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

Seed Starting as Soulcraft

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Matthew Crawford
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If you're following the seed starting schedule I laid out a couple weeks ago it's a good time to start your tomatoes and cabbages. I'd wait another week for the squash/pumpkins. We're just about 8 weeks out from the last freeze date here in the Spokane area.

I'm reading Matthew Crawford's intriguing little book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, and I can't help but find connections between his musings on the virtue of working with your hands (in his cases motorcycles) and my experience with seed starting and learning the craft of gardening.

The book is a philosophical commentary on the modern drift away from handiwork toward a narcissistic fog of predetermined consumer choices. He says;

As every parent knows, infants think the world revolves around them, and everything ought to be instantly available to them. At an earlier stage of technological progress, I am sure that contending with a motorcycle, like contending with the farm animals that likely inhabited the same barn as the motorcycle, helped along the process of becoming an adult. When your shin gets kicked, whether by a mule or a kick-starter, you get schooled.

It would be strange to pine for the inconvenience of old motorcycles. They truly are a pain in the #$@. My point rather is to consider the moral significance of material culture...On all sides, we see fewer occasions for the exercise of judgment...

For the one who takes on the yoke of working with a mule or a motorcycle;

His will is educated - both chastened and focused - so it no longer resembles that of a raging baby who knows only that he wants. Both as workers and as consumers, technical education seems to contribute to moral education.

His thesis as far as I can glean it from the first couple chapters is;

...the mechanical arts have a special significance for our time because they cultivate not creativity, but the less glamorous virtue of attentiveness.

In some ways farming and gardening and seed starting are an even better manual practice for nurturing this kind of virtue. Instead of just connecting me to the created motorcycle, it forces me to engage the whole created order of things - earth and sun and seasons. My gardening efforts have never been able to stand up to the cold hard calculus of the cost of seed starts at Walmart or the cost of potatoes at Albertsons, but that's not the best way to judge its importance. There is more going on in this "manual" labor than can be captured on a spreadsheet or calculator.

It is a kind of education, a cultivator of otherwise unattended virtues. At least it has been for me.

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