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Archive for May, 2009

It’s a question that i’ve asked myself lately as i’ve tended the early growth of my vegetable garden. … The question surfaces only rarely and always against the backdrop of wonder, of gratitude, of something even akin to paternal joy as i have watched small plants – just seeds in brown paper bags a few weeks ago – break through the soil in perfect rows. But it has taken a good deal of time, energy, and money to get things to this point and i’m tempted, as i was today, to ask myself if the return on investment is worth the effort.
i was on my way home from the airport (after a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of speaking and singing at Windy Gap, just outside of Asheville NC, with folks from Charleston, Wilmington, Hilton Head and Spartanburg) and stopped at a grocery store in Hogansville, Georgia. (May i make a confession, in penitence for my procrastination? i was at that store to buy a mother’s day gift … OK, go ahead, think whatever terrible thoughts you want about me. I deserve them. What sort of ingrate son must i be to wait until mother’s day to buy a last minute present, in a grocery store no less, for one of the world’s best moms. Shame on me. …) Anyway, while i was there, i noticed that sweet potatoes are 98 cents a pound. 98 cents. Less than a dollar a pound for one of the healthiest foods on the planet.
And that’s when the question hit me again. Why am i doing this garden thing? Why have i spent no small number of days plowing, tilling, and building the soil, hauling in leaves, compost, and topsoil to improve this little 50 by 60 foot patch of ground? Why have i laid out the rows, read the gardening books, perused the seed catalogs, talked to the locals, studied fertilizing, fabricated the drip irrigation system, installed the electric fence to keep the deer and armadillo out, and spent hours planting, thinning and weeding already when i can buy sweet potatoes for 98 cents a pound? (i planted 50 sweet potato slips about 10 days ago.)
i’m certain that Wendell Berry could answer the question with eloquence and conviction for me but i have some thoughts of my own on the subject.
For starters, every step of the process – the invigoration of manual labor, the enjoyment of conversation with veteran gardeners, the inspiration of being close to God’s processes, the acquisition of new knowledge, the meditations i’ve cultivated as i’ve worked alone under open sky, the prospect of sharing meals from the garden with friends this summer, and the hard to explain benefits of being regularly in the presence of miracle (which every growing plant is) – every step of the process has been a source of learning and pleasure for me.
i could, of course, opt for the grocery store path (and i don’t fault anyone who does; though i endorse the suggestion by others that we all benefit from the experience of growing something) but i’m realizing that it is a gift to be a participant in, and not just a taker from, the husbandry of creation. The value of the process goes far beyond food on the table. i’ve no doubt that my heart is being fed in generous doses from the time I spend getting my hands dirty.
A couple of weeks ago, i was honored to attend and play music at a gathering in Phoenix of an organization called Generous Giving (www.generousgiving.org). One of the speakers was author Randy Alcorn. He made the point, in a question and answer session, that, as parents and adults, we model for our children either “a lifestyle of keeping or a lifestyle of giving.” The Jesus way is obviously the latter. And i like to think that maybe this whole gardening thing, as small as it might be, is an exercise in being a giver rather than a keeper, a sharer rather than a taker, a steward of God’s good gifts.
i’ll keep gardening.

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