Editor's Note from the Cobb Institute: The following is an excerpted recording and transcript taken from the final session of the “Process of Gardening” learning circle we hosted earlier this year. If you would like to learn about how to plan, plant, compost, and harvest your own food-producing garden, click here to access all of the recordings.
I'm going to talk a little bit about the process approach to gardening. . . . Whitehead’s philosophy is dense. I have to really pare it down for myself to understand what it is that I do on a daily basis as a farmer. Because I started to call myself a process farmer doing process farming, and people were asking me, "Well, what is that?" And I said, "Well, ya, what is that?" So I had to keep it really simple. So that's . . . what I think about a lot on a daily basis of how I put process into practice in my garden or on my farm. And it's basically really simple, like some of the things we talked about.
Something that I talked about last week was the ecosystem that we work in, that we introduce ourselves into, or the ecosystem that we're building. An ecosystem is basically comprised of all living things that share an environment, from plants and animals to microscopic organisms, everything in an ecosystem has an important role that brings balance, continuity, and beauty. But this idea of interconnectedness is really really important to me, and has been really really important to me in other areas of my life. We are inextricably bound to everything else. The Buddhists speak of dependent origination, that everything originates dependent on everything else. There's nothing that originates independent by itself. . . . Also, the Buddhist notion of impermanence, that we're in this constant state of change, that nothing is permanent, we're always in constant state of change. But this interconnectness that we live in, every time that I walk in to my farm I really really try to pay attention to the ways in which I am connected to everything else in that farm. And I think the more that I can pay attention to that the more successful a farmer I am.
And that's why the first thing I have my students do when they come to the farm . . . is to take a walk through the farm. A silent walk through the farm, they're not to talk to anyone. On their own, they walk from end to end, and I want them to just observe. I want them to listen, and I want them to see, and I want them to think about what's going on. I want them to pay attention to what's going on in the farm. How are the plants doing? Is there any plant that looks sick? Is there any plant that looks like it's undernourished, or wilting because it doesn't have enough water? Is there something that looks like it's being over-watered? Have any visitors come into the farm that, we welcome them, and we're grateful for them. Maybe we see an influx of ladybugs coming in, and we know we're doing the right thing. And we welcome them with gratitude. Maybe we see our kale plants being infested with aphids, and so we pay attention to that, and we begin to think, “Okay, what do I need to do?”
And the more deeply that I know how connected I am to that ecosystem, it will cause me to act in a different way.
But also we're thinking about ourself, and our place in that ecosystem, because the moment I step into my farm I have become a part of that ecosystem. And the more deeply that I know how connected I am to that ecosystem, it will cause me to act in a different way. And I think that that's one of the huge problems with our industrial food system now. I call it our broken relationship with food in this country. We're not involved in the production of our food, we've left that up to somebody else who’s doing it in some way that we have no idea what they’re doing. And so we've lost our connection with our food, and in that we've lost our connection with the earth, because we no longer interact with the earth again. So if we can get up and go out, and even if it's in a pot on our back patio or a raised bed in our backyard, and begin to til the soil again, and to be involved in the production of food again, it reminds us of who we really are–adamah, a person of the clay. We were born out of the earth, connected to the earth, and when we lose connection with the earth we lose connection with ourself. When we forget about that we forget about ourself. John Deere, the great Catholic peacemaker, called it “the great forgetting.” We've forgotten who we are. And so, for me, it's like entering back into the Garden of Eden, back into that garden, is to remember again the first responsibility that we were given was to care for the garden, to care for creation. Because there's something about caring for creation that places us in right relationship with all of creation. And in that moment we remember who we are fully, and who are supposed to be. And we are so disconnected from creation. And when we're so disconnected from creation, and we operate from this harmful interpretation of scripture, of “having dominion over,” then we can do anything we want to creation, and think that there's no consequence. And we know that's just not the case.
And so I think we're wreaking havoc on creation, because we've forgotten who we are. And so that's why I say we need to be brought back into right alignment, into right relationship with our food. And the only way I think we can do that is to bring the production of food closer to us, to where we can begin to smell and sense and see and hear and taste and touch the earth, and the growth of food again, and remember who we are as human beings. I think it's one of the greatest acts that we can do, so I really really hope that everyone will get involved in this act in some small or large way. So for me that's kind of process thinking . . . it reminds us of how interconnected we are, and how we're connected to the soil, the seed, the water, the air, the plants, the sun.
