The Economy of the Garden: Part One

Learning As You Grow

Originally written by Jon Foreman – supplemented by Shane Brown

My wife and I planted a garden this year. This tiny patch of dirt has become a space where small miracles occur daily. The slow and steady growth of the garden contradicts almost everything about our fast-paced world. The constant rush of the freeway traffic nearby, seems to grumble in disagreement with the slow and almost imperceptible growth of the garden. The trucks roll through, the beamers and minivans fly past, all the while the green leafy fingers reach quietly for the sun.

Slower than a speeding bullet, slower than the internet, slower than a snail, the progress these plants achieve has no advertisement, and no solicited personal recognition. In fact, if I put my cell phone down long enough to examine the growth, it appears as though nothing is happening. Gradually and imperceptibly, a transformation has taken place. Over the course of a few months, the ground has become thick with plants.

Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe human souls grow best at the pace of a plant, and not a combustion engine. Maybe humans have much more in common with this greenery than I had previously thought. These “silent” life-forms really have a lot to say.

These days, I’ve been trying to listen to the slow growth methods of the garden, this incredible place of new beginnings. The genesis stories of many religions and mythologies begin in a garden. According to the Judeo / Christian account of things, humanity’s first occupation was gardening.

I’m pretty sure that things were all organic back then, no GMO’s or steroids. I don’t know what Eden may have looked like, but when I look at our little freeway garden, I can feel a connection with the earth, even in California’s stucco suburbia.

It’s been a truly liberating experience for me to eat a strawberry in the same place that it was born, only seconds after it was plucked. The fruit has no bar code, no USFDA information. It is not shrink-wrapped with thousands of others. No, it’s a very specific strawberry from a very specific plant.

Yes, it may look and taste like thousands of others, but it has a history and a connection unlike all the rest. For me, this berry is a distinct piece of fruit. I have watched her for days, waiting, until she’s perfectly ripe, trying to get to her before the caterpillars do.
And when I pick the strawberry up from her earthy beginnings, it feels like a sacred moment, where earth, wind, sun and water have come together to give me a piece of themselves. This tiny, miss-shaped berry becomes a celebration of life.

Consumption becomes tied to holy specifics, with sincere meaning. This little suburban freeway garden of mine, begins to feel like holy ground. Yes, even against the backdrop of a land where things are not generally held sacred.

Speaking of anthropology, I grew up in a world with very shallow roots. California has only been a state for about 150 years. Our nation has only been around for a few hundred more. We live in the land of new opportunities, yet generally, with a very short-term memory for what has gone on before us.

The American dream is one of growth, progress and change, yet sometimes even at the expense of the stability of communities. This is not unique to our own country. All around the world, humanity has seen more changes in the past couple hundred years than at any other period of time. Every subsequent generation watches the world evolve dramatically.

Electricity, air travel, cell phones, computers, cars, these represent comprehensive changes to our lifestyles that are radically new. And yet, these amazing developments are now, in a sense, held as unremarkable. Their availability and convenience is expected in our society. If you’ve got the cash, you can demand almost anything you want when you want it! Fast food, fast cars, fast Internet, even fast money from fast ATMs, yet, this nearly universal availability is relatively a new reality.

Year round, thousands of strawberries are down the street for most of us, at a relatively affordable price. This is amazing! The average American consumes groceries that kings and queens of the past could only dream of. A veritable cornucopia of fresh vegetables and fruits always at our fingertips. Any cut of meat, any beverage, any dairy product, food from China, France, Australia, South Africa, all within the reach of the average American salary. How incredible! Everything is available!

Everything is for sale, and yet, we have become divorced from the creation of these provisions. Without the garden, I eat my strawberries out of a plastic container at the sink, devoid of any connection with the earth. My consumption has no personal dedication. There is no individual connection with this unique offering that the earth has given to me.

Yes, my money spent at the grocery store represents hours of labor, but my work has no connection with the fields where these berries were grown. I know nothing of the berries’ origins, the hands that picked them, or how they arrived in my hometown. There could be a separation from the sacrifice, gift, and amiable acknowledgment of sun and rain. Now instead, there is a simple, unceremonious exchange. A few anonymous bills for a few impersonal berries. Yes, our stomach and our throats receive these berries, but are we not more than throats, not more than empty stomachs?

Yes! Everything matters, everything has meaning! The specifics are crucial. Ask your wife if any man will do. Ask a music fan why the Beatles are different than the Stones. Did our gas come from a BP source in the Gulf of Mexico? It matters. Are we buying our electricity or paper products from Enron? It matters. Is your bank using bailout money to pay executives their bonuses? It matters. These are important details. The children’s fingers that make our shoes, the migrant hands that pick our strawberries, the repressed souls that mine the diamonds of Sierra Leone.

These are not footnotes! No, these are the stories of our brothers and sisters on the journey with us! This is part of the fabric of the garden that binds us all together in this universal ecosystem. We are all connected, and increasingly so with the global reach of communications, markets and technology.

Our individual plot lines correspond and cross. Yes, capitalism may have brought the world within our reach, but when these products are stripped of context, we begin to lose a piece of our own soul’s individuality as well. The fast-food pace of our daily lives cannot replace the slow growth of the garden. When a product is stripped of its narrative, and we overlook its significance, we lose a portion of our own story as well. We can be slowly, but eventually, reduced to an appetite with nothing more.

Every anonymous bar code has an intricate connection with the “capital system,” which can rob us of our own upward, ongoing beautiful and divine human experience.
I’m not trying to speak against the tides of capitalism, and I’m not against grocery stores. I’m just stating that even as we profess progression with a world driven by money, that in the race for an unfounded entity of such a numerically acquired abduction, we lose a piece of our identity. We reduce our lives to an anonymous pocketbook, with a consuming mouth at the other end.

The unique identity of each one of us, is as a literal child of God, each possessing an infinite and eternal value and worth. We should not tie ourselves to the way we spend our time earning money. It’s certainly hard to call faceless consumerism progress.
In the face of capitalism and professionalism, my backyard garden reminds me that my plot is part of the broader narrative, which opens my eyes to the stories that don’t fit into sales tags. That even with the accelerating digital network and virtual reality, these are not the best soil for the human soul.

With the accelerated detachment of face to face interaction, I’m pretty sure we could all use a little more cordial kindness, and a little more dirt underneath our fingernails.
The economy of the garden reminds me that yes, money may not be the best model for our human experience, and yet the day will come, when all the politics, pretensions, preys and tyranny, will all be done away, and Jesus Christ will reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I want to live with deeper roots, even if it means a slower means of travel. Maybe I could spend a little more time in the life of the garden as Adam and Eve, and a little less time in the fast lane.

-Jon

Shane

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