Creating Community Through the Act of Gardening

“Through one simple, little act, we can cultivate a world that is more diverse, unified, and collaborative, and less divided and lonely – ultimately, a world more joyous and sustainable than this one through one simple act: gardening,” begins a riveting TEDTalk by Jasun “Plaedo” Wellman, a community organizer, educator, gardener, and artist.

Gardening, he said, offers a practical remedy to many of society’s increasingly common ills – disconnection, depression, and disease. However, he didn’t come to gardening in search of salvation and sustainability. Instead, Wellman admits that he used to look down on this “quaint, old-fashioned idea.” As a student of philosophy, he was interested in more intellectual pursuits – until the recession hit and his degree left him few career options.

The silver lining, he said, was the community garden he walked by on his way to work. As a student with financial aid, the garden meant nothing – but when he started working for minimum wage washing dishes part time, the garden began to look more like it could be a way to save money.

“I began my journey of learning to grow my own food, unaware of all that the garden would eventually grow in me,” Wellman said.

He likens his own “inner transformation” to the miraculous beginnings of a plant sprouted from a seed but admitted that at first, his garden wasn’t growing much food. While he wasn’t saving money, Wellman said, he was learning how to tackle a variety of real-world, practical problems – uncovering the more intellectually challenging side of gardening.

In the process, he was also benefitting from the healing aspect of gardening – the hypnotic, calming effect of pruning, pulling, and planting.

“In this world we live in today, with how fast it moves, how much information is out there, and how much stress exists, the garden provides a respite – a chance to slow down, simplify, and calm the mind,” he said. “It is then that the garden will whisper its wisdom.”

Gardening has taught Wellman to be successful and sustainable – to take what some might call “scourgeful weeds” like dandelions and turn them into compost to nourish the soil, to listen to the needs of the earth and work as a “community organizer” to develop symbiotic relationships that encourage plentiful growth.

“Through countless generations, nature’s figured out some ingenious systems to support itself that we as humans would be wise to study from and implement,” Wellman said. “And what if we take those lessons learned from the garden and metaphorically apply them, like compost, you could say, to this human world?”

Cultivating beneficial relationships won’t just improve the quality of your garden, Wellman said, but also the quality of your life. With this in mind, he helped form the Eugene Avant Gardeners – an organization that brings people together to create sustainable food distribution networks, as well as gardening workshops and work parties.

“I’ve seen amazing things happen when people gather in the garden,” Wellman said. “I truly believe that we can use the garden to bring people from all walks of life, from all races, from all ages, from all classes, from all genders together – in other words, food is our common ground.”

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