Sometimes asking a lot of questions feels like wandering. I love those questions that don’t have immediate answers. Or when you are deep in a questioning mood and the answers that seem so certain at first, shift in new light. Sometimes my questions loop around in tangles–not a path to clarity it seems, or sometimes they sparkle with connections like a spider web catching light in unexpected ways–one question leads to another and that leads to another and each little thread is enchanting. I am sharing my loops and mazes of questions here with the faith that the questions are far more valuable than the answers. And with the faith that you all will help me find the questions that sparkle and shift things into a new light.
The questions really started to percolate in late August after a conversation that spun off into all kinds of wondering. We were deep into the summer drought, hand-watering a fairly large space with a fairly small crew. And I had the bad timing to suggest we put up a hoop house and intensify our seedling production. With a look that brought me back to my senses, Diana, a long-time volunteer and supporter, turned to me and said: what are we trying to do here anyway? What is the impact we want to make?
And the question that has grown out of it for me: how much do we focus on “more”: more intensive planting and better crop planning, coordinating between the gardens and expanding into more spaces, and all of that leading to more pounds of fresh produce, more access for folks?
Her questions were a flag. Pounds of harvest, volunteer hours—these are easy markers of our successes—have these measures become such a central goal that we have lost sight of other important impacts? And it reminded me to be weary of the trap in our cultural mindset: where continual expansion is success, bigger is better, the consumable is the prize.
This year was our best ever in terms of poundage, in terms of planting successions and using the space intensively, in terms of offering farmer’s market quality produce! Sharing gardeners definitely stepped it up a notch –it was awesome. And I can’t understate the hunger for fresh beautiful food. When our market table is bountiful and people can take all they need, it feels like our work adds up to something big.
And when it’s not enough, the disappointment has urgency. So it’s easy to get pulled into strategizing how to get more produce onto the table.
Cautious. A little weary.
Because the pounds of donated food are a starting point and an end point (a shared vision) but they capture only a sliver of what I value about the spaces and the people working in them. So I am questioning the central place “more” has come to occupy in the sharing gardens.
Some of the other things that inspire me in the sharing garden spaces:
building a new model: shifting the landscape to include more food–growing with different models from spin to permaculture , to inter-planting flowers with edibles; shifting the emergency food stream toward access to fresh, organic produce–sharing what we value most: time, knowledge, good food, stories, ourselves.
beauty. connection to the land— the sounds of squirrels chattering, hummingbirds in December. –and the sense of wholeness. [well-being. de-stressing. wonder. health.] all that comes with that.
sense of community. shared purpose. collaborative decision-making. appreciating each other and whatever we bring. I wonder how to expand our volunteer community, how to invite folks that access our “donated produce” to learn with us and to teach us too? What does solidarity look like?
spaces for and by women. Our volunteer team is heavily female—I have an impression that as women age, we become less visible, less appreciated and I wonder how to articulate the importance of creating these spaces led by women, where women are decision-makers and knowledge keepers.
learning together. experimenting, sharing knowledge, learning the basics, streamlining our systems, and rebuilding a cultural practice of growing food that has been a bit obscured over the past century.
>>> the potential. for shaping the sharing the bounty program to more deeply reflect the principles of food justice work makes me feel a little tingly. But how to do it? That is also the most daunting question of the day.
So my tendency is to dream, and to hatch endless plans. But the beauty of sharing the bounty–it’s not mine to dream alone–but a vision and a commitment that we all take on together. So I am so thankful for this slow, fallow season where we can dream together.
All of this leads me to wonder how to articulate, or capture, the less obvious value of what we do. And how to build from those strengths–rather than expanding out, how do we deepen the impacts of what we are already doing?
What are the things that most inspire you about the sharing gardens? And what do you dream of for sharing the bounty?
I invite you to chime in with your response, which might be another question, your own story, or a new vision altogether.