back to Earth” Morning Star Publishing
A useful video on Restorative Agricultural practices:
A link to the Pocket City Farm event mentioned (there are more coming up too!)
The danger of mono crops: