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Gardening for pleasure, and economic independence

“The warmth has come,” is a line in one of Wendell Berry’s “Sabbath Poems.”
“The doors have opened. Flower and song embroider the ground and air and lead me to the healing field and garden that wait.”
If the calendars jammed with announcements of garden tours, plant sales and botanical events are valid indications, the lure of being in that “healing field and garden” has certainly been spreading.
For some gardening practitioners, its charm lies in seeing the re-emergence of winter-dormant life, of bloodroot and shooting star, lupine and celandine poppy and hundred kinds of flowers blooming in the leaf litter under shrubs and the tender green of trees.
For other gardeners, it is the sense of accomplishment in cultivating a patch of land for vegetables, of success in working for a harvest of food.
Increasingly for the latter, it also represents a deliberate step toward eliminating the travel “weariness” and degradation of industrial food — the 2,400 kilometer journey from farm to plate that an average commercial food item has to make.
For gardeners choosing organic growing methods, there is the desire and knowledge, additionally, as Michael Pollan states “that for the plants that make up my meal, no pesticides found their way into any farmworker’s bloodstream, no nitrogen runoff seeped into the watershed, no soils were poisoned, no subsidy checks were written.”
From re-establishment of gardens on the White House grounds by Michelle Obama to the re-opening of farmers markets in numerous communities, local and home gardeners’ food growing is enjoying a remarkable resurgence nationwide.
That springtime warmth celebrated in the poem is pulling more people out into gardens each year.
To an unknown but considerable extent, the trend may also reflect a turning-away from our easy-life views which make of food a commercial commodity, conveniently supplied through free-market sources but with the result of people’s great dependence on these.
One may recall two interesting historical incidents relating to this.
In the 10th century, Saxony’s King Otto the Great found himself battling unrest among rebellious vassals, in addition to warding off Hungarian invasions.
Historian Joachim Fernau reports King Otto’s bold and successful vision for the promotion of political stability and greater welfare among his people.
He actively advanced the motto: Sic hortum cum bibliotheca, nihil deerit. That is, if there are gardens and libraries, the people will not be lacking anything important to their satisfaction.
In the 18th century, Voltaire, French writer-philosopher, advised Il faut cultiver notre jardin, “We must cultivate our garden.”
To his novel’s character, Candide, an old man had given a sumptuous meal from fruits he had grown on the small farm he cultivated with his children. The work, he attested to the visitor, was enjoyable and “keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.”
Don’t neglect your garden, Wendell Berry’s poem continues, because “household economy makes family and land an independent state.”
Our gardens provide healing and pleasure, in other words, and a degree of much-needed economic independence.