I remember a poem . . . that I can't rightly remember off the top of my head that Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Buddhist monk, wrote about looking into the paper that he was writing his poem on with his pen, and looking into the paper, and asking, “Can you see the cloud in that paper?” The cloud that brought rain that watered the tree that was used to create the paper that he was now writing on. Can we look that close, and pay attention that much, to what's going on in the ecosystem that we exist in. And for me this is process, slowing down, paying attention, understanding again, understanding how we're all interconnected.
So we talked about soil, we talked about seed, we talked about plants, we’re talking about harvesting, we’re talking about the elements. All of these are all necessary in order to bring this [holding up the basket in the photo above] to the table. Think about that when you look at this basket of vegetables that I harvested from our farm. And these are all our cool-season vegetables. But think about all the energy that it took to create this, all the time and patience and care, and loving and understanding; and all the microbes, the things that we can’t even see that were at work in the soil; the air, the sun that came, the wind that blew, the rain that came, and the farmer that’s tilling the soil; the bees and the butterflies and the aphids; and all of that working together, interconnected in this garden, brought forth the bounty we can now bring to our table, and enjoy in a great communal experience."
Conversation overheard at an imaginary Community Garden
Is the process network like a community garden?
Yes, it is.
What does it try to cultivate?
Four hopes: whole persons, whole communities, a whole planet, and holistic thinking.
What kinds of people are part of it?
Teachers, poets, philosophers, farmers, homemakers, theologians, and wide range of others. All are culture-gardeners. seeking to plant seeds for the four hopes.
Are they all "Whiteheadians" ?
No. The process movement is indebted to Whitehead, but it includes much more than "Whitehead" these days.
What holds the gardeners together?
The four hopes and general ideas such as "everything is connected" and "all living beings have intrinsic value" and "the whole world is in process."
What about God?
Many believe in God, but some are non-theistic. And even those believe in God have different emphases. See the Six Ways of Understanding God in process theology.
How might I become part of the community?
Learn about the process approach to life as best you can, and plant seeds in your own way. If you want to think of yourself as part of the community, you are part of it.
Where can I plant the seeds?
Right where you are, wherever that is: at home, in the workplace, in your local community, in your city, in your nation.
Are there organizations that might help me in my seed planting?
Yes, you can. They are springboards for gardening.
Cultivating Green Space
The Process Network as a Community of Culture-Gardeners
What is the international process community? It is not a collection of philosophers and theologians, but a community culture-gardeners who are trying to help create green space in the world. A "culture-gardener" is someone who feels called to beauty to the world and help reduce suffering be adding a healing spirit to the culture or cultures of which she is a part. Her culture can be a family, a neighborhood, a house of faith, a workplace, a village, a town, a city, or a nation.
The gardeners in the process community come from different walks of life. Some are philosophers, some artists, some businesspeople, some clergy, some social workers, some politicians, and some homemakers. Some are religious and some are "spiritual but not religious." The process community is multi-faith.
What is their purpose? They are trying to "green spaces" for themselves and the world. "Green space" is a metaphor for four hopes, four aspirational ideals, that animate their work: whole persons, whole communities, a whole planet, and holistic thinking. The gardeners have many different tools: trowels, shovels, gloves, watering cans. But one of their most important tools is their own imagination, shaped by process and relational ways of thinking.
This imaginative tool can itself be imagined organically, as a living tree. The roots of the tree are the many ideas developed by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead in his philosophy of organism and by other process thinkers. The trunk consists of more general ideas which have been developed by subsequent thinkers from different cultures, adding creativity of their own. Scroll down for a slide show naming some of those ideas, The branches consist of the many ways in which these ideas are being applied to daily life and community development.
The gardeners have different emphases and interests. Some focus on the roots; others focus on the trunk; and others on the branches. They do not prioritize these, as if the roots are more important than the branches. They are glad people have different emphases. Differences make the whole richer.
Today, many culture-gardeners in the process community are especially interested in the branches and the trunk, and less focused on the philosophy of Whitehead. Additionally, they have realized that Whitehead is not entirely unique; there are other holistic philosophies leading to the trunk and branches. So many place less emphasis on Whitehead's metaphysics.
All of the gardeners wish for a different kind of world, one that is kinder and gentler, more compassionate and just. The seek a new kind of civilization where people live with respect and care for one another and the community of life. They call it Ecological Civilization. Scroll down for a slide show. And some speak of certain "transformations" - fourteen of them - needed in our time.
How to become a cultural gardener? First things first, being a process gardener does not require that you be a philosopher or academic, and it does not compete with participating in other communities: religious, ethnic, vocational, neighborly, familial, and local. The process community is not isolated or exclusive. Other communities may well enrich you seed-planting in ways that the process community cannot. Welcome, and pick up that trowel.