Monday, September 14, 2009

First attempt at answering "What is a garden?"--9 month mark

After 9 months and the closing of a season approaching I feel like I am finally starting to learn what I’ve most wanted to learn—the answers to the questions “What is a garden?” “What is this McCoy Garden?” “Why does it exist?” The answers are finally budding.

Maybe I’m writing in this budding stage of understanding because budding flowers and fruits excite me most. Spring has the “fever” association for a reason. Then again, maybe I just tend to speak to soon.

Of course there is the strictly utilitarian reason for the existence of a garden. The garden I tend produces sustainably grown food for the purpose of providing access of such food (traditionally only available to the elite) to economically depressed areas (in my case 37206—a specific location). 

Ostensibly, the garden addresses a core fallacy with emergency food relief in the twenty-first century. Statistics show us hunger looks different now. Why do “Western diseases” affect the poor more than someone like me? Therefore, the produce grown in the McCoy garden addresses a nutrient deficiency, not simply a calorie deficiency.

But, there is something deeper to the space. Abstractly, it’s an idea.

Ever since February, folks coming to the co-op have peaked over the fence to yell at me—me in the garden, they above on the street. The “conversation” starts with, “Where are the tomatoes?”, then, “Are those the greens?”, then, “What’s that there?”. I of course answer.  But, then the really amazing part happens.

There’s always a story of remembering. “I remember my mother had a garden and we ate fresh tomatoes all summer.” Or, “I grew up on a farm, ya know?” For them to peak over that fence, see a garden that is vaguely familiar in looks, and remember a time of fresh tomatoes is, like the commercial, priceless.

Remembering is more than abstract though. Remembering a garden, a farm, the taste of that fresh produce, that tomato, is, in a very real way, the beginnings of an American food culture. Crossing my fingers, a food culture based on local, seasonal, culturally appropriate food and preparation methods.

And more, the element of youth has to be considered. Hosting youth groups from the neighborhood is equally important to this idea of remembering and starting an American food culture. 

I don’t think I hold an unhealthy idealist mentality of getting kids to tend the garden by them selves, taking full ownership. If for nothing else, kids are busy these days. But, if a youth group comes to the garden for a short-term service day (possibly forced upon them by school) they will hold that memory. Then, maybe its years down the line, but then maybe they see a garden in whatever city they are in, or notice the garden that’s always been down the street, and in that moment remember the garden that they worked and sweat in that one-day in the past.  Maybe they’ll peak through that gardens fence and tell a story of remembering that work. And depending on where they are in life, maybe they’ll help pull weeds.

Working in this garden is also something personal to me.

I grew up Catholic—Catholic grade school, and Catholic high school with a shirt and tie everyday. But, also grew up not knowing what that really meant to me. In some ways I rejected the tradition. I mean why has it been so dominated by men? Why is it still oppressive to women?  Does the Vatican really not thing homosexuals are equals?  Maybe, “rejecting”, by which I mean not actively participating in, is just a result of our broader culture of not going to church (or mass).

However, this growing season the garden forces me to unpack the influence of my history in the Catholic school system, in a dominantly Catholic city (Louisville, KY), and then attending a Christian identified university (Belmont University).

In some ways this unpacking has been like taking a soil test. I’ve dug up the part that will be tested—the role of faith in my life. I’ve examined what’s there, seeing layers. Then formally test the “soil” by way of intellectual reflection and study of the Catholic tradition, and the Christian tradition (the Bible and spiritual thinkers). By the end, at the end of these nine months I’m looking at the results and saying, “Oh, that’s in there? Hmm...”.

All in all the most astonishing result is this: the garden is a prayer.  To me, a prayer of thanks, and a prayer that I may be made better and point to something larger. I work this plot to give thanks for what is provided here on earth. I give thanks that in the garden heaven is spilling over its gates, and that I may catch a glimpse. I pray that in this garden I work to be a better man. I pray to be humbled. I pray to learn what my daily bread is. I work and I pray. 

1 comment:

Ryan Fasani said...

"All in all, the garden is a prayer. I guess a prayer of thanks...for what is provided here on earth. I give thanks that in the garden heaven in spilling over its gates, and that I may have a glimpse."

These, honestly, are perhaps the most meaningful words spoken about McCoy. Wow...what a wonderful image. Definition. Truth.

Thanks for that, Justin.