Genesis 2: 8; 15
“Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food . . . the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
When gloved fingers, or a sharp implement breaks through the barrier of dirt to explore the fascinating world beneath the earth’s surface, miracles happen. Invigorating is the fragrance of moist earth. Bewildered worms squirm and wiggle. Other precious critters salute and then return to the important business of creating burrows. When seeds are gently dropped in carefully measured orderly rows, and covered and then soak up nourishing water, miracles happen. The woodpeckers drum their approval, cardinals declare their territories, robins hop about, casting a wary glance my way, concerned that I’m after their worms. Insects buzz. The fertile earth squeezed between fingers and toes calms my anxious heart.
It’s time. Momma robins and daddy robins are debating between the Maple or the Oak tree to settle in. Eggs will soon be hatching. Skies are stormy one minute and sunny the next. Pouring rain one morning, then a gentle shower the next day. The grass is drinking it all in and the backyard is transforming into a lush green. The magnolia flowers are on full display, and the pines whisper and sigh in the ever-present winds. It’s time.
Organic produce from an urban greenhouse (or the grocery store) can be purchased just a few miles from my home, so why am I going to all this work? Yes, gardening can be difficult, tedious, sweaty work, and takes some skill, but I’d rather learn the skill and beat to the rhythm of the earth than stand in line at the grocery store to buy over-priced wilting produce with no flavor. I need to re-connect to the earth in way that means my naked fingers are pushing down into the darkness to awaken my senses, even if it means getting dirty for awhile. Growth can be a messy process. Gardens have much to teach me about the natural world. Growing some of my own vegetables will hopefully inspire me to eat a healthier diet.
Barbara Kingsolver has a lot to say about the quality of the food Americans eat, the high cost of healthy food, and how corporations conspire to produce unhealthy food to keep you overweight and sugar addicted. Kingsolver documents the year that she and her family grew almost all their own food in their backyard and takes a stand against unhealthy produced foods produced at low cost while burning fossil fuels in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” (2007). It didn’t exactly fly off the bookshelves because there’s a lot of truth in it.
That’s why it got me thinking.
And then I met Debra Landwehr Engle a couple summers ago, another Iowa author who penned “Grace from the Garden: changing the world one garden at a time” (2003). This book completely changed my perception about flower and vegetable gardening. Thousands of books have been written on the topic, but in this one, Engle tells stories about how flower and vegetable gardening feeds, heals, restores, inspires, educates and unites people. She wrote about Will Allen in the essay titled Good Questions, who is a perfect example of how one person can make a difference with some kids and seeds. His primary passion is preventing food insecurity, so he started an urban vegetable garden and an organization called Growing Power in an inner city neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin that has been wildly successful. “While Will raises some of the biggest and most daunting questions of our global citizenship, he answers them in his own way: Do what you can in your own backyard.” Think globally. Act locally.
As I’m on the downhill slide toward middle age, the more I need to be careful to eat a diet filled with more fruits, vegetables, fiber and whole grains, and less fat, carbs and sugar. More troubling to me than ever is why healthy foods are always harder to find and cost more.
Consuming locally grown foods and only natural ingredients is one way of healing our addictions to carbs, sugar and caffeine. My husband gave up caffeine and is already experiencing a shrinking waistline and no more urgent trips to the bathroom. The earth is rich with all kinds of healing properties to soothe our physical and spiritual wounds.
Some think of urban gardens as a fad because they have been growing in popularity. But it’s not just trending. It’s because our usual food sources aren’t sustainable. Urban gardening helps food insecurity. Gardening anywhere also helps nourish ecosystems. It’s a mutually beneficial system for both humans and nature, and the way God designed it from the beginning.
No, our modest suburban backyard garden isn’t going to change the entire world in one summer, but it’s a start. This is the fourth year my husband and I have done this and we’ve noticed three other small gardens sprouting in other backyards around our neighborhood. We aren’t experts, and gardening isn’t my passion yet, so I don’t want to devote every waking hour to weeding and caring for it, so we start out small. We have taken advantage of the resources offered from the Des Moines Botanical Center and Iowa State University Extension services. Perhaps, when we have more space, we might expand our tiny operation to a small greenhouse so we can grow some vegetables year-round and create an oasis with a flower garden where one can rest a weary soul.
I’m not suggesting that if you don’t garden in some capacity, you are contributing to global warming. I didn’t have the slightest interest in gardening myself until my late 30s. But do consider all the ways in which big corporations and the fast-food industry have wounded the earth in favor of the Almighty Dollar and convenience, and the value of re-connecting with the natural world in some way to heal yourself and the earth. Go to an arboretum or a park. Plant a tree or some flowers. Lose yourself in the beauty of a flower garden. Pluck some lush, succulent tomatoes straight from the vine and tell me that you’ve never tasted a tangier, sweeter flavor – something grocery store tomatoes just don’t have.
The way God created the natural world to work is downright mind-boggling. From the way spiders spin their webs to how bees pollinate flowers and the fact that monarch butterflies know when and where to migrate south – I praise Him for his exquisite craftmanship and intelligent design. He created an amazingly beautiful, delicate balance, and I am honored, as part of His creation, to tenderly care for it.
You can expect more posts about our garden as I make connections between the natural world and the spiritual world this summer.