There’s a quote that has become synonymous to me with the beginning of Act Five. It’s the first lesson we teach students, on one of their first days in Hamilton. It goes like this:
“We care for only what we love. We love only what we know. We truly know only what we experience. If we do not know our place-know it in more than a passing, cursory way, know it intimately and personally-then we are destined to use and abuse it.” (Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth)
Our disconnection from our place and our food causes us to experience a sort of “homelessness”. We have become people who are transient. Committing to loving our place means we are committed to learning it, to experiencing it.
In their article, “Education for homelessness or homemaking”, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say that,
“Students who have no intention of staying anywhere too long also demonstrate a profound geo-political, historical and aesthetic ignorance as well. Without any sense of commitment to place one pays no attention to neighbours, cares little about the dynamics of local community politics, never comes to understand the stories that have shaped this place to be the place it is, and never hangs around long enough to appreciate the art, literature, poetry, and folk traditions that this place has fostered. One never becomes a homecomer or homemaker because one is lost in the homelessness of mobility.”
They then go on to quote David Orr, who says, “the plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people, it needs more people who live well in their places.”
This is part of the whole reason Act Five as a program exists. And to me, it’s SO exciting! We get to guide students along a path they’ve perhaps never walked before, or not in this way – a path to learning to live well where we are – in the big and the small, the adventurous and the mundane. A path towards commitment and place-making. This means the soil on our property, the home in which we live, the trees on our street, our neighbours (both human and animal) – they all matter!
God has made us to be people of connection – to ourselves, to each other, to the earth and the rest of creation, and to the Creator himself. Part of our invitation as people in “Act Five” of the biblical narrative is to join Christ in his healing of broken relationships – between us and God, other people, ourselves, and the rest of creation.
We cannot change the world if we do not begin where we are.
And so we plant gardens.
I’ve lived at Blake Street for two years now, heading into my third. I love this place. Dave, a past RL, built the raised bed gardens in the back. Julie, a previous summer tenant, prepared and formed the gardens along the side of the shed. Some friends and I shaped the front yard garden out of what was previously a monoculture: lawn.
I’m trying to care for the soil in this place and move towards reinstating natural systems here. I’ve been practicing this by watching where the water goes and encouraging drainage into the soil instead of run-off into the street; by planting native species to attract native (and potentially at-risk) birds, bees, and butterflies. I’m learning to grow food, too. Kale, lettuce, beets, radishes, potatoes, carrots, cucumber, peppers, beans, peas, tomatoes, edible flowers, strawberries, raspberries, and herbs. Different varieties of each, too. It’s incredible what you can grow in an urban backyard!
We’re trying to promote biodiversity.
And it’s working.
In two years, our soil quality has improved dramatically. We have our garden certified as a Pollinator Garden by the Hamilton Pollinator Paradise Project. We have removed (or mostly removed) a gigantic network of invasive goutweed and replaced it with a diverse range of native species. We built berms and we use rain barrels to redirect and utilize the flow of water on the property. We have nearly two full bins of beautiful, rich compost. We have families of birds who find their home in the trees, and come down to feed on our worm-rich soil and plant life. Some of these birds I’ve learned to recognize, and I’m quite convinced they know me too. We are slowly seeing a diverse community take form.
If you can’t tell, I love this stuff. I think the connection to our faith and to discipleship is huge and obvious. I think it makes us more human. I love talking about it. People who live here are catching on, too! Last year, some of our Act Five students expressed the ways their perspectives on place, home, and land have changed over the course of the year by living here and participating in caring for this place and getting to know it. One student built us sunboxess – enclosed mini-greenhouses – so that we can extend our growing season to allow future students to take part in food production. Our summer tenants each participate in watering the garden, and also get to eat the produce together and watch the flowers bloom throughout the summer. Even our neighbours have stopped to ask me what we’re doing here and what we’re growing – curious about why I seem to care so much.
We are slowly healing, learning, and reconnecting. We are learning to live well in our place.
As people who love and believe in the power and truth of the biblical story, people who look ahead to Act Six when God makes all things fully redeemed, perhaps what we are doing here can be a signpost – a prophetic invitation to imagine a better future. Perhaps, as we connect more to the soil and to each other, we can remember to hope. Restoration is coming, and it’s in many ways breaking forth now – this stuff matters. I guess that’s why I love it.