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During this pandemic, thousands of people have looked for a new connection with nature by planting and tending to their gardens. My sister sells supplies for vegetable gardens, and she has seen that the number of first-time gardeners has increased immensely.
We could say that building a garden is a way to keep some level of control during these months when we have lost control in many areas of our lives. But I consider that this is not only a need for control, but a desire to feel connected to the cycle of life that was always there, but to which we didn’t pay much attention before. My experiences during these months are helping me grow not only plants, but a community spirit, too.
My garden is not very large. I have three small U-shaped raised beds with vegetables and flowers. I have some potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and some herbs like oregano, mint, and basil. I made a little rustic garden bench and put some lights around the garden. I also have my family there. My daughter, who lives far away, sent me little metal signs to label the different crops. And my other daughter, who lives at home, helps me in watering and harvesting the garden. My husband keeps me company sometimes when I water the plants after sunset. Even my cat comes out to play in the garden while I work.
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Although my family keeps me company, my time in the garden is still my personal time, and I feel that I tend to my spirit while I work there. The work I do in the garden helps me develop spiritual qualities such as strenuous effort, humility, and patience. Physical work, like loading soil for the raised beds, mixing manure, and moving stones gives me physical exercise, especially in these times when urban life makes us more and more sedentary. We also develop patience when we carefully take out weeds, watch to see how fruits and vegetables mature, and keep an eye out for insects.
The Baha’i writings describe how our relationship with the Earth helps us develop our humility: “Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory.” There is no better way to appreciate the Earth than by being close to it and collaborating with it.
But on top of being a personal spiritual exercise, caring for my garden is also a community experience — both in my neighborhood and in the digital world. When I stop by my neighbor’s house, praise her pumpkin plants, and ask her for advice from a distance, I bring happiness to us both. To be part of an online group of veggie gardeners who share their pictures of successes and failures, and encourage each other, brings new ideas and new friendships. I can see the effect a garden has over the people that surround it, and the virtues that this work generates are inherently communicated to the community.
A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, reads: “We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”
The possibility of sustainable growth starts when a high percentage of the population understands how wonderful it is to have plants and fruits. This close connection will help us make the sacrifices required to save the planet during this pandemic and our post-pandemic future.
Every morning, when my daughter goes to the garden to pick blackberries for her breakfast, I feel a wonderful spiritual happiness. Every time I give away fruits to my friends, I’m sharing something unique that only nature can cause. The work in my garden gives surprising fruits in the soul of my family and in my community.