What We Can Learn from Gardening

In April 2020, the family-owned Atlee Burpee Seed Company had to stop selling for five days. In its 139 year history, this was unprecedented. The reason? Inventory was depleted and they needed to package more seeds. As the pandemic set in and people were stuck at home, we all started gardening voraciously. Seed sellers were reporting double the normal sales volume.

There are many theories for why gardening became the pastime of choice for so many. Certainly the timing mattered. The strongest lockdowns came right when planting season started. People had time on their hands. A second theory is “growing your own” gave people a sense of security after the shocking sight of food shortages at grocery stores. A third is that many people lost jobs and a garden can save significant money relative to the grocery store. Finally, gardening is an activity strongly associated with stress reduction. We poured out all our pandemic stress and anxiety into sowing seedlings and pulling weeds.

The Stevens family is no exception. We have had container gardens for nearly ten years. Despite coming from two incredible gardeners, I am a pretty terrible gardener. The squirrels and chipmunks win most years. I persist because I want our kids to understand what it takes to grow food. Plus, when successful, it tastes so much better. This year’s attempt included peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and, for the first time, brussel sprouts. I am not sure I had ever seen a Brussels sprout plant before this summer.

What has been a far more successful effort to eat locally grown food is our farm share. Allandale Farm is the last working farm within the Boston city limits. Each week starting in June we get to go pick up a large bag of whatever is ready. We share the bag with two neighbors. We also get to farm vicariously via the email newsletter describing the travails and triumphs of the farm each week. Together, we have weathered too much rain, not enough rain, total crop failure of the potatoes, and early frost damage.

As this year’s farm share—truly a labor of blood, sweat, and tears—winds down, Farmer Will got a little emotional. He wrote: “By supporting local agriculture you are ensuring jobs, healthcare, childcare, education, EVERYTHING for those in your community. I know it’s not the easy way to do things. Being a member is hard and requires flexibility. It would be easier to buy what you wanted from a large supermarket that ships in produce from the west coast. Instead you have chosen to let a ragtag group of farmers pick what vegetables you serve your family and that is Not. The. Easy. Way. What you are doing is important and real and difficult and unpredictable and I want you to know we see you. We appreciate all of your support, it keeps us motivated.”

What gardening and farming this year has demonstrated for me is the crazy, cool science and the near miracle of life itself. From a tiny, dormant seed, a four-foot plant can emerge with the most symmetrically placed sprouts that provide several delicious meals. But it takes a lot of patience, the right set of nutrients, enough sun, a lot of luck, and in our case a rather frequent splashing of neem oil to ward off pests.

That’s not altogether different than what it takes to bring forth the best in ourselves. We all have seeds of greatness in us somewhere. But we need to nourish ourselves, be patient with ourselves, and get enough encouragement. (What encouragement is to goals, sunlight is to plants.) We may need help warding off the pests, whether that’s from therapy, setting boundaries, or a coach. And yes, many of the world’s most successful people will tell you that they weathered through tough times and just got lucky.

What a successful garden also requires is planning for the next season and an unwavering bet on the future. The future may feel impossible to predict right now, but I would encourage all of us to see this fall as a time for preparing to grow. Look at the seeds within us and start to select which ones we want to sow. Most importantly, believe that there will be enough sunlight and enough rain for some things to flourish in the midst of whatever may come.

Quote of the Week: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

Audrey Hepburn

What is Saturday Spark

Are you ready to build a better working world?