I’ll miss my garden. The veggies have long since put out their best and are now slumbering past their primes. Of course it’s great to have fresh wholesome food ripe for the picking just outside my door. And don’t get me started on how much tastier real veggies grown in real soil under a real sun are compared to Big Korporate Agrikulture’s commercially-fabricated imposters. But there’s far more to be gained from growing my own food than the obvious. The freedom, the independence, the pure, honest wholesomeness of the entire process are what I’ll miss most.
Last spring I planted the greenhouse a bit leery of the outcome, steeling myself for another summer of frustration. Protection from foraging animals is critical out here in the wilderness borderlands, but at 8500 feet elevation the blazing Southwestern summer sun invites heat stress leading to disease and insect infestation; previous harvests proved less than fruitful. But with a few lessons learned and some extra attention, by midsummer the greenhouse was kicking out more food than I could eat.
In fact, several times I’d found myself standing slack-jawed in the Safeway with one opposable thumb planted firmly in bum and the other clutching a pint of organic whipping cream wondering what the hell I was doing there. Given a greenhouse full of fresh produce and a freezer stocked with venison I needed only the occasional dairy product… and cherry pie. But the reality hadn’t quite sunk in; my consumer-addled brain struggled to make sense of this strange new world where nourishment didn’t roll down a rubber conveyor belt to be scanned and exchanged for greenbacks.
One afternoon while eating grape tomatoes straight off the vine I looked about the engulfing verdancy, breathing deep of green and humus, the fragrance of burgeoning life. In a few months empty beds of soil had transformed into a loosely organized chaos of vines, leaves and flowers, all reaching for the sun, pregnant with fruit, bursting with lushness, eager to deliver. I was struck by the miracle of the process: that with a little bit of care and some earth, air, fire and water I had snatched my physical well-being out from the chokehold of faceless third party industry and provided for myself with my own dirt-encrusted hands. It was just me and Nature in an eons-old dance, stepping neck-to-neck to the tune of Life. Put some tiny seeds in the soil and voila! Food! No middlemen, no truck drivers, no exchange of money and best of all, no useless parasites from the capitol extorting their “fair” share of my labor so they can lob firebombs of “democracy” at anyone who disagrees with their morally-retarded criminal ideologies. In essence, I had taken back my power. What could be more pure, authentic and empowering than growing my own food?
Now, when I speak of purity and authenticity I refer not just to the obvious wholesomeness of the produce. There’s no question that home-grown produce is far more wholesome than store-bought veggies produced by soulless, uncaring, petroleum-intensive, pesticide-spewing, earth-decimating corporate agriculture. If you’ve ever gardened you know exactly what I mean: tomatoes, for example, burst with flavor as opposed to the bland, watery mush pawned off as “food” at the grocery store. And nutritionally speaking, it’s unlikely that corporate produce trucked in from abroad and artificially ripened with chemical gases compares to the heirloom fruit of my own labor, nourished with sweat, love and respect for life. But it’s the wholesomeness of the process that I found even more impressive than that of the product.
Consider the word “wholesome” whose root is “whole.” Whole means “complete.” Wholesome suggests integrity, congruence and authenticity. What could be more complete, congruent and authentic than participating directly in the cycle of Life, from seed to harvest, just as Nature intended? And what of the integrity in caring for, nourishing and protecting a plot of soil that produces, feeds, and sustains, asking nothing in return? What of the wholesomeness of partnership between man, earth, water, sun, micro-organism, and pollinating insect?
Generally speaking, every species evolving within a given environment is provided for between its inherent capabilities and local resources. If what it needs isn’t available, the species adapts or disappears. Given the thriving variety of life on this planet – all of which is food for something – it’s clear that after billions of years of refinement Life works and it works well. The means to provide for one’s self are endemic to life on Earth. And in growing my own food I become part of that inherent system, working with the Whole of life to provide for myself, to ensure my survival. Wholesome.
The simple elegance of life and the purity of meeting my real needs are what really struck me that day. I felt connected to the whole, to reality as nature intended. I felt an inextricable link and connection with the process underlying our existence. I realized the simple perfection of being born onto an abundant planet capable of meeting my needs like any other creature. From seed to harvest the entire, wholesome process was available to me – to anyone – without judgment, without demand. No contracts to sign, no identification to present, no slow cubicle suicide, dabbling in mindless paper-shuffling until The Man deems me sufficiently worthy of a few multi-colored survival chits to trade for table scraps of my hijacked birthright. I was meeting critical needs and answering to no one, simply participating in a process put in place long before me, a process that works regardless of skin color, social class, security clearance or occupation. And that’s truly WHOLE-some. Complete. The entire cycle, start to finish, just me and the earth working together to create and sustain life.
I came to realize growing my own food as one authentic act in the mostly false world of man which robs us of responsibility and power, replacing both with cheap, adulterated commercial substitutes: cable TV in lieu of travel and experience, a mass-produced designer garment to falsely convey originality and self-expression, a violent video game to mollify the impotence of stolen will and personal power, vapid and trite self-help books to help us tailor our individual madnesses to the ever-increasing demands of an insane culture. Most of our lives are not created but leased; the average modern human would starve without the support of our exceedingly complicated civilization. Empty Safeway, empty belly. How does one own his life, how does one find wholeness in a system where survival is entirely dependent upon industries run by rapacious parasites and machines with no concern beyond profit margins, where choices are dictated not by authentic needs but by what the gluttonous market will bear? Hardly wholesome.
