I unscrew the top of the spray bottle as I walk over to the sink; I determined last year, during my first garden attempt, that spraying over a hundred individual seedling divisions is a one-way ticket to Handcrampville. Nah. Much easier just to pour water into the potting soil directly. As I fill the bottle, I talk over my shoulder about my day, who I saw and what the cats upstairs are up to and what I’m thinking about for dinner. Nobody else is down here- I’m talking to the seeds, convinced that plants who are talked to grow better than those that are not. I wonder if there was some grade school science fair project that I did on this topic. I further wonder why I didn’t win a Nobel Prize if I’d proved my hypothesis, and resolve to write the committee a strongly worded letter.
Most of these seeds are for my branch’s community garden. This has been a project more than a year in the making; not knowing what else to do back when we were first getting started, I figured that no ill, at least, could come out of growing food for people who need it. And down that path my branch went careening, not always knowing what our next step should be or if the garden would ever come to fruition at all, but away we went all the same.
Over the months this project has evolved and expanded; first we found an org that rents small plots of public garden space at on local hospital’s grounds, now we’re in talks to coordinate with various food drives, now we’re hoping to have three times as much space as we’d originally planned for. We have a dozen volunteers or so who’ve said they’ll come water and weed, who’re growing things in basements and on windowsills of their own. Both my phone and my computer have 20+ tabs open between the both of them about cover crops, how to stake tomatoes, and the carbon content of soil. All my recent Youtube subscriptions are to gardners’ channels. I am a man possessed, having not only stared too long into the abyss of regenerative agriculture, but having hurled myself into it freely.
But as I begin watering the peppers, crooning to my nascent seedlings that they are all wonderful and strong, I feel that familiar scratching at the back of my mind. It worms its way into my thoughts like some insidious creeping vine itself, telling me that this is pointless, that the tipping point has been reached, and we’re beginning the long tumble down into the sixth mass extinction. You’re kidding yourself if you think these plants mean anything, it says. These thoughts grow like wretched, festering fruit, oozing with sickly-sweet hopelessness, and I can lose whole weeks to them if I’m not careful. Just stop caring. Just stop.
I make my way on to the tomatoes, some of whom have already sprouted. They have happy names like Brandywine and Big Rainbow, and they’re poking out of the soil towards my grow lights, blissfully unaware that anything is wrong in the world. All they know is, when you have soil and light, water and warmth, you get to work and grow.
And I notice a newcomer to the group- a little shoot, not yet even fully out of the earth, still a tiny little speck of green. It’s a red onion, or at least it will be in a few months. I give it a dribble of water and remind it to lift with its proverbial back, not its legs.
We’re a small branch, out here in Buxmont. We sit in the shadow of our parent Chapter (Philadelphia) and we cover a few hundred square miles of suburban land. Too big to organize effectively, some would say. But it’s what we have to work with. That space can either be our impediment or our empowerment. We have soil and light, we have water, and we’ll have warmth soon enough. Why not use it?
This is going to kill you, the vine says, growing thorns and wrapping around my amygdala, squeezing to the point that I stop and wince in spite of myself. You won’t live to see sixty, but you’ll live to see the end of fish, the end of clouds-
I grab the grasping, poisonous vine at its base and tear up as much of it as I can with whatever strength I have. I remind myself that I don’t have to solve the climate crisis on my own. Buxmont doesn’t bear all of that burden- just enough of it to do what we can with what we have. From each according to their ability, right? Well, I can grow the shit out of some tomatoes. I can teach others what little I know. And the fear subsides for the moment, the hopelessness and despair recedes somewhat from the internal monologue; I know it’ll grow back, and probably soon. Today I was fortunate that I was already motivated, that I already had the fire, but I’ll take my victories where I can find them.
We can probably grow a few hundred pounds of food in a year, and we can use that to meet new friends and comrades, to expand the garden, to build an advocacy base for county or statewide regenerative agriculture practices that help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. All the articles on my phone and my laptop detail the specifics, but the general message is the same- take whatever you have on hand and get to work.
Take yourself, wherever you’re at,