A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Give Till it Feels Good!

This post is meant to share with you a bit of the philosophy behind the Sharing Gardens.

Many times, when people visit the SG for the first time they notice a pleasant feeling on the land and they comment on it. They ask, "What makes this place different?" or, "How does this garden work?". We believe that they are feeling the effects of our gardens being non-commercial in nature. All help is voluntary, there are no membership fees, we never sell the food that we grow and we have made it a priority to provide food and habitat for wild animals to be at home in the gardens as well.

It's not a perfect system. Sometimes we have felt taken advantage of and have had to create healthy boundaries towards those who take more than their share -- like putting up a fence to keep the deer out, or signs at the food pantry guiding people to take smaller amounts of the produce in short supply. On occasion we've even asked certain people to stop volunteering at the gardens when we felt that their attitudes were not in alignment with the values of the project (though in truth, there have only been a few).

Some 'people' are not very good at sharing. Deer are voracious eaters and it's difficult to convince them to leave behind plants for others to enjoy. We've heard of people who have established a truce with deer through communicating with them in their hearts and minds but we haven't refined the skill well enough yet  to take down our deer-fences.
But overall, people haven't abused the project's generosity. We find that people are instinctively drawn to the Gardens because it is a sanctuary apart from any kind of commercial transactions. It is a relief to let go of accounting for ones giving and receiving and to step into "nature's economy"; a miraculous web of interconnected relationships that, if honored and respected create sufficiency for all.

The project still isn't self-perpetuating in terms of the cash-outlays we must make to pay for things like gas, electric and phone bills and other materials we must purchase new. But overall, we see a growing trend of support coming from the small town of Monroe where we live; in our relationships with people and institutions in the surrounding areas, and others in the broader community we touch through this blog. We are grateful for this growing web of community-connections and remain curious to see how this experiment in 'full-circle' generosity will continue to be supported.

The SG's are meant to demonstrate what can happen if we gradually begin to expand our definition of "family" to include people who we share common values with; the natural world that supports us in its web, and through our donations to local food-charities, to stretch ourselves also to care for those in our immediate environment who are struggling just to get by. Most people take care of their families without charging money, or keeping track of how much they are owed (can you imagine if your parents had kept a running tab of all the time and money they spent in raising you and presented you with a bill once you left home)? They gave to you out of a natural spirit of generosity and wanting you to thrive. You are an extension of the Life they were freely given. We believe it is with this same spirit that the gardens continue to thrive and grow.

Sabine, her Mom and her baby Caleb - How would our world be different if we cared for each other, and the environment as an extension of our family.
By continuously 'giving without thought of receiving' we have been delighted and amazed at the many miracles of generosity that have blessed us, and the project. (HERE is a brief history of our lives since we began the project illustrating this path we have chosen.) (Here is a link to a post chronicling the long stream of generosity that has blessed us since the gardens began in 2009:  - It Takes a Village

If you've ever wondered what it is that inspires us to keep going, it is the generosity of others -- not necessarily just towards us either. When we read stories on the web, we are always filtering for examples of others who are living examples of  'nature's economy'. We love what Nipon Mehta is doing with Service Space and Pay-it Forward Restaurants, and Peter Owen Jones through his experiments in living without money, and boldly stepping into the 'Age of the Environment'. Here are links to some of their presentations: Peter Owen Jones - What Future?
Nipon Mehta - Designing for Generosity 

And, as a wise man once said:

Give Long and Prosper

Abundant peppers!
Greetings dear people - Well, the gardens are basically done for the season. We still have some lettuce, kale and beets to harvest but all the heat-loving plants are done. These past few weeks we've been removing the old plants and beginning to prep the beds so they'll be ready for next year's plants.

Here in the USA, it's time for the holiday of Thanksgiving.  Typically this is a time for gathering with family and friends for a big feast and reflecting on all we have to be grateful for. We'd like to use this time to express our gratitude to the many supporters of the Sharing Gardens - human, and non-human alike!

Chris and Adri washing carrots together for snack-time.
Below are examples of how community-support has been manifesting at the Sharing Gardens in 2017. If you appreciate what we do and would like to express your support, here is a LINK to our wish-list. And thank you for the ways you are already expressing generosity beyond your own inner circle - extending the definition of "family" to include people you are un-related to, and the natural world within which we live and are intimately dependent on for all our needs.

