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Growing hope for the New Year

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I am increasingly being asked to speak to people about hope. This is not surprising. Given the decline of the insects that are drivers of our food system, the loss of the birds that keep dangerous insects in check, and the fact that it will soon be too hot for our food to germinate and grow, we are really in need of some hope. If the conversation has truly shifted from climate change to climate catastrophe, how can we possibly live in hope? In the face of so much death, where is hope found?

Where indeed. I suspect that our inability to see hope in the midst of our current crisis has a lot to do with our disconnection from the rhythms of life and death, planting and growth. We no longer see how the cycles of death and decay lead to life and new growth, how the rot of compost and dung is transformed into soil and fertility. We no longer pay attention to seeds.

Yes, seeds. Often very small and unassuming, your average seed is a little package of potential. Just add soil, water and warmth and that little seed will break itself open with new life that will eventually provide food, dyes, string, clothing, medicine and sometimes even shelter. All from a seed. But here’s the paradoxical thing. The seed, as a seed, dies, in order to bring all these wonderful gifts to us.

Embedded in the very structure of the world in which we live is this rhythm of hope: death leads to life, darkness leads to light, decay leads to growth.

So I suggest that if hope is in short supply, perhaps we should plant a few seeds. Literal seeds, that will grow around us and remind us of the potential of hope embedded in the earth.

But planting seeds will do more than remind us of hope. Planting seeds, growing something, whether it be a plant on the windowsill, or a small garden in a container on your balcony or porch, or a plot at the community garden, also creates bonds of affection between ourselves and the earth. And such bonds of affection are, I suggest, crucial if we are to have hope for our future. If we love someone, we are willing to go to great lengths on their behalf; if we love the natural world, working to preserve it will not be a burden but a labour of love.

So how do we engage in this kind of hope in January in the Kawartha Lakes when all is frozen? I suggest that you start with a seed catalogue and a dream. Many flowers and plants can be started inside for summer transplanting outside, but a few can be started inside and grown until they are edible.

Here are some suitable seeds and tips for getting started:

  1. Home Hardware has plastic pots that will fit on the windowsill as well as larger pots that you can put on the floor (don’t forget to get a tray to catch water underneath if one isn’t included). You can also get a potting soil there to put in your pots.
  2. Organic seeds can be ordered from a number of Ontario seed houses. These seeds are locally grown and suited to our climate (in case you sow some outside). I recommend: Mountain Grove Seeds, Terra Edibles (terraedibles.ca), Hawthorn Farm (hawthornfarm.ca), or Greta’s Organic Gardens (seeds-organic.com). Home Hardware and Joanne’s Health Foods will also soon have seeds available in the store.
  3. The seed packets will have growing instructions. The best vegetables to grow inside are greens that you can harvest at the baby leaf stage: lettuce, spinach, kale, collards. If you plant densely and harvest with scissors or a knife leaving 1 inch high of growth, they will regrow for subsequent harvests.
  4. If you have a very sunny window, and some space, you could grow a tomato, pepper or cucumber plant to maturity in a five gallon pail and harvest the fruit!
  5. If you have a balcony, you can start tomatoes and peppers indoors in small containers on a sunny windowsill, and then plant out into five gallon pails to grow during the summer. Onions, carrots, lettuce, spinach, kale, and peas can all be sown directly outside in a container as soon as the snow is gone. Beans, cucumbers and squash need to wait until after the last frost. Most of these need a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight to bear fruit. However, leafy greens like lettuce, kale, chard and spinach will grow even if they are in the shade. Sowing times are similar for gardens in the ground.

It may be that you are unable to grow where you live. If so, find a friend who gardens and offer to assist them. And know this: that where there are seeds and people who know how to nurture and grow them, there is hope. For the earth and for us.

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Sylvia Keesmaat, who lives on an off-grid solar-powered farm in Cameron, has a diploma in Permaculture Design and a doctorate in Biblical Studies. Every summer she and her husband welcome interns to their farm to learn about resilient gardening and farming, and sustainable living. Sylvia is also an Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies at the Toronto School of Theology, with a focus on agrarian and anti-imperial readings of the biblical text.

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