Reconciliation & Friendship Gardening

— Deb Burger —

Hello, friends!
I’m a very long distance member of the Mustard Seed Associates community, but I do read facebook posts, your email newsletters, and do pray for and with you.  I have been reflecting and listening, in response to your question, “What does a reconciler look like?”, and specifically the challenge to figure out how to “establish people on the land, and the seeds of community.”

It came to me, to share with you a land-based community-seed project that we have been living for the past 2 years.  I know that God works in so many different ways, and that what is “perfect” in one place/time/community/set of circumstances, is NOT necessarily replicable somewhere else, just because it’s a “good idea.”  Yet, it’s also true that sometimes an experience in one part of the Body can inspire, inform, or offer some specific encouragement, to another part– even if the result looks drastically different.  So, it’s with that understanding that I offer the following description of Friendship Gardening:

Our friendship garden provides food, pleasure, beauty, fellowship, and healthy co-working for 3-5 families each summer.  First of all, what it’s NOT.  It’s NOT  regular community garden.  In most community gardens, each person or family has their own assigned plot, and plants, nurtures and harvests from that plot, regardless (to a large extent) of what’s happening in the neighboring plots.

reconciler.1Our garden is made up of smallish biointensive raised beds, but all of them “belong” to all the gardeners.  We decide together as a group, what crops we want to grow, and we all share in the work of preparing, planting, nurturing, making compost, watering, harvesting, preserving.  Each person has and each family has, their own limitations as to strength, energy, time, money, know-how…. but the first rule is “no guilt and no obligation.”  Each person puts in whatever they reasonably feel that they can– time, effort, money.

The space is the backyard belonging to my husband and me.  We provide the space for the garden and dwarf orchard and berry patch, and the composting bins, along with a basic supply of gloves and hand tools.  We have several decades reconciler.3of experience growing organic food by hand, but we’re older and have some health/strength issues.

Our own children and grandchildren live too far away to garden with us.  Another older couple has zero garden space on their tiny lot, the wife is battling cancer and some other health issues, but they are faithfully present, and the husband absolutely loves to manage the watering systems.  Ideal for when my husband and I go away to visit our children.  A couple of younger families have very little gardening experience/knowledge, but endless enthusiasm, strong muscles for turning compost and digging beds, shoveling mulch and pulling weeds.  They also provide the delightful presence of children.

All summer long, people come and go– there is a running list of tasks (large and small) that need to be done, and a watering schedule.  Whoever shows up on a particular day looks at the list, does what they can, and crosses off what they have done.  If they notice something that needs doing, but is not on the list, they either do it, or add it to the list.  When it’s time to harvest, the families stop by each week, on various days, to pick their veggies and fruit, or to pick for another family and deliver to them.

reconciler.2We get together in late summer and fall, for canning parties and put up much of the harvest for winter.  Each family provides as many jars as they are able, and we all work together to process the tomato sauce, catsup, salsa, pickles, preserves, etc.  The older are teaching the younger; the garden and orchard and berry patch are under nearly constant supervision, and we also have plenty of food, as a group, to give away to our local food pantry.

We’re working toward even greater support of the local food pantry, so that our little “collective” can have more of an outreach into the wider community, sharing more with those who have less.  We are also in conversation with several other gardeners, about the possibility of creating another, larger Friendship Garden, whose purpose would specifically be to supplement the food of the Senior Citizens living in the low-income-seniors apartment building in our town.  If it comes about, that garden will be located on land that is NOT part of a private dwelling, but either at a church, or on land adjacent to the sr. citizens’ housing.  In either of those locations, we will have to rely on the sense of community, to prevent destruction by vandals, as much as possible.

Nearby, in the next town to ours, a neighborhood is planting a Food Forest, where the produce of the bushes and trees will be free for all takers, in an empty area near their neighborhood.

Whether some one, or some few, actually live on a piece of land, or not, I believe that when the larger community sees and experiences that piece of land being used to benefit all of them, and when their involvement is allowed or encouraged, then there is less likelihood of the wider community feeling resentful, or of merely discounting the value of “absent” owners.

There are probably various possibilities for the Camano property, including but not limited to, growing food for the island community, that would make it seem to them as less of an intrusion of wealthy but usually absent religious nuts– and more a precious part of their community.

If a few individuals or families who are members of the Mustard Seed family, can be found who want to actually take up residence on or near the facility, with a view to offering gifts of time, knowledge, creativity, etc. to the island community, then who knows what could come of that partnership?

I know that at the southern end of the island, the State Park and the Center for Wooden Boats have a partnership that works with “at risk” teens from various parts of western Washington, teaching them boatbuilding, conservation, marine biology, and boating skills, providing creative outlet and building a sense of individual competence and worth.  Those teens end up being too busy doing the good stuff that is offered to them (free) to be motivated for much in the way of destruction or vandalism.

Perhaps there are practical ways that the Mustard Seed community can partner with the island resident community, to bless and use the land in ways that seem less like occasional invasions of mainlanders, and more like ‘part of the island’.  It may have to do with gardening, or with a food forest, or with offering spiritual and practical regular events for the community.  Or it may be that what’s working in other places is really not relevant to the particular needs and vision for that piece of land.  I don’t know, and as I said, only offer these as possible fodder for the creative imagination and prayer of the Northwestern resident parts of the Mustard Seed community.

Peace, blessing, and gratitude for all you are doing, and the attitude with which it’s being done,
Deb Burger


Deb Burger, artist, designer, author, gardener, wife, mother, and grandmother, lives and plays in the mountains of eastern Tennessee with her potter/musician/painter husband Don. Deb’s lifelong passion for organic gardening is currently expressed as “captain” of Dragonfly Cottage Friendship Garden, and she follows Jesus in the company of Jonesborough Presbyterian Church.