Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Garden themes and meanings

I've just added to the book list City Bountiful which is a history of community gardens in the United States, from the turn of the century depression (19th to 20th) to the present. It was a bit of a slog for someone like me who is not a history buff, plowing through all the details - but well worth it in the end. If you are part of a community garden, or thinking of starting one, I hope someone in the group you are working with will pick this up, read it, and share the learnings. The last chapter summarizes very useful ideas for planning a garden project.

The interesting thing, of course, is how purposes, values and organizational patterns for urban gardening have changed as times have changed. We can welcome the fact that gardens and garden schemes are a lot less paternalistic these days, involving, as they do, the gardeners themselves in preparation of sites and policy development.

Another interesting note is that community or urban gardens have become more important at times of societal stress and insecurity. The author writes "garden programs serve to further a vision of what should be in times when society is unclear about where the future is heading. " (emphasis hers)

I couldn't help but think of the story of a garden in Genesis, and the purposes it serves. It's a constructed ideal past, what we wish life were if it weren't so complex and limited. The song echoes, "We've got to get ourselves back to the garden."

"Restoring Eden" is not about restoring anything, but about a longing for what we feel creation should be. This plays out in our biblical garden story, and in our dreams for our little plots.

The author points out that urban gardening has also served, and still serves, a variety of practical purposes such as food security, health, recreation, economic opportunity, and community building. The last has become more important and more time consuming as leadership in community gardens has become more widely shared. This is something I recognize as parallel to my work in congregational ministry development. When one person is not the boss and delegater, how we do things, especially decision making, takes lots more time and energy, and how we do things becomes more important than what we do.

Like developing a garden, developing community is a process with many twisty feedback loops, and much to learn.

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