A garden as an act of rebellion . . .
In my first post in this series, titled Our Collaborative Garden: an “island of sanity” , I described how a small privately-owned urban site has been transformed into a beautiful gathering place for neighbours to learn, play and grow together in love and harmony with Nature.
We are in the process of winding up our third season – planning, building, planting, tending, harvesting and celebrating together. We learned many things from our individual and collective experiences this year and as we process both the challenges and the successes, we become more skillful stewards of a new way of being in this broken world.
The coFood Collaborative Garden holds the physical space for a way of being together and working on a common goal that is non-rivalrous, open, and regenerative. I would argue that this is an act of rebellion in our dominant Western culture, where success means pursuit of financial profit via exploitation of nature, self, and others leading ultimately to the destruction of what sustains us.
The task of changing this entrenched system at its roots is monumental, yet it is only through small incremental experiences of non-rivalrous collaborative actions that we, as individuals, can rise above the typical ways our culture has taught us will bring “success”. We learn to share, to experiment and learn from our failures, to use what we have to build what we need, and to celebrate our successes all along the way.
I want to share some the small stories from this past season that together have great significance for a new way of being together.
We rebel against the idea of exclusivity and privilege. One of our core values is access over ownership. We have no fences to keep people out, and we trust that by modeling stewardship and care for this special place, others will be inspired to do the same over time. The garden is situated in a part of Vancouver where homelessness and open drug use is a problem. Many times over the past few years we have picked up needles, human waste, empty liquor bottles and cigarette butts, and dealt with deliberate destructive behaviour. Rather than succumb to anger and fear, we repeatedly choose to respond with compassion, and have erected no fence to keep the offenders out. In contrast, we have also encountered homeless folks who just need a safe place to sleep for a night or two, who are respectful of the space, and are kind and generous in spite of their difficult circumstances.
“If you are more fortunate than others, it’s better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”
This past season we held one of our many long table potluck dinners in the garden. As usual, we had invited anyone who is a member of the group on facebook to attend. About 15 people came, everyone brought a dish, we barbecued some garden veggies and were enjoying some stimulating conversations in the beautiful summer evening light. At one point I noticed a homeless man who had wandered into the garden and was looking longingly at the feast we were enjoying. He was offered a plate of food, and sat down at the end of the table to eat. But he was quite alone and isolated from the conversations that were going on, and the next morning I communicated to one of my colleagues that I wished I had spoken to him and made him feel more welcome. Not twenty minutes later when I went to check on the garden, there he was washing himself at the hose after spending the night on one of the garden benches. I had my opportunity. We chatted and I learned his name, where he came from, that his sister has the same name as me, and that he was getting ready to go to a job interview as a dishwasher. He said he loves gardening and would love to help out-“when I get my shit together”, he said. I’ve met him a couple more times since, and asked after the new job. He said so far so good . . .
We rebel against isolation and elitism. Loneliness and isolation are reported to be one of the biggest downsides to living in a large urban center. By opening the garden to whomever would like to participate, in whatever capacity, we have fostered a sense of belonging to community, a love for place, and sharing a common purpose among our neighbours.
Sundays we are always out working in the garden and when folks drop by we invite them to enjoy the space and join us as they are able- to volunteer once or regularly, learn how to garden or share their knowledge and skills. Many people will just come during the week to sit under the cherry tree and enjoy their lunch, or some quiet time watching the butterflies. Neighbours who have lived side by side for years and have never met now have conversations and have at least a nodding acquaintance. Many new relationships have been formed due to spending time in the garden.
One of our big successes this summer was a series of three evening events in the garden featuring musicians who live and work near the garden. We put up signs and invited everyone we know to attend and bring their friends. We put out donation jars- one for the musicians and one for donations towards the work we do in the garden.
We had one issue with a neighbour who called the police because in her opinion we needed a permit. The police cruised by twice but didn’t stop or indicate we were doing anything wrong.
In contrast, folks on bikes and on foot stopped to listen and enjoy the ambience of the beautiful garden in the warm summer evening. Many of those did not know the garden existed. We had almost nothing but positive feedback. All of the musicians expressed how much they enjoyed playing in such a beautiful venue and asked if they could come back and play again. And after one event, several neighbours signed up for guitar lessons with one of the featured musicians, whose studio is across the street .
We rebel against the conventional market system that commodifies everything, including relationships, and turns it into a faceless transaction for profit.
Instead, we work to cultivate “deep wealth” — the abundance that comes from building relationships and sharing what we produce together. We are not “licensed” to sell what we grow and we cannot use all of it ourselves. But instead of wasting the surplus because it didn’t “sell”, every Sunday we share what we harvest with volunteers and offer any extra to neighbours by donation.
This summer, our plum tree produced hundreds of plums. Far too many for us to pick or use before they fell to the ground, rotted and were feasted on by wasps ( although they did get their share).
In August, one of our core team held a potluck/workparty in the garden with the open source circular economy community (OSCE), and the following Sunday several of those folks showed up and helped us pick bucket loads of plums. They took some home but what were we to do with the rest? The solution was to post an offer for “free plums” on social media- first come first served. Within minutes we had a few folks who said they would be right over. The best outcome was one woman who brought us a dozen eggs from her backyard chickens to trade for the plums. She also said she would take some of the weeds we had ready for compost to feed her chickens. That’s what I call omni-win-win.
A community sharing app (Buy Nothing Project – there may be one in your area) has also provided us with a push mower we can borrow from a neighbour when we need it, and we gratefully share some garden goodies in return. Another win-win.
We continue to act in the midst of restrictive laws and policies that would intrude and destroy what we are trying to build. We act in spite of those who would and do take advantage and fail to appreciate what we offer as a gift to all.
But in our experience, the positive outcomes far outweigh the negative- and we continue to look for ways to communicate and model the value of what we are doing to those who would unthinkingly destroy it simply by following what is “normal”- thinking “me, mine” instead of “we, ours”.
In the next post in this series I will share a few more stories about the regenerative practices we have modeled this season and the challenge of a building development that threatens the continuance of the garden in its current form.
Learning and teaching skills like identification and foraging native plants for medicine and food, seed saving and food preservation.
Preparing ourselves and the community to respond to natural or climate induced breakdown/disaster in a regenerative way.
How we model decentralized decision making and individual sovereignty in the planning and maintenance of the garden project.