Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Experiment in Community

From its conception, the Belmont Garden has had as it’s primary mission the strengthening of the Belmont community as well as endeavoring to pursue an improved connection to our surrounding neighborhood. So, while the garden is, in many ways, an experiment in growing food it is perhaps more significantly an experiment in community.

While we do seek to take part in the larger movement towards Nashville’s food security through our partnership with East Nashville Cooperative, we recognize that the Garden will, from a production standpoint, do little to nothing to further sustainability or supply significant amounts of food to the community. But the Garden has huge potential as a symbol of something greater and as an avenue of common work and common space. To those involved, the Garden is about being a part of something greater than yourself. It’s about seeing growth and change both through the care of plants and, in a parallel sense, through the growth of relationships personified in common work and shared success or failure. The healing power of nurturing and caring for a fragile, growing plant should not be underestimated. The shared experience of watching plants grow and the resulting sharing of the produce with one another can do much to form bonds of friendship and further our connection to the beauties of nature. The educational and metaphorical properties that the Garden supplies are seemingly endless.

Last year, the garden was divided into eight small plots. These plots were assigned to individual students who were responsible for the care of their plot, and their plot alone. It made sense. The workload would be light for each student and each student could plant what he or she wanted and invest as much or as little time as they desired. As the weeks went by, some of the plots were attended with much care and resulted in beautiful vegetables. But some plots were not regularly attended and became overgrown with weeds. What little fruit was produced on these plots was not harvested and was left to rot. The students who put in the time and effort got good results those who did not invest the time did not. So, was this a success?

How beautifully this represents the way we are taught to think about success.

In contrast, the concept of having a single common garden as opposed to many individual “personal” plots, is rooted in the essential nature of community. The garden can be seen, if you wish, as a metaphorical representation of communion. In a society so focused on the “self-made” individual and the unrelenting call to be independent and self-sufficient, the communal Garden calls us to pause and reflect on upon the beauty of unified action. If self-interest and self-sufficiency are the ultimate lessons to be drawn from a garden comprised of individual personal plots, interdependence and community responsibility are the lessons to be drawn from a communal Garden. This is a beautiful symbol of the process of learning how to need and be needed.

How will the results differ when we all share responsibility for each other’s success? That is the experiment.

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