by Travis Harding, first published as a guest article in the Athens Messenger’s Our Home column
“The natural world does not ask us to be experts or to be enlightened before it’s willing to care for us. It cares for us because we are part of it. It is up to us to ensure that we don’t take more than nature can provide.”
Healthy soil creates healthy communities. Pulitzer prize winner and native Ohioan, Louis Bromfield, who helped to usher in sustainable agriculture and organic farming, wrote in Pleasant Valley (1943), “Not only is the land and the agriculture the source of much of our wealth…but the very base of our economy. In each depression in our history the disaster has begun at the agriculture base and eventually brought down the whole of the economic structure.”
Bromfield penned this seven years after the Dust Bowl occurred simultaneously with the Great Depression, a compound disaster that evolved from taking only what the soil offered without giving back what was needed. When the American Midwest was settled by frontier people, the soil was rich, loamy, and deep, having been created by thousands of years of natural cycles of growth and natural robust composting. This black, rich, soil could only support ‘modern’ agriculture for a few generations until it had no more to give. This depleted state of the soil was a tragedy caused by ignorance and greed of those who failed to deposit repayment into the account being held by the soil.
This soil depletion is much like if a cash loan isn’t paid back and the economy suffers. If we, too, take from the soil what it gives us and fail to give back, or to only give back the minimum by preparing the land with chemicals and synthetic fertilizers, we too are defaulting on the loan of the natural world.
However, if we take responsibility for our own gardens and pay back the generous, interest free, loans of nature with compost and reciprocity, we will see the bounty that nature can provide. “The law of nature is not that of scarcity but of abundance…” (Bromfield), meaning that this abundance will happen when the earth is cared for. In this way all acts to pay back that which pays us, no matter how small, will return to us.
One act in this closed cycle of giving and receiving is to start a garden. Each household, and person can grow food whether it be in a pot, in a window, with raised beds or seed directly sown into the ground. With this localized effort, each tomato or head of lettuce that is enjoyed is an act of love for that community, because growing food creates abundance for each gardener, family, and community member.
If each household were to grow what they could with what they had, then less of our food would be reliant on large scale farms and the unreliable supply chain. Industrial farms cannot afford the time or the luxury to proceed as slowly as nature demands. Without small local farms, all food production would be supported by industrial agriculture that cannot pay back the natural loan and keep up with demand. These large scale agriculture complexes are a symptom of a different and no less destructive form of greed created by product demand and profit margins.
The good news is that “Action on behalf of life transforms. Because the relationship between self and the world is reciprocal, it is not a question of first getting enlightened or saved and then acting. As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.” ― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
The natural world does not ask us to be experts or to be enlightened before it’s willing to care for us. It cares for us because we are part of it. It is up to us to ensure that we don’t take more than nature can provide. It asks only for us to respect our position within it.
We can do this by growing what we can with what we have, and to give our dollars to other local growers who respect the rule of reciprocity. Give back to your community by growing and eating local produce. By doing so, you’re ensuring that the next generation will not inherit a defaulted loan.