When I was younger, I would watch my mother with her back hunched, toiling over the soil that was prepared to be the nourishment for so many of our meals. We did not live on a farm or even lots of acres of land, but for most of my childhood, we lived in a suburban neighborhood, on a quarter-acre lot, in New Jersey. We had a garden that nourished our youthful, growing bodies.
The backyard was full of substantial amounts of shade, and so most of the gardening happened on the side of our house, making it's way to our front yard. Each season my mother would grow everything from okra to beans, tomatoes, and every bit of greenery I could think of. When we wanted to participate or were told to help my mother, our chore typically entailed clearing the weeds that consistently tried to take over the garden.
I have endearing thoughts of gardening because of my upbringing. Farmers' markets were typical Saturday events for us, on those days that my parents were not running around with us for basketball games, track meets, or church events. Visiting farms and farmers' markets were events that I would genuinely grow to cherish and had committed in my mind that if I ever did have a family, I would do the very same and more.
I wanted to share those moments of fullness with the world around me. I didn't know what it was that got my mother excited enough to be out in her garden after a long day at work and then caring for my two siblings and me. Still, I knew that it was special, and I knew that the farms that we visited had the power to create memorable bonding moments for my family.
My mother's passion for gardening was a thing that held my family together over the years and brought us together as we ate many meals with food from her garden. Sometimes albeit simple meals like jersey tomato sandwiches with just some cheese and a hint of seasoning, and sometimes more complex gourmet dishes, the food was typically fresh, farm-to-table meals, full of vegetables cultivated at the hands of my beautiful mother.
Fast forward years later, I left home, graduated from college and finished school, worked a ton of jobs that never truly satisfy me. I met some amazing friends, never had a family of my own though, and through an incredible chain of events and meeting an incredible group of people that I now call family, I moved to California to live on a 2 and 1/4 acre family farm. So here I am, finally at 33, understanding the shalom that my mother received through gardening. Gardening has taught me so many lessons about myself, my mother, and how to navigate the world around me.
When I walk outside on the farm and experience the seasons, the attempts at growing plants from seed, and sometimes having great success, sometimes failing miserably, it reminds me to have faith and trust in the Creator as well as to put in the work to reap a harvest. I met my business partner, and like the Golden Girls intro, my pal and confidant, years ago observing a Hebrew festival called Sukkot. It is a time in which Israel celebrates the gathering of the harvest and the protection that The Most High gave Israel when leaving Egypt and wandering in the wilderness.
For much of my life, I have felt like I was wondering and seeking a bit of the promised land. Pure satisfaction in the day to day would suffice. Joy for what I do and not always feeling like there is so much more.
Contentment was a desire and dream of mine. Shalom and peace were imperative, I knew. So, when Huldah and I began to talk about me moving to California to work with Royal Roots and to have a space for cultivating and to be cultivated, I was incredibly excited. I wanted to grow in so many ways, and I just knew that this space would give me the opportunity to do just that! What I didn't realize was the impact that working the land and gardening would have on me spiritually.
Years ago, I had committed to myself that I would find peace of mind and true shalom in my day to day life and that if anyone or anything hindered that, then I would have to reevaluate the situation and decide if it truly was best for me. I committed to consciously doing internal checks to ensure that I was on the right path and that I truly felt at peace with where I was, and I can wholeheartedly say that at this point in life, and where I am right now, gardening brings me immense joy, pleasure, and peace.
Working with Royal Roots and sharing the healing power and impact of agriculture with people from various backgrounds and demographics, with youth and adults alike, has reminded me of the important things in life and has helped me put life into perspective. Daily, I am reminded of what is valuable in life as I cultivate the ground and labor over the soil just as my mother labors over her garden, not just to say she grew something, but to feed her family food that will fuel them and bring them health and wholeness.
It's about doing the best you can with what you have, loving those that The Creator has placed in your life and those that you may only know for a moment, maneuvering with compassion throughout your life, putting your hands to the plow, and doing your part so that the beautiful art of agriculture continues from generation to generation.
It is vital, so that stories like the one of okra coming from Africa, from my ancestors, and still being grown and indulged, because someone saw it fit to bring them through the tumultuous travails of the middle passage to ensure that hundreds of years later their ancestors would remember the sacrifice, plant a seed, and fully experience true shalom through gardening.
About our Guest Blogger, Lauren:
Lauren is a multi-dimensional artist, poet, and activist focused on creating and cultivating impactful spaces for holistic health and social justice. She has empowered many to seek to impact and affect change while returning to their ancestral roots.
For many years, she worked as a Community Arts Director in North Philadelphia, PA and in 2016 she obtained her Masters in Urban Studies. At the beginning of 2019, she moved to California to work directly with Royal Roots and daily she finds fulfillment in planting seeds, caring for the livestock, farm development and seeking to pave a path for future generations to know of the value and the covenant that we as humans have with the earth and the Infinite One.