“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love
It’s Martin Luther King Day, and I’m honoring the man who so eloquently gave us his vision of a just society, who championed nonviolence, social responsibility, and freedom, by preparing our kitchen garden for the growing season to come.
To me, tending a kitchen garden is one way of building a just society, a society where we share resources equitably, instead of relatively few consuming an enormous share of the world’s clean water, energy, and other resources. By growing some of our own food right outside our back door, Richard and I reduce our consumption of resources, and also take part in the cycle of life right here at home where we live. Growing our own allows us to be generous in these challenging times, sharing the fruits–and vegetables and herbs–of our labor with family, friends, and community. (If only the deer would be a bit more moderate when they take their share!)
My vision of a just society extends beyond our
species: it includes all of the lives that animate this Earth. Growing
some of our own food means we depend less on factory farming
practices and more on the food we’ve nurtured with our own hands–carefully and thoughtfully coaxing
it from our garden soil. Growing our own food roots us in place and gives
us a chance to participate in the community of the land by offering
habitat to our wild neighbors, from native solitary bees and garter snakes to mountain bluebirds and myotis bats–as well as those ever-hungry mule deer.
Growing a kitchen garden is also about faith, about believing in renewal: that even in these frigid and dark days of winter, life will return and the dead asparagus stalks above will be replaced by new green–succulent and tasty shoots.
So this afternoon, Richard and I drove out to a local nursery, where we loaded our old Isuzu Trooper–usually filled with boulders, rusting gears, bent tie rods, and other materials of his sculpture work–with 26 cubic feet of organic cottonseed hull compost.
The bags have been out in the weather, so they’re frozen right now, but we left them in the Trooper parked in the yard of his shop where the next sunny day, they’ll thaw quickly. Some warm day in the next few weeks, we’ll haul those 13 bags around to the kitchen garden and spread their aromatic contents on our raised beds to mulch and fertilize the soil, giving our garden and the community of tiny lives that keep its soil rich and friable all the nutrients they’ll need for another season.
After we got home with our load, I headed out the kitchen door to inspect the garden. The deer got into it during the weeks while we were away for Richard’s radiation treatments, so the broccoli plants were nibbled down to knobby dead stalks and the beets gone, but the spinach I had planted last fall to give a jump-start on spring was protected from their hungry munching under a row cover. It’s still small, its dark green leaves hugging the relatively warm surface of the soil, but the days are growing longer, and it’ll start growing upwards soon. I bet we’ll be savoring fresh spinach in a few weeks.
The hollyhocks by the back door are already sprouting new leaves, warmed by the rock mulch and the south-facing wall of the house. When I pulled off the protective fabric that snugs around our rosemary, I was delighted to find the plant which theoretically should not survive here at 7,000 feet elevation alive and unfrozen. (After a week of sub-zero temperatures while we were away, that practically qualifies as a miracle.) I rubbed a few leaves and inhaled a deep breath of their rich and aromatic fragrance before carefully covering the plant again.
Back inside, as I pondered whether I could squeeze another heirloom tomato variety into what always turns into a crowded tomato-basil bed, and whether I should plant one or two rows of sweet peas, I happened across another quote from Dr. King:
“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
Amen! And thank you, Dr. King, for explaining to me why on this cold and dreary January day, I am preparing our spring garden. It’s my way of spreading love in my part of this wide world.