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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Year of Plenty

Wendell Berry: Gardening as Health Regimen and Holy Sacrament

When it comes to crusading for sustainability and the environment I don't have any grand schemes. Maybe because I'm rather simple minded, I have a simple plan - start a vegetable garden, grow your own food and change the world. If I could impose my will on every American for the sake of the environment it wouldn't be to change light bulbs or mandate carbon footprints. My mandate would be for every American to start a garden and grow their own food (and to have chickens, but I know that would never fly so I'll stick with the garden for now) And maybe the fact that we don't live in a world of mandates and impositions makes it all that much more appealing. It seems a rather harmless proposition on the face of it, but beware, starting a garden is a revolutionary act.

You may go into it for the heavenly taste of a heirloom tomato fresh off the vine, but you'll soon find yourself on holy ground. Wendell Berry describes both the pragmatic and cosmic consequences of starting a garden in his book of essays, The Art of the Common Place;

Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed. Connection is health. And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is. We lose our health - and create profitable diseases and dependencies - by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving. In gardening, for instance, one works with the body to feed the body. The work, if it is knowledgable, makes for excellent food. And it makes one hungry. The work thus makes eating both nourishing and joyful, not consumptive, and keeps the eater from getting fat and weak. This is health, wholeness, a source of delight. And such a solution, unlike the typical industrial solution, does not cause problems.

The 'drudgery' of growing one's own food, then, is not drudgery at all. (If we make the growing of food a drudgery, which is what 'agribusiness' does make of it, then we also make a drudgery of eating and living.) It is - in addition to being the appropriate fulfillment of a practical need - a sacrament, as eating is also, by which we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body with all bodies.

So, for heaven's sakes, start a garden. At minimum you'll get fresh tomatoes, but beware you may get more than you bargained for.

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