First we'd like to extend our gratitude to all the staff at Oregon State University (OSU) who are developing a strong curriculum for sustainable living and for the myriad of students who come to the Sharing Gardens each year for 'service-learning' and give of their time to help the project move forward with the 'big strokes' -- tasks that would be prohibitively time-consuming for Chris and I and our core group of volunteers to do on our own. This includes things like planting trees, sifting manure, compost and coffee-grounds, dismantling garden-beds and mulching them for the fallow season. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
OSU students offering the ancient greeting of all happy volunteers: "Give long and prosper!"
Next, we'd like to extend a hearty "thanks" to all the people who come and actually help us in the gardens with the tasks great and small; those who are willing to get their hands in the dirt in service of the project. We call them "share-givers":

Sabine, shelling walnuts, has been coming for three years. We never know what sort of "organic" treats she's going to bring -- to share at snack-time, or leave in our pantry.
Jim and Cindy Kitchen flank Chris with a tray of home-grown watermelon; they too bring us gifts of food, clothing and housewares, garden-tools and building supplies and have begun to include us in their family gatherings as "uncle" and "auntie".
Rook Stillwater has become a regular addition to the 'sharegiver family'. His soft-spoken nature and willingness to learn and to serve are a real delight.
This year we have also been grateful for intermittent volunteer help from other folks in the Monroe community: Eva Fife (who also donated surplus apples from her trees, building supplies salvaged from a previous employer who needed to sell her property suddenly). Christina O'Bryan who, despite having very challenging health issues came consistently for several weeks during peak-weeding season. She also gave us a spade fork for extra-tall people and  introduced us to her neighbor George Estey who used his professional sharpening tool to sharpen our riding mower and refused to take more than $10 for his services! Wanda Foster also joined us during our peak weeding season and, when she had to leave town for a few weeks brought back a big bag of wild Chanterelle mushrooms she'd gathered. The first of the season!

We are grateful for our neighbor, John Kinsey who shares with us hundreds of pounds of coffee-grounds he gathers from a local coffee shop, worm castings/compost he makes from kitchen scraps, leaves and lawn-clippings.
 George and Irene Dougherty always donate lots of leaves and this year, when they heard of our herbicide contamination gave us about a dozen zucchini plants as well! Steve Rose - tomato starts, grass hay, mushroom spores to start our own mini mushroom farm. Pete Alford - picks up surplus produce from the Gardens and delivers it to Local Aid - a Food Pantry in a nearby town.

Tina and Swede Johnson donated five "rescue" blueberry bushes and about 8 gallons of un-shelled walnuts they gathered from their tree. Yummm!

We have several neighbors who donate leaves. Here's David Crosby with his helper Brandon. Victor Stone also contributes leaves from his 20+ maple trees. Stay tuned for our post about the Monroe Grade School's leaf drive.
Janaia (l) and her partner Robin (not pictured), on a visit last year, brought many hand tools, DVD's and books they thought we'd find useful that they'd culled from their storage unit in a thorough 'down-sizing' process. Here's the journal entry Janaia wrote following this dinner of almost entirely local foods: "Not food? No eat!".
Mid-summer, we had a huge give-away of surplus accumulated pots and flats that had been donated over the years and were way more than we could ever use! Four different groups of people came , each filling their car or truck! The last two, Gloria and Lynda insisted on leaving us with a $40 donation!

Much of what we need to run the gardens comes in the form of donations of time and materials but for those things that require money, we're very grateful for cash donations.

Llyn's mom Judy,  always comes for an extended visit to help in the gardens and makes a generous annual donation. Thanks, Mom!
Rob (pictured) and his wife Elisa made two significant cash donations this year. Rob also brought a huge load of high-quality potting soil we'll be using with next year's 'starts'.
We love our local Food Pantry!
The South Benton Food Pantry - who receives the majority of our garden-produce, donated $500 cash for the third year in a row. When we have extra garbage (the rare items that can't be recycled, re-purposed, composted or burned!) the SBFP lets us add it to their weekly pick-up service. This year they also paid for the Gardens to buy a used-refrigerator that we could set up in our garden shed for the massive amounts of surplus produce that need refrigeration until it can be distributed to charities. LINK

We have a funny story about the refrigerator that the SB Food Pantry donated to our project. We already had two refrigerators on the premises - one in our kitchen and one on our back porch. The porch one was mainly used for surplus garden-produce that we were going to 'can' or dehydrate but, in peak season, we also stored produce waiting for distribution at the Food Pantry as their three fridges are often too full to receive any surplus.
Sometimes, during times of peak-production, we have too much produce to fit in our refrigerators! That's what we call a "high-quality problem"!
We went to St. Vincent de Paul's - a store for used-items and picked out the one we wanted. As they were setting up the delivery time, they asked us if we already had a fridge (they give priority to people who are without a fridge). We didn't know that and said we already had one so the manager, Jennie, said she thought it would come in about 10-days. "Ten days!?!" we exclaimed, "That's too long to wait!". We told her about our project and what the fridge would be used for and she said, "In that case, how about we deliver it in three-days?". "Much better." we said, "That would be great.". Two days later, we got a call from Jennie and she said, with a smile in her voice, "How about the guys bring it over in a few hours?". Perfect. And they did.

Garden abundance!
The real punch-line of this story is that, that very same night, with no warning, our porch-fridge just completely died on us. We discovered it the next morning before things had had a chance to warm up or thaw very much and we transferred everything over to our "new" fridge. If it hadn't been for Jennie's generosity and persistence to get our fridge delivered as soon as possible, it's likely that much of the food on our porch-fridge might have been irreparably spoiled.

Gratitude to the children who come to the Gardens and remind us to keep things fun!
Gratitude to the birds, the bees and other pollinators, worms, snakes and great Web of Life that makes this all possible.
 And remember...