A couple weeks ago, David and I attended a Michiana Master Gardener’s 14th Annual Public Seminar led by Mother Earth News contributing Editor, William Woys Weaver. The topic? “Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: Cooking for the future, how to grow and use heirlooms creatively.” He gave us a virtual tour of his own gardens, where he cultivates and preserves some of the richest variety of heirloom seeds in the world.
He also shared the cultural, environmental and human survival importance of maintaining organic, non-GMO, regional, heirloom varieties, as they will save our health, local/family histories, and our food supply from the potential decimation of mono-crops and weak, genetically modified strains. We learned about superior taste and disease resistance, quirky histories of plants, his own family stories of how they came to collect heirloom varieties, and an amazing breadth of knowledge about setting up historical (yet also practical and edible) gardens. We learned about Weaver’s work as a young man and how his connection with Julia Childs helped launch the culinary demand for heirloom vegetables. We learned all these things and more.
Perhaps most relevant for today, however, we learned that we can celebrate March 17th in a way that honors the Earth instead of celebrating “St. Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland,” i.e. murdering and persecuting all the Earth-loving Druids. Yes, March 17 has another saint, and she is the patron saint of gardeners! Meet St. Gertrude. She’s also the patron saint of herbalists, cats and those who love cats, and “travelers in search of lodging.” (She’s against rats and mental illness.) Since I spend every day of my life attempting to honor the Earth and helping people reclaim their own sanity and sovereignty from our insane “civilization,” I can, in good conscience honor someone like St. Gertrude. So, thank you, William Woys Weaver. Not only have you provided this planet with incredible information, inspiration, resources and preserved heritage, but you’ve liberated March 17!
In honor of St. Gertrude’s Day, David and I have spent this entire weekend in garden-friendly endeavors. Yesterday began with a trip to the local farmer’s market and local food co-op, followed by a homemade butternut squash soup topped with windowsill grown chives, then followed by attending the first Open Space event for Transition Goshen. As described on their site:
“Transition Towns initiatives are part of a vibrant, international grassroots movement that brings people together to explore how we – as communities – can respond to the environmental, economic and social challenges arising from climate change, resource depletion and an economy based on continual growth.
“We don’t look for anyone to blame or anyone to save us, but believe our communities have within themselves the innovation and ingenuity to create positive solutions to the converging crises of our time. We believe in igniting and supporting local responses at any level and from anyone – and aim to weave them together into a coordinated action plan for change towards a lower energy lifestyle. By building local resilience, we will be able to collectively respond to whatever the future may bring in a calm, positive and creative way. And by remembering how to live within our local means, we can rediscover the spirit of community and a feeling of power, belonging and sharing in a world that is vibrant, just and truly sustainable.”
I love, love, love the concept of Transition Towns, and I am thrilled we already have people organizing this movement in Goshen! Here’s Rob Hopkins, a founding member of the Network who founded the Transition Town, which began in Ireland:
As of February 2013, “Transition Goshen is officially the 134th Transition Town in the US.” Yesterday’s Open Space gathering drew people from Goshen College, Goshen, nearby Elkhart and Southern Michigan. People brought different perspectives, skills and knowledge, but we all shared a common interest in:
“Expanding the Garden:
“How can we grow more food in our own backyards and gardens?
“What techniques, ideas, and local resources should our community be aware of?
“Why might we look beyond growing annual hybrid vegetables to cultivating perennial produce, heirloom varieties, fruit trees, and bees? What else might we produce?”
We broke into diverse groups focused on things like expanding urban farms to include more local opportunities to feed the hungry, reclaiming “brown fields” (land no longer in use for industry but still too “toxic” for gardening), developing a community garden at Goshen College, involving Boys and Girls Clubs in community gardening projects, wild food foraging (David’s topic), and edible landscaping and Urban Food Forests (my topic). So many groups covered so many topics that we all agreed to take copious notes and post our information on the Transition Goshen website, since there simply wasn’t time for all of us to participate in all the discussions.
In addition to brainstorming ways to make our dreams of greater local food abundance, sustainability and natural beauty a reality, we also met tons of like-minded or complementary-minded individuals. Our group on Edible Landscaping and Urban Food Forests discussed ways of bridging the gap between environmentalists and politically savvy people who are (rightfully) wary of Agenda 21 and UN-dominance disguised as “sustainable development.” We discussed ways of overcoming public resistance/pre-conditioning to the idea that edible landscaping can also look attractive and require minimal intervention. Smart planning and proper plant selection make a huge difference! We learned whom to contact regarding local regulations, as well as the name of our local “brown field coordinator.” We brainstormed ideas for speeding up the process of repurposing toxic land. Ideas included a particular type of fir tree that can safely reclaim such land in 15 years, possibly lobbying to make industrial hemp legal (as it can detoxify fields fast), and “clay capping” to create a “very, very large raised bed on the scale of an entire field.”
In addition to sharing ideas for selling such concepts to city planners and voting citizens, we also recognized the power of “being the change.” Several of us realized we live very close together, and we agreed to invite each other over to see what we each have going on in our own yards. We shared plans for raised beds, experimental “cubic foot gardening” in round, tiered, raised beds, as well as gardening techniques and tips to circumvent yard regulation issues. We met some really incredible people yesterday! I’m so excited to continue collaborating, and we’ve even agreed to help each other set up raised beds and other projects, in order to make lighter, faster work at each address.
I’ve posted this Pam Warhurst video before, but it serves as a model of possibilities for town-wide edible landscaping, so I’ll share it here again. “How we can eat our landscapes”:
I love Pam’s motto, “If you eat, you’re in!” To me, that sums up the solution to so many potential fears and objections to this sort of grassroots change. Ultimately, it’s not about our politics. It’s about our communities, our health, our quality of life, our local economy, and our very survival. Yes, we face big issues (or hide from them), but we also stand to develop new ways of being and living that far surpass the way things are. Inability to sustain an insane civilization isn’t such a bad thing, imho. We can dare to dream, imagine, and plant things into being. We can do so on a local level, with old and new friends, and we can organically grow our abundance to address social justice, feeding the hungry, keeping money in our own communities, and healing Mother Earth.
Happy St. Gertrude’s Day! I’ll leave you with one more inspirational video, “Guerilla Gardening” for beautifying and refreshing your neighborhood: