Friday, May 27, 2011

Growing Berries and Cultivating Abundant Relationships

A fine drizzly rain was falling this morning when a neighbor couple came over to help me dig a dozen raspberry canes out of our garden.  Our raspberry patch started with only five canes a few years ago and they are now uncountable.  They propagated quickly through our sandy soil covered with a thick layer of mulch I'd obtained by flagging down a truck filled with wood chips after utility contractors came through to clear tree limbs from the power lines.

This is it; this is how the Green Hand Initiative works for me.  When the couple arrived they saw the results I’d obtained with the raspberry plants, and how the free mulch had encouraged their abundant multiplication.  They also got a lot of strong plant stock for free, and I shared information on how to transplant them and what to expect when moving the canes after they had already leafed out.  Plus, they had a up-close view of how I garden generally, and I cut them a couple heads of lettuce.  We probably have more than we can eat this spring.

For me, the first practical benefit was that removing the raspberry plants cleared a pathway connecting two garden sections that had gotten nearly impassable because of the thorny canes.  As a side effect, I’m also willing to guess that through this interaction also I earned some gardening “garden cred” (“street cred” hardly makes sense in this context), and my experience is that this often leads to some paid gardening work, which can be very satisfying.  Plus, later this summer when the strawberries take a turn expressing their overspreading exuberance, maybe I’ll have some folks to whom I will be able to give them so I won’t have to fill a wheelbarrow and compost viable plants just to keep the size of the strawberry patch in check, as I did a couple years ago.

A deeper, systemic benefit to me is that now I have neighbors with more food production going on in their yards.  Personally, I would rather not be the only one around here growing food.  The more growers, the better. 

There are a number of clear benefits of living in a community of growers rather than as a lone nut devoted to helping the planet to transform dirt and waste into food.  What I’ve found over the years is that the most successful gardeners are those who cultivate their human relationships with the same enthusiasm that they cultivate their plants.  The way botanical abundance keeps expanding, it takes an expanding network just to keep up with it!  By building a gardening network, I’ve both given and received many new plants, and had plenty of enjoyable interactions such as this morning’s misty homage to the raspberry . . . and indeed it was a great day for transplanting here.  If you’re going to have the audacity to move bareroot plants in full leaf, conditions could not have been better than the misty drizzle alternating with downpours we had in SE Michigan today.

But finally, and probably most importantly, there was a wonderful feeling of shared gratitude in the whole interaction, and I could feel added depth in the relationship I already had with this couple.  Such sweetness!

How easy all of this is, how natural, and how mutually beneficial.  It’s relationship-guided and natural-process-driven, so everyone comes out the winner.  Sometime soon, I am expecting another neighborhood couple to visit who also recently expressed interest in growing their own raspberries, and I’ll be happy to share more.  But if ever such interest ever exceeds my supply or my willingness to share (which it never has), I’ll just tell people to wait until next year.  No biggie.  It’s free, after all, a true gift, and practically nobody will complain about a gift, even one in the future.

I’m hoping this story inspires others to design their participation in the Green Hand Initiative in ways that work for them.  I can easily imagine a person with a lot of tomatoes to preserve teaching canning procedures to a much-appreciated friendly neighborhood helper who, in addition to the skills, might also be lucky enough to take a few quarts of tomatoes home to be enjoyed like bottled sunshine some January evening.  In my household we have done something similar for years with our annual pesto freezing parties.  It’s amazing how many basil leaves can get plucked and washed after some wine has been uncorked, and with the promise of a great meal following the effort. 

It was also interesting to observe the role my Green Hand sign played in today’s sharing.  I’d already agreed to give the plants before my neighbors saw the Green Hand or knew of its significance.  However, once we were digging, I had a chance to explain the sign and tell my neighbors about the Green Hands website where they could learn how Transition and anticipated economic shifts are part of what motivates me to continue to build capacity and share skills for home-based food production.  So in this case, the communication value of the sign will follow rather than precede our practical sharing.  I’m guessing that until Green Hand signs become more widely recognized and understood, this will likely often be the case.

Well, bravo then!  That works for me!  Besides, the most important outcome as far as I’m concerned is that my neighbors enjoy success with these amazing and generous plants.  If understanding the other layers of my motivation also leads to more sharing in the future, so much the better.  One way or the other, I’m sure those berries are going to taste just fine.

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