This past Sunday, I asked my high school Sunday school class to design their ideal gardens. I handed out rulers and pens, but they were not used. Instead, they opted for colored markers as they sprawled out on the floor. I sat back and thought “they clearly didn’t hear my message of spacing between beds, the importance of the sun, or raised bet height.” Feeling discouraged, I began to think of my ideal garden. I drew measured, even boxes and labeled their contents with season appropriate vegetables. I made sure to include 3 feet of spacing to walk between beds and a compass for orientation. The difference between my garden and those of my students was clear. Mine was boring, emotionless, bare. Theirs were vibrant, imaginative and free.
That’s when it hit me – this is the future of environmentalism. When people start to turn the nature into boxes and measurements, we begin to comply with the separation of the natural world and the human world. In order for environmentalism to succeed, we need to eliminate this disconnect and recognize that both realms are one. Moreover, we (I) must learn to embrace the creativity in gardens as much or even more than yield based design. Gardening education should be an expression of our connection to the earth and the Divine, not just a rigid curriculum of straight lines and graph paper.
I wonder when I lost touch with this creative side of gardening. Perhaps it was when someone told me not to plant flowers and to opt for only growing edibles. Maybe it was when a second grade teacher told me that I wasn’t good at art. I think it stems from a cultural notion that we can, and should, control, box in, and measure nature.
I am so excited and grateful to be teaching a class of dreamers. Many pictures were complete with a smiling sun in the corner and many more had pictures of tomatoes, rather than the word, tomatoes, written in the beds. These dreamers want to grow sunflowers because they are beautiful. They want to donate produce to those in need because it is simply the right thing to do. I am re-energized to step away from an environmental movement designed by yield and pragmatic pessimism and into one full of passion, color, and dreams.
Jesse Rabinowitz is the Program Director for Adam V’Adam, a new educational farm to table movement in Northern Virginia.