Sunday, June 10, 2012

Building Community One Plant at a Time

It has been a few years since I have felt connected to a community. When Tristan was around ten we moved out of the big city of Portland, Me and moved north to the college town of Orono. I met Mark, we married, had a baby and moved to the small town of Milo. We  made some friends there but with a new baby I had a hard time finding a group of mom's to get together with. When we moved west to the Farmington I was able to connect with a group of women though a homeschooling co-op. It has been a great experience.

When I lived in Portland I had a group of friends, connected by children, but we would gather for book group, strawberry picking and holidays. We offered each other mutual support whenever someone had a baby, needed last minute childcare, or a shoulder to cry on. There was a constant stream of children's clothing being passed from one to another. We would offer child rearing lessons. I love that this is happening again but with  one significant difference. Most of the women I "hang" with are trying to be self reliant to one degree or another.

Some of us have some significant experience and some of us are just beginning our education. Some of us raise livestock. Some of us grow only veggies. One family has found a way to make a living teaching sustainable skills on their land. Our family is preparing to ramp up our food production and self-reliant skills in order for Mark to be self employed.

We are gathering to make things together. One mom loves getting together to help other mom's while our children play. I love group canning, even if it is just small batches. Tomorrow a couple of mom's are coming over to my home to make some salves.

One similarity to my Portland experience is the flow of children's clothing. Bags of children's clothing are shuttled between homes. We take some out and put some in. A final destination is a children's swap at The Children's Task Force.

But we are also swapping plants. I have shared elecampane, rhubarb, dahlia's. I have received strawberries, motherwort, bunching onions, sweet annie,. I have seen cabbage seedlings, brussel sprouts be moved from one hatchback to another. In some ways this is crop insurance. If someone's seedlings are not so vigorous then we are sharing our fortune with others. But it is also a form of social insurance. With each favor we offer, each bag of clothing we swap, each plant we share we are strengthening our connections.

These connections  are important. In one respect we are women following, I believe, our natural inclination to work communally. I often think of an account of an Amish Barn raising. The men and boys are outside building the barn. The women are working together in the kitchen to provide a FEAST. The meal is hearty. All the women and girls have their hands in its preparation. In one respect we could look at the meal as "women's work". But its importance to the community is as valuable as the men who are building that barn. When the meal is served the community gathers in fellowship to share the meal, thereby strengthening the social connections.

There is another reason these connections are important. No one can deny that over the last four years our economy has been difficult for some and down right hard for others. The uncertainty of our low energy future, potential financial backlash of a European debt crisis, or simply the trials of our own individual lives can challenge our best resources. It is so much more important to value these connections and work hard to sustain them. It is not difficult really. All it takes is one plant.

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