Lessons from the Garden
For several years, our church has partnered with the East Side Health District’s Community Garden. We have nine plots which some of the church families plant, weed, and harvest. Pre-schoolers to seniors participate. So far this year we have planted tomatoes, onions, carrots, green and red lettuce, green and red cabbage, butter lettuce, kale, turnips, Swiss chard, collard greens, and sweet and hot peppers. Each week, the harvest is taken to the church and given to anyone who wants healthy food. The process is exciting to all involved. To see food appear out of the ground from a tiny seed we planted is amazing.
Mrs. Elizabeth Whiteside, garden director, has taught us valuable gardening lessons. We must know which veggies can be grown together in the same plot and which ones need to be planted alone because they need more room to expand. Tomatoes need stakes to hold the heavy bushes up, lettuce stays in place, and cucumber vines can be trellised. Many enjoy okra even though it grows three to six feet tall and must be harvested wearing gloves and sleeves because of its spine. We planted marigolds among the vegetables to help ward off the bugs. But the marigold cannot do the job alone, so we sprinkle flour and red pepper as added protection. Rich soil, water, and sunlight are of the utmost importance, but they grow vegetables and weeds indiscriminately. The vegetable must trust that the gardener knows the difference between it and an unwanted weed. The final element to an abundant harvest is time. We must give each vegetable the time it needs to grow to maturity. We cannot harvest them all at the same time, even though they were planted at the same time.
The lessons of the garden are the lessons of life. Some of the lessons the garden teaches are as follows:
1. Some plants grow well together (lettuce and cabbage), while others need space alone (okra). Life lesson: People are the same way. There are seasons when we thrive in the tribe, the village, the group, or the plot. But there are other seasons when we are thorny with bad attitudes or God is dealing with us, and we need to be alone. Both seasons are acceptable. We just need to know what season we are in at any given time. Eccl. 3:1 says, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
2. Some vegetables need trellises, some stakes, and some stand alone with no help. If they do not receive the proper support their fruit will be at the mercy of disease, animals, and feet. Life Lesson: We must not allow pride to keep us from admitting when we need help standing. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverb 16:18).
3. Like okra, some people have large, abrasive personalities. Life Lessons: That does not mean we cannot enjoy their company. It means we interact with them clothed with the protection of Godly love and a soft voice. ‘Love never fails” (I Cor. 13:8) and “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).
4. Marigolds need to be supplemented with flour and red pepper to ward off bugs (harmful insects). Life Lesson: We must deal with bugs in life: software bugs, bed bugs, viruses and bacteria, a microscopic microphone for spying, and annoying people. We can often get rid of them in a nice marigold way by gently declining invitations or conversations. But sometimes we need to use flour and red pepper by bringing to their attention each time they are abrasive and refusing to be the object of their dysfunction.
5. Soil, sun and water grow plants and weeds indiscriminately. In the natural garden we pick the weeds so that the vegetables will have no competition for nourishment. Life Lesson: Jesus said the Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). We must trust that God knows how to take good care of us even when it seems the unbeliever is doing better than us. Prov. 23:17-18 says, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.”
6. Vegetables needs different amounts of time to grow to maturity: spinach - 28 to 42 days, eggplant – 55 to 70 days, and jalapeno peppers – 80 to 110 days. Life Lesson: People need different times to mature also. Some people come into the kingdom with more baggage than others and need more time to embrace the truths of the Bible. For example, a person who did not have a natural father may have difficulty receiving God as Father. But it will happen in due season because the Father will not leave you where He found you. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11).
7. Children from pre-school to high school enjoy volunteering in the garden. Life Lesson: Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” A child who plants a tiny carrot seed, waters it, weeds it, and harvests it, will gladly eat it. Participation in the garden is an excellent way to promote a healthy eating lifestyle.
8. An old adage says “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he can eat for a lifetime”. The families who volunteer in the garden reap personal satisfaction, valuable knowledge, and enriching fellowship. Those who don’t volunteer just receive the crops on Sunday. Life Lesson: a person is crippled if he only knows how to receive, but never learn how to produce for himself and others.
The garden has reminded me that God is wise, in full control, and does all things well. An abundant life is mine if I understand God’s process and put in the work.