I’ve been sick the past few days, and the weather has been gloomy, but I can’t stop thinking about the coming spring. Some of the trees are already pushing out buds that I hope won’t be frozen in the coming weeks. I’ve been perusing online seed catalogues and making lists and calendars and manuals for myself for a spring garden and a hedgerow. I keep looking out the window at the land I grew up on and seeing what it could be, and I get excited thinking about the fruit trees and berry brambles; the wildflower gardens for bees and butterflies; the herb garden; the cover crops that build up the soil.
Gardening will always be something that brings me joy, and while I know not everyone enjoys the work or has the time or space to do it, I am also coming to believe that it is something we were all made to do or support in some way. After all–everyone eats. The Creation story begins in a garden, with humanity as its caretakers, and I can’t help but think that, whenever we return to the garden, we reclaim some sense of our original purpose and feel more alive in doing so.
A lot of us worry about the future of our planet’s environment, and we look in different places for hope, whether that’s in technology or in nature itself. We think that new technologies will save us from disaster, even though technologies are often (though not always) the cause of the problem. Or I’ve seen many stories where, after humanity has failed to take care of the planet, nature takes over again and restores itself. I now think that both of these ideas offer false hopes that let us ignore our responsibility to get our hands dirty. Both separate us from nature, as if it were not our relationship to nature that needed to be restored, as it has needed to be restored since we left the garden. Yes, nature is good at recovery, but we forget that we are part of nature and must be part of that recovery. That is what we are made for. The ideology that nature doesn’t need us forgets that we are intelligent beings who can do a great deal to make an ecosystem flourish.
I recently watched this video by Geoff Lawton, an Australian permaculture practitioner, who describes how his farm has been designed to resist fires and floods. In the midst of a tragic disaster in Australia, Lawton provides a hopeful idea–that farming with intentional design can make a massive difference. Check out his greening the dessert projects in Jordan as well. These projects are proof that some environments won’t thrive without the help of human hands.
When I get overwhelmed by everything happening around the world, this gives me hope. I can improve the environment in my backyard. I can volunteer in my state to restore patches of land in need of human care. And I know that every plant, every inch of soil, and every drop of water is important in feeding us, feeding wildlife, and sequestering carbon.
There’s a place in the town where I live where a group of volunteers have already worked hard to restore a stream edge and a field that wasn’t being used. This small field, like many that you can see around business that get overgrown or mown down, has become a wildlife habitat as well as a buffer that keeps the stream clean and pure. Every time I walk in this place, I can envision what it would look like for every inch of space to be restored in this way.
I told my husband last night that I wanted to be a permaculture farmer. I think there could be some misunderstanding there. I’m not interested in business or career farming. I should have said that I am a farmer–that it’s in my blood, like it’s in all of our blood. Farming is not what I want to do “for a living.” It’s what I want my life to be. It’s the philosophy that I want to direct everything else the way my religion does, from what I do to what I buy.
Farming in a restorative way is an act of hope in which we restore the places around us in whatever way we can. It becomes an act of righteousness and worship and love.
Below is list of things I hope to do or to bring into my life this year as my act of hope.
Are there any here that you want to try, or other ideas you already do or are hoping to do? Let me know in the comments! I also have some resources I’d love to recommend if you are interested in permaculture and restorative agriculture.
- Plant a vegetable and herb garden
- Plant a hedgerow and wildflowers
- Plant ground cover
- Compost household waste
- Collect rainwater for garden
- Volunteer on restorative projects
- Plant trees on Tennessee Tree Day
- Reduce waste (packaging, water, electricity, etc.)
- Shop local and seasonal when possible
4 responses to “Gardening for Hope”
Great article, Emily. I miss having a little patch of dirt to play in and fresh flowers to bring inside. I love the fence row idea as well as fresh produce in the summer.
And I miss seeing bright students on a daily basis. You and Jon are some of my favorites.
Keep writing, keep making our world better in nature, in words and inspiration, and in challenging all of us to do what we can.
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Thank you, Marilyn! I miss seeing you, too! You’ve always been a blessing.
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