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20 October, 2014

The Communality Garden

It's that kind of garden.
In college, one of my first anthro classes had a focus on community gardens in DC. I was pretty weak on the fieldwork project, not good at walking up to strangers and asking them questions, but the idea of a community garden seemed pretty cool. In Honolulu, I joined a community garden, eventually sponsored by the city but initially a guerilla garden wrought by a nonagenarian local Chinese woman who'd tended it through the years, walking up Punchbowl hill with a bag of scraps from her job at the UH cafeteria. The suburbs comprising the erstwhile GOP powerhouse Eric Cantor's district, where I next lived, were not fertile ground for anything smacking of community, food sovereignty, or any other potentially anti-corporate crap, so I gardened my own quarter acre more or lessa alone. Moving to Olympia may have been my best chance to join a 'normal' community garden.

But instead, I chose one that defies the usual model of assigning each member a small rectangle within which to grow a tiny individual garden. Sprouted by Sustainable South Sound, this garden is a plot to grow food in the neighborhood where it will be consumed. And instead of a grid of little gardens, it's two big gardens, dozens of beds that everyone works on together. We all chip in to buy seed and supplies, spend Saturday mornings weeding and planting, and harvest the results, which are distributed equally. Whatever division of labor that exists is self-sorting, and although some may work a bit more than others, nobody lazily skates by.

Which is what makes me wonder, "Are we being communists?" I mean, "From each according to her abilities, to each according to her share" is how we operate; isn't that a mere paraphrase away from Marxism? I've only ever gotten one garden member to cop to anything left of Socialism, but I have to wonder.

But then I also have to think, "So What?" We're not Stalinists, there's no distant committee committing us to 5-year plans, and the garden has no gulag. We're more like the autonomous collective (not really an anarcho-syndicalist commune, as some would have you believe) in Monty Python's Holy Grail. Everything we do has a mandate from the masses, there's even an Occupy-style blocking mechanism to assure consensus. Far from a Utopian pipe-dream--because I know that's what some of you suspect this amounts to--this system works.

Indoctrinating the unsuspecting youth with corn, oats, squash, and beans.

I'm not much of a joiner, and subjugating my opinions to group-will (especially when it comes to gardening) is not always easy. But the end results are worth it: plenty of good food, cameradrie, and the sort of smug satisfaction that only bountiful locavore collectivism can justify. In Honolulu, I rose to the Presidency of the community garden, and I loved that land the way I do any place where I have time to plant roots, but it was a collection of fiefdoms, and not a communal effort. A 'president' was required to make peace between the cat-feeders and gardeners, Tongans who cooked a dog and the Chinese woman grossed out by the thought, a bi-polar woman with a point about the mission of community gardens and the man growing sesame and chiles for sale, the guy who brought in barrels of toxic adhesive for "irrigation, or something" and everyone who didn't want cancer,...that kind of stuff. "Community" gardens can sprout plots that grow weeds, cat-piss, and strife.

Many Leaves, One Head

So, I am happy to be a part of this communalist garden, or whatever it is called. As we plan for the coming year, uncertain that this piece of land will be available beyond that, it's good to know that this experiment worked for so many years. If this garden cannot remain, it's not because of the people. we'll pop up elsewhere if and when this land becomes something else. Or maybe not. Whatever happens, I am glad that this garden happened, and can walk away knowing that the soil is better than it was when I arrived. For me, that's just fine.

1 comment:

  1. That's great Mo. Love the way you write and I totally share your enthusiasm for the colledtive spirit which has shaped the Wendell Berry garden for now 6 years. You are such a perfect fit for that work and your wonderful story just adds so much to the picture. See you around next time we brew some good ol communist beer ha ha ha :0)