A friend dropped off a can of vacuum packed seeds called the Clyde Robin "Survival Garden". The can said it was tested in 1980. I'm not sure if that means it was packed in 1980 or it was tested for its seal in 1980. Regardless, it's a wonderful relic of an era gone by when everyone had a root cellar full of canned foods and survival gear and every church basement was designated as a Fallout Shelter. I'm not quite sure of the logic of a survival garden. If a nuclear bomb hit, I don't think the gardening would be very good.
It's got me thinking about the pragmatics of gardening. Can gardening really make a difference in our industrialized world? What is the real power of a can of seeds in a world of nuclear bombs and fossil fuel driven practices? David Webber from P.E.A.C.H. permaculture farm in the Valley talked on Wednesday at the Farmers' Market about their vision of empowering people to plant their own vegetables. From his perspective it's one way to really take a chunk out of the market share of industrial farming. I love the spirit of what they are doing but whenever I go to Wal-Mart I get overwhelmed by the demographics and economics of our current food culture and systems.
This reminds me of something we said at the beginning of our experiment last year. Our goal was not to save the world, rather our intent was to in some way save ourselves from the craziness of our consumption practices. In the midst of this I have come to see our garden as a kind of "survival garden" that nourishes my soul far more than it nourishes my body. The pragmatics of a few chickens and a vegetable garden labyrinth can't be reduced to dollars and cents, pounds and ounces.
I'm reading Wendell Berry's book, "The Unsettling of America", and there is passage from the introduction that captures well what the garden means to me. He talks about how we are divided between exploitation and nurture. Here is an excerpt:
"The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. The exploiter's goal is money, profit; the nurturer's goal is health - his land's health, his own, his family's, his community's, his country's...The exploiter wishes to earn as much as possible by as little work as possible; the nurturer expects, certainly, to have a decent living from his work, but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible. The competence of the exploiter is in organization; that of the nurturer is in order - a human order, that is, that accommodates itself both to order and to mystery. The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, "hard facts"; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind."
I'm tempted to crack open the rusty lid of the "Survival Garden" and see if I can get the seeds to germinate but I think instead I'll put it somewhere in my office as a reminder of the struggle in me to innovate a life as nurturer in a world that seduces me at every turn to be an exploiter.