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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Year of Plenty

In Search of Community Beyond Cliche’

I wrote yesterday about the very current and deep resonance of community gardens and other such phenomenon across the country. Whether it's in urban Detroit or semi-rural East Valley Spokane, these kinds of projects are popping up like a contagious virus.

We had our work day to get the Pumpkin Patch Garden going on Saturday and were able to get 30 10 foot by 4 foot raised beds put together and filled with dirt. It was wonderful to come together, many of us complete strangers, and work toward a common goal. There is something about dirt and wheelbarrows and power drills that breaks down barriers. It felt like we'd made a step beyond "community" as catch phrase or cliche'.

As Wendell Berry says,

What I've tried to do is work out a definition of community that's not sentimental and is not metaphorical. There's a lot of sentimentality about community now. It's a cliche'...

In much of his writing he tries to flesh out a more substantial vision for community and says in a different context but related to his statement above;

Community will start again when people begin to do necessary things for each other again.

In other words, it will take things like working to feed each other, the most basic of necessities, in order to innovate something more substantial than a sentiment or metaphor. This reality is part of why I find food such a compelling connection point and hopeful place of community building.

Andrew made an interesting comment in response to my previous post asking why community gardens are so compelling today. He says;

I think it is people wanting to connect. Everyone is tired of not feeling like they belong to anything. Sure, we have biological families. But, how often do people see them? Do they all live in the same community like they once did years ago? Most often not, we live scattered across the country. And we miss that feeling of belonging. So, we are creating new families. Community gardening is a great way of doing that. All the participants work together, nurture growing plants, mourn when a tomato patch dies , worry when the lettuce is looking sick. All things a family does.

I think what Berry would add to Andrew's comment is that a family also does laundry and does the dishes and cooks dinner AND weeds the garden. We are longing for a feeling of connection but the key to fulfilling that longing is necessary, shared practices.

A shared garden is not a metaphor of community and while it does lend itself to sentimentality there is nothing sentimental about working out in the fields. It just might be a step toward the kind of community that Berry and Andrew describe. 

Picture: The results of our work day last Saturday.

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Year of Plenty

The Year of Plenty blog was created by Craig Goodwin in the winter of 2008 to chronicle the experiences of his family as they sought to consume everything local, used, homegrown or homemade. That journey was a wonderful introduction to people and movements in the Spokane area who are seeking the welfare of the community through local foods, farmers markets, community gardens, sustainable transportation, and more fulfilling and just patterns of consumption. In 2009 and beyond the blog will continue to report on these relationships and practices, all through the eyes of a family with young children. Craig manages the Millwood Farmers' Market, is a Master Food Preserver and Pastor at Millwood Presbyterian Church. Craig can be reached at