Our garden and relationships keep teaching me how generous and fruitful life can be. I've written about self-seeding plants filling the greenhouse bed, friends giving us squash when we had a poor veggie harvest during a drought year, and our neighbours helping me during a crazy snowstorm. I see again and again how life keeps on giving, if we allow it and nurture it.
Last year's drought made it a hard growing season for most people in our area. In contrast, this spring and summer were cool and wet, with heavy rains and flooding. On the up-side, this helped the watershed recover from the drought. On the down-side, it brought another challenging growing season. This year, instead of poor germination from a lack of water, an abundance of slugs proliferated with the moisture and ate many of the young seedlings in our garden. I truly think these extremes are our new reality.
Perhaps more than ever, diversity is the key to resilience. The plants, given the opportunity, are very adaptable. In our garden, a few leftover potatoes that lay dormant in several beds for a year or two or three, decided this year that the conditions were ideal; they germinated and flourished. And, like the self-seeded kale in the greenhouse, the volunteer plants were the winners. They had what they needed, so they grew on their own terms and yielded potatoes that were three or four times bigger than the ones we planted intentionally. But we didn't know this until we harvested them.
In the meantime, the beet seedlings got decimated by the slugs and the carrots seedlings grew slowly. As it wasn't looking to be a great gardening season, I made a pointed effort to use and store as much of what the garden gave us as possible. I did two big harvests of sorrel, lemon balm, chicory, mint, tulsi and garlic mustard, and I barely made a dent; I put enough pesto in the freezer for several months. We blanched zucchini and kale for the freezer. I dried oregano, lemon balm and mint, and made cucumber kimchi. I made large batches of echinacea, elderberry and oregano tinctures, and still had some thyme, mullein, goldenrod and St. John's wort tinctures from the previous year. I was delighted to find that, although we had a much smaller harvest of sweet juicy tomatoes (which prefer the heat), our neighbours were happy to receive oregano and garlic.
I discovered some of the gifts that lay hidden in community. As usual, we had goji berry plants that needed new homes; I posted them on the “Barter Board” group on Facebook and traded several of them for a huge bag of beautiful beets and carrots and some tasty preserves. Who knew that goji berry plants could yield beets, carrots and relish?! I approached a farmer friend and traded some grass-fed meat for a ticket to one of our permaculture tours. I asked a friend to help us with some gardening and she enjoyed several of the perennial greens that were in abundance.
I'm starting to think that trading and gifting is like a magical glue; it helps build relationships and deepen friendships. I once asked a farmer friend to trade some squash for some potatoes. She gave me the squash and I gave her the potatoes. Then she said, “Your potatoes are worth more than the squash. Here, have some onions too.” I said, “Wow, that's really generous of you. Here, let me give you some tomatoes.” Our initial exchange created a mini cascade of gifts that continued for a few years. We exchanged more than we would have had it been a simple, one-time cash transaction. It became an exchange of goodwill; our goodwill and generosity spiralled upwards, and with each round, we both benefited. What goes around can come around again and again.
Similarly, I remember three different occasions where we gave thank-you gifts to friends and they were so touched that they gave us something in return! I find our friends ridiculously generous and I feel giddy with gratitude and expanded with possibility; it helps me remember that there are so many ways we can touch other people's lives and that there is so much simple abundance we can share.
A few years ago, I experimented with “gifting” two workshops to the community. I wrote in my invitation:
This is the kind of society I want to live in: one that is based on generosity and life-enhancing value. Gift economies already exist and are built on trust, reciprocity and meaningful relationships. In a society where many of us are used to worrying about money, I find it a stretch to trust that I could make a living and be well-sustained in a gift economy. I think we are conditioned to believe that people respond only out of self-interest. So we may fear that if we give a lot away, we'll receive nothing in return and will deplete ourselves. However, I've seen in people and want to believe more in people's generosity than selfishness. And the magic is that once someone gives, it makes it easier to also give – and thus we start the spiral of generosity.
I offer this as an intentional gift to you and to our world. Please notice what it nourishes in you and what value it brings to your life. If you would enjoy giving a gift out of gratitude or celebration, and/or to contribute to my livelihood and my work in the world, I would be very delighted to receive your gift. Your gift may be in the form of money, trade (please ask about what I could use), referrals, or “paying it forward” to someone else.
I was curious about whether or what people might gift in return. It was an interesting experience. I received very little money for those workshops compared to what I earn with my regular workshops (I'm guessing that money is more scarce as a local resource than the other things I received). However, I felt humbled and grateful to receive the gifts that I did. While I already forgot about the income I made that year, some of those gifts are still meaningful to me. I received: a spiritual gift that brought me to tears; a commitment to the community that humbled me greatly; beautiful artisanal gifts like hand-made knives, herbal medicines and soaps; practical gifts like organic meat and eggs and no/low VOC house paint; plus hugs, laughter and tears shared between friends.
Perhaps most importantly, the giving and receiving deepened the sense of support, trust, care and reciprocity in several of our relationships. In the face of ecological and societal challenges, I'm finding increasingly that our relationships and communities, our shared goodwill and desire to support one another, are our greatest investments for the present and future.
Bill Mollison, one of the co-founders of permaculture, said something like,“the yield of the system is only limited by the creativity of the designer.” I think this is a simple and powerful idea.
Got weeds? Find a good recipe. Got access to other gardeners (you could find them on Facebook)? Trade with them. Got friends or neighbours? Gift them some of the surplus abundance in your life: veggies, seeds, snow shovelling, baked goods, books or clothes. Our gardens, relationships and communities are filled with possibilities. Let's be creative. Let's stretch ourselves just a little to discover the myriad ways we can nourish ourselves and the life around us.