Scripture: Psalm 65:1-13
During these times, I have been putting additional energy into spending time outdoors, especially on a permaculture gardening project around our home. About two-thirds of our garden is devoted to native perennial plants and flowers to attract and feed pollinators and the other third is dedicated to food production for our family and for sharing. This part encompasses vegetables and some fruit, and three chickens who we added to our family about a year and a half ago. They provide the entertainment portion of gardening!
Yesterday my husband went out early in the morning and reported that he noticed that either the squirrels or the chipmunks had left an torn apart and eaten, corn husk. The corn was to be ready for us to eat in about another 2-3 weeks, something we were looking forward to, as we were growing two beautiful varieties. I went outside to look at the raised bed dedicated to corn to find every husk pulled off the stalks, and eaten all the way down to the core. The debris was left cast unceremoniously on the ground.
My first reaction, I must admit, was anger. How dare they? That is my corn. I planted it. I’ve been taking care of it. I was planning to use it to feed my family and share with neighbors and friends. And we were so close!!!! The leaving of corn-carcasses by the front door added insult to injury.
But at the end of the day, the animals are only doing what they do. Eating. They are foragers by design and I am in their space, not the other way around. Gardeners and farmers all over the world contend with animals and pests of all kinds. Sadly, the response in so much of this world is to deal with other hungry stomachs by using traps that kill and poisons that pollute and desecrate the Creation.
We have very specifially chosen to not use these things in our garden. It’s tempting when all your work is destroyed. It’s human to be upset and disappointed. But, the truth is, I was also trying to find some open space in my raised beds for fall crops that I had already started from seeds a few weeks ago. I pulled out the now denuded corn plants and put them in the chicken run. The chickens will love eating what is left over and they will be happy. As I got into the soil I noticed that it was healthier than it was a few months ago, there were loads of earthworms and other beneficial micro-organisms present, right at the soil surface, a sign of excellent health. I fed the soil with some organic nutrients, and planted in lettuce, kale, bush beans and chard for the fall. If you garden with permaculture in mind, things are annoying, and can be very disappointing, but they are never a total loss.
For me, this process reminds me of God’s abundance and the miracle of Creation. So much is going on that I am only learning to understand. I connect often to veteran farmers and soil activists. I am on a learning journey about the earth and practicing in my garden. When I deal with a situation like this one I am reminded that I am just working with what the Creator has already set up (after I weep and wail a little bit!). I am trying to harmonize with the Creator, as my response of gratitude for the gift of Creation. By saying no to violence and pesticides I am saying no to harming God’s first and most precious gift to the generations of microbes, plants, animals, fungi and people that stretch out before and will come after me. It is in the garden I pray and take my worries and my joys and talk with and listen for the Spirit. In the garden you can see and even participate in the promise of resurrection.
A few weeks ago I took a medicinal plant class with a farmer who has been working this one small piece of the craft for nearly 40 years in both Europe and the United States. I asked him about what he notices. His response was that he notices there is a lot going on he does not know, he said some things are “imperceptible.” He knows there is a harmonizing effect, even if he cannot prove it by “traditional,” meaning Western measurements. But he senses it is there. I heard his words as wisdom indeed.
—Rev. Shannan R. Vance-Ocampo
Presbytery of Southern New England
Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Presbytery of Southern New England which encompasses Connecticut, Rhode Island and portions of Massachusetts. Shannan also serves as the Chair-Elect of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board of the Presbyterian Church (USA).