It is often said that the first step toward a solution or significant change is admitting that you have a problem. When hints of spring start interrupting February’s winter cold, I realize that I have a problem. A gardening problem. Collating the results of hours spent with seed catalogs, I realize there is absolutely no way to fit everything into my garden. Clearly this is a problem.
Cob here, setting aside my internal dilemma over which varieties of what delicious fresh fruit or vegetable to let go of, to instead bring you up to date on the happenings from this past week on our small patch of prairie.
From overheard conversations and increasing garden-related email discussions, I know that I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing seed orders with available space or who wishes they had more hours to dedicate to growing food. This subject even came up during the second portion of our annual retreat.
These last several days of meetings are created on-the-spot, following the methods outlined by Open Space Technology (if you’re interested, read the book of the same name by Owen Harrison for deeper details). Essentially we self-organize on the fly, holding multiple meetings concurrently in several locations around the village, then come back together as a group to report on what we learned. The idea is that each person is involved in the topic(s) they feel most passionate about, and are motivated to bring through to a decision.
Many of this week’s breakout sessions referenced back to last week’s mini-workshop on burnout: what it is, how to minimize it, and ways to replenish and restore our mental & emotional reserves. It is easy to be so caught up in personal habits of thought or action, because it’s familiar or routine. Sometimes the simplest and retrospectively obvious changes don’t get made because those habits are so deeply ingrained or we don’t have the energy to try something different (see burnout).
Collaboration with seed ordering, both for cost savings and for diversity of species grown, and working with each other either physically or to share our individual wisdom and lessons learned seems fairly obvious; yet my years of “this is how I’ve always done it” gets in the way. I didn’t attend the “What we Grow” session at retreat, but I appreciated hearing that some Rabbits are interested in re-launching a weekly Garden Club to discuss things regularly over lunch, and was reminded that Alyssa had created a shared Google spreadsheet for noting which varieties grow most easily (or need the most coddling) in our particular location.
We also held conversations on a wide range of other topics, including determining what research is needed as our fossil-fuels covenant (wherein we agree that we won’t use fossil fuel to power our vehicles) collides with the reality that 2006 is the last model year for vehicles which can reliably run on biodiesel. Those changes stem from increased fuel-efficiency, so it’s not all bad, but it does leave us with an interesting conundrum.
Equally interesting and challenging was our wide-ranging conversation on what it means to be a feminist ecovillage, the myriad ways we are not living up to our full potential, and how to support each other in making the necessary cultural shifts to reach that goal. It quickly became even clearer to me that (unsurprisingly) my own unexamined habits of thought or behavior (as modeled for me while growing up white and male in our culture) are my primary obstacle to realizing my personal goal of truly treating every person as fully human/fully equal.
Not that every breakout session was so heavy! I was able to convene a session outside the regular schedule, just prior to potluck dinner, specifically to share a bottle of whisky. I am no connoisseur, but the provenance of this particular bottle practically demanded that I share it with Rabbits who are far more familiar with such spirits. I had no idea if it would be really good or really, really bad (spoiler: it was fantastic) which added to the fun.
If you have no interest in “The Whisky Bottle Story” feel free to skip to the next paragraph! This particular bottle of Old JTS Brown Kentucky straight bourbon whisky (old style sour mash) was given as a gift from my great-grandfather to either my folks or my grandparents, while attending “the races in KY” in 1962. According to the US Gov’t seal, it was bottled in the spring of 1958, and remained unopened for 60 years. The molded glass of the bottle also warns that “Federal law forbids sale or reuse of this bottle.” Y’all good with me re-using it as a water bottle? That’s what I thought.
One significant change in this year’s retreat was the level of involvement and support from the younger crowd (teens and pre-teens), participating in some of the breakout sessions and helping out with the really young crowd so parents could participate more fully. I’m excited by their interest in self-agency and bringing their perspectives to the conversation.
One session has left a lasting glow of good humor and friendship, and no it wasn’t the whisky! A number of Rabbits discussed and decided to participate in a 21-day complaint-free challenge. Sounds easy? It’s NOT! The goal isn’t to get through the next three weeks without complaining; the goal is 21 consecutive days. According to the pastor in Kansas City who launched this particular challenge, it often takes as long as 8 months to reach that milestone. I encourage you to google this challenge and consider joining along with us. The science behind the 21 days is that it takes that level of consistency to form a new habit. I’ve been working on this for 6 days now, and I’m still on Day 1, woo hoo!
Life doesn’t stop for retreat, so folks have been busy gearing up for the first public workshop of the season at the Milkweed Mercantile focusing on fiber arts; several Rabbits lovingly crafted Validation Day cards for every member of the community (I’m sure you’ll hear more about that in a future column); cooks from Dancing Rabbit and Red Earth Farms have been bringing meals over to Sandhill for a family and their new baby; and Ted and I have even made it into Memphis for a couple men’s chorus rehearsals. The chorus is rehearsing for Saturday’s fundraising dinner at the VFW in support of the local high school marching band trip to Washington DC this spring.
Speaking of spring, I have a problem. My problem is seeds. What am I planting? What am I growing? What am I cultivating in my own garden? What resources am I failing to notice? Or perhaps most importantly, what unintentional harm or pain am I causing for the individuals around me, within my community, or in the world? I have been privileged all my life to pretty much do whatever I’ve wanted to do, in whatever manner I wished. There is a level of comfort and ease with that familiarity, but as I prayerfully consider these questions I am seeing more and more how I need to make deep and lasting changes in my choices, regardless of which environment I’m in.
I wish you joy in the planning of your own gardens, both physical and metaphorical. Now where did I put that catalog?
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.