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How To Open Your Life Through Gardening

By: Jack Levine
I hope you will agree with me that gardening is one of the most satisfying ways to exert energy for a greater good.  A garden has five basic components…soil, seeds, water, sunshine and labor.  For time immemorial, so many diverse civilizations have developed methods of plant cultivation for both nutritional survival and, for many, beautification of their home and community environments.
My dear Grandma Minnie grew up in a small Russian shtetel where potatoes, beets, cabbages and assorted greens were the staples of existence.  Upon coming to this country in the first decade of the 20th Century her love of the land travelled with her across the Atlantic. Even in the crowded tenement apartment on Ludlow Street in lower Manhattan where she lived as a teenager, she found a corner of a fire escape or sunlit window where she could keep a plant or two. She so enjoyed watching the new green leaves come to life….just like she herself was growing into her new life in America. 
When my grandparents settled in the rural Bronx in 1918 (yes, the Bronx was considered the countryside back then), she planted a garden plot in her back yard every spring….tomatoes, cukes, peas, beans, eggplant and many other varieties were set in rows, providing delicious and oh so healthy ingredients for her home-made meals…feeding her family and oftentimes, the many guests at her table. 
My grandparents lived in that house for more than 50 years, and a Summer did not pass without Minnie growing a bountiful garden. She would wrap the fresh picked vegetables in her long apron and carry the goods upstairs for washing and sorting in her airy kitchen.  She knew so many ways to do things right, and tending  her beloved garden was one of her special investments of time and loving care that produced bountiful dividends.
Yes, I know that yard work is hard work, but the rewards are great in both productive exercise, beautification, and the flavors of fresh-picked produce. I must admit that my wife, Charlotte, is the true horticulturalist in the family….but I pitch in with weekend manual labor at her direction. There is special satisfaction I feel in pulling out a pesty clump of weeds by the root, pruning and trimming a flowering bush for healthier seasonal growth, and planting a tree.  I ascribe to the Chinese proverb “We plant trees today so generations to come will enjoy the shade.” 
Our Tallahassee in-town yard has four raised beds where we grow many seasonal varieties of organic vegetables and a numerous flowering plants.  Our near-by bee hive serves as a launching point for the busy insects whose life’s work is focused on locating flowers to pollinate, returning back home with nectar and specks of pollen with which they produce honey to feed themselves and their queen. Our bees produce plenty of honey, enough for us to harvest our percentage of the profit as payment for our investment as their landlord!  And there will be another Ridgetop Gold Honey Raffle soon!
The process of tending a garden is one of life’s great opportunities for learning patience and participate the nearly miraculous process of natural life cycles.  I was raised to appreciate gardening, and we nurtured that interest in our sons who are both “foodies” to our great delight.  I truly believe that the more children are given the opportunity to be gardeners, the greater the likelihood they will grow to appreciate nature, learn the power of patience, and understand more about healthy nutrition.
The movement for community gardening has quite literally taken root in all corners of the country. Edible landscaping is an awesome trend.  I’m especially excited to learn how many schools, early childhood centers, neighborhood parks, and elder care facilities are utilizing some open spaces to create garden spots.  A wonderful website https://www.kidsgardening.org/ is a valuable resource for promoting this movement.  With so many of our children eating too many of their meals out of fast food bags and boxes, giving them the thrill of growing their own veggies is not only great for education, it’s a powerful introduction to the world of delicious and diverse cuisine.
Gardening and Advocacy
You knew I was going to relate gardening to advocacy….no surprise there, huh? Yes, it’s clear to me that effective public policy advocacy is closely akin to growing a garden.  It certainly takes motivation and a perceived need to make a condition better. 
Neither gardening nor advocacy is for everyone….some people would prefer staying on the sidelines, keep to themselves and let others do the work…to be silent consumers rather than active participants.  I’ve found that the world is made up of two kinds of folks….people who get things done and those who are just fine with the way things are and never get their hands dirty no matter how pressing the problem or how great the potential to make a difference.
In both gardening and advocacy, there’s the necessity for both patience and persistence. Seeds don’t sprout overnight….nor will powerful public officials be convinced to do the right thing just because they hear one story or have a single meeting.
The best gardeners understand the terrain, the lay of the land and have a good sense of climate. They are careful to prepare the soil for enrichment of the seeds and know the right amount of watering to promote healthy growth.  So, too, advocates must know as much as possible about the political climate, which ideas can be planted in just the right season, and how to neither have a communications drought nor drown the political leader with too much contact.  Just the right amount of persuasive messaging, properly delivered, gets the job done. 
I know what you’re thinking…there’s a role for fertilizer in both gardening and politics….Yes, but don’t shovel it too high!
And what about pests?  In gardening theses little creatures must be carefully watched for and decisively dealt with so the plants are not damaged.  In advocacy, there’s a fine line between persistence and pestilence. Advocates are least effective when they’re so passionate that their behavior borders on offensive and aggressive attack.  All advocates need to balance their own powerful interest in their cause with the reality that compromise is usually necessary and incremental progress is the most likely outcome.  Advocates who are avoided or dismissed neither help their cause nor feel the satisfaction of making a difference.
Please consider planting a garden of your own, join together with others of all generations to establish a community garden, and support local farmers by purchasing fresh, pesticide-free produce.
Also, please do all you can to serve as an advocacy voice for issues you care about and interests which need your attention and action…..
Here’s one of my favorite inspirational essays that connects gardening and advocacy….penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the world’s most prolific writers and astute observers of human nature.

I know that you will be deeply moved by this 6-minute video….It’s a segment from an upcoming documentary entitled Alive Inside….

The power of music to reach older folks…in magical and motivating ways. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKDXuCE7LeQ&feature=related  

Jack Levine, Founder
4Generations Institute

850.567.5252 (mobile/voicemail)
P.O. Box 10875 Tallahassee, FL 32302
The Advocate’s Credo:
Thou art my child, my parent, and my elder,
I love thee best,
But could not love thee half as much,
Loved I not all the rest.


Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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