But truth be told my experience in the greenhouse had nothing to do with critiques of civilization. These are merely rational “post-moment-of-enlightenment” interpretations constructed to elevate my soapbox and to blow off the steam of disappointment and anger rising like a cold morning fog upon waking from the nightmare of modern plastic techno-civilization. In fact, the Source of these all-too-rare profound moments of whole body/mind insight doesn’t dwell in criticism nor negativity. It casts neither shadows nor aspersions, only light.
Standing in the greenhouse I became present not to what is wrong but to what is right. A deep wave of contentment, a sense of coming home flooded through my entire being, like a volcano erupting from the depths of a frigid sea, surging heat soothing, melting and displacing the numb inflexibility of cold. As though some primal me stirred from the deepest of sleeps, awakened by the call to fulfill upon what it was built to do: to live directly off the earth, hand-in-hand with the life force that created it. Immersed in it, participating and cooperating with it. I, born of the earth, was sustaining my life in partnership with the earth, the source of my existence. And my animal body knew it.
Direct, hands-on participation made this revelation possible. One might argue that there’s little difference between growing food and exchanging money for what someone else grew. It’s all food, it all comes about through identical processes, albeit with different means and inputs, right? But that’s like saying that painting a picture is the same as buying one. I suspect that most artists would tend to disagree. Working with the earth, the source, yields dividends that simply consuming its anonymous offspring can’t.
Ultimately my experience wasn’t really about food but the result of direct connection between this animal body/mind and the underlying Life force which animates all things… stepping out of the artificial, lifeless and unenduring patterns of modern civilization and into the primordial processes from which all life sprang. This is the stuff from which we arose, that sustains us and pulses through our being every moment from birth to death and eternity in either direction, something bigger than all of us and from which we can never be truly separate. It was the “coming home” to that inherent, primal force, the Source of Everything that thrilled the deepest me from slumber.
The farther removed we are from that Source, the deeper we’re mired in modern civilization the more whacked out and disconnected we grow for not fulfilling upon what we’re made of, what drives and sustains us, whom we are and whom we were built to be. We’re rootless, ungrounded and disconnected from all that is Real, our heads buried in electronic gizmos, engaged with a virtual, pseudo-reality instead of real Life, in total denial of the one thing that makes our lives and all of life possible. Consider the rampant mental illness, depression, suicide, war, sexual, emotional and physical abuse endemic to western civilization, most of which are exceptionally rare to non-existent in “primitive” societies living directly off the land and relatively untouched by modern civilization.
In the greenhouse I was momentarily overtaken by the opposite. For a too-few moments I tapped into that primeval force, I connected to what this body/mind creation evolved to do, how it was designed to live, immersed in a living, breathing Reality that’s been here for billions of years. That’s why it felt so real, so fulfilling and authentic – because it IS authentic. Because I was participating in what my body/mind/soul yearns for, because I had come home to the source. And for a few moments everything inside of me, everything programmed and evolved through hundreds of millions of years of Life’s procession rejoiced.
Our bodies, these marvelously adapted sacks of genetic soup scurry about modern society looking for fulfillment and satisfaction… as though this animal, evolved over hundreds of millions of years in raw wilderness will find genuine satisfaction in the fading anomaly of modern techno-culture, this artificial and unsustainable world of man. As though fulfillment can be attained by career, as though the summit of satisfaction can be scaled atop a heap of multi-colored trading cards emblazoned with portraits of dead criminals. It can’t and it won’t because civilization didn’t create us and thus doesn’t have what it takes to genuinely nurture us. It can keep us alive but it can never bring us to Life. It can feed our bodies but it can never nourish our souls.
Ultimately my experience with gardening had less to do with food and more with nourishment of the entire Being. Fulfilling my needs directly with and from the Earth, as opposed to jumping through the hoops of our economy put me in communion with what is real, with the source, nourishing not only the body but my psyche and my soul. Because there’s more to food than just eating. We evolved from the pressures and demands of the natural environment. It was our need to survive, to find sustenance that made us who and what we are. We’re built not just of that but for that. Like every creature, we’re designed to provide for ourselves. And to remove one’s self entirely from the process is to force a machine to engage in a task for which it was not designed, the costs of which inevitably run the gamut from inefficiency to breakdown to premature failure.
Am I suggesting that happiness can only be realized through gardening? Hardly. I am simply relaying yet another iteration of the same basic lesson that Nature teaches me over and over again: the farther removed we are from the source, the more we hurt. And the closer we return to nature, the more deeply we are healed. Wholesomeness will only ever be found in the Whole and nourishment can only be had from that which nourishes. We are made entirely of the Earth and would cease to exist without it. It’s in our blood, our bodies and our souls. We need not only to live upon it but to touch it, embrace it, to massage its soil with our feet and hands, to bathe our bodies in its waters. To be not only of it but to Be With it, not only to take but to give back, to care about as we’ve been cared for…