News From the Farm | July 25, 2016

We will start this Beet article with the cooing of the morning doves that at dawn begin their amorous calls to one another in a repetition of cadence and tone – 3 soft notes repeated 3 or 5 times, and then answered by another and another. A day break song welcoming the promise of another morning – softly, thankfully.

They begin the energy of awakening, as each moment of the change from dark to grey to sunrise is marked by another voice in the chorus.  Finches, sparrows, hawks and mockingbirds all add their calls to the day in a progression that is millenniums in the making and shall be so in the coming ages. A song beyond our time, from before our time – a gift given for the appreciation of the listener. 

Many threads pattern a whole Beet. The week prior was filled with truck breakdowns; looking for enough help to harvest the crops that are in the ground; news of mind numbing violence in far off communities; long days in high heat; fenced compounds popping up in the neighborhood to grow marijuana; and our ongoing struggle with the incursion of deer, occasional wild pigs, and squirrels that look to harvest melons or nuts to fill their bellies. We’re knee deep in ongoing harvest of permanent crops planted over the years and now bearing fruit (nectarines, plums, grapes, figs, almonds and peaches) added to our annual harvest of melons, beans and tomatoes.

This week, we find ourselves reflecting part of our national melancholy, focusing on things seeming out of control while under-appreciating the beauty of a remarkable planet. Any and all of these topics could be part of a weekly Beet. It was a full 7 days with so much to ponder, such intense sadness in the news and outrage that seems to keep repeating itself, horrors becoming personal and intimate with each retelling, juxtaposed with so much for which to be thankful. So overwhelming… 

On July 8th, I was on a panel in Berkeley at a gathering of gardening teachers and educators who are creating edible schoolyard projects in communities across the nation. It was the morning after the heart wrenching events in Dallas, the shooting of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castille, violence added to a widening cycle of dismay.  For those present, who were caregivers and teachers, the sadness set the morning sideways. Focus was shifted from the garden to the real intimidation felt by people of color, endemic violence, weapons and the damaged children even in affluent communities.

Yet in this complex time, it was clear that there was need to bring attention back to ground – to connect children to gardens, sharing effort, seeing seeds unfolding, nurturing plant and animal health, planting and creating beauty, allowing children space to grow flowers and food and share their work – sitting and eating together.

A garden becomes a place where a tangible healing can take place; when all senses are engaged in process; where birds sing and weeds intrude and effort makes something real. In a garden we become part of timeless creation and renewal. Perhaps our law enforcement people don’t do enough gardening or tending, to allay their own fears and help them to become whole… perhaps we all should do more in a garden.

We are now finding that the very act of touching soil and working with plants creates healing. “Recent research has added another missing piece to the puzzle: It’s in the dirt. Or to be a little more specific, a strain of bacterium in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of seratonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety. And on top of that, this little bacterium has been found to improve cognitive function and possibly even treat cancer and other diseases.” (Therapeutic Landscapes Network, Naomi Sachs)

I fear that I can often be simplistic. Yet, sometimes the most accessible places to start are in simple acts and in reflection upon what can be done to both affect us and help us heal. It may be listening in those hours before the cacophony of life starts, when doves converse with soft cooing and life breaks into a dawn song, or it may be in the enchantment of making zinnias bloom. Nearly everyone can garden, scratching out a place to plant a seed and tend it. Everyone can find some solace in the community engendered in a shared garden and the many meals and blooms that can be nurtured there. Every garden starts with hope and hope is the beginning of healing.

— Paul Muller