Friday, August 10, 2012

The Lessons of Rosemary

“A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth:  a place, a resource, an economy.” 
~ Wendell Berry

The idea of local production is romantic, it’s earthy. The image of a small business owner working side-by-side with their employees or an independent farmer walking crops is an image of concern and compassion. Concern for the welfare of community who contributes to the success of a product; compassion for the product itself. It’s an image we adore. But it’s also an image we don’t understand. In the age of Wal-Mart and Amazon it’s no surprise. Convenience and, yes, laziness, has led to insensitive consumption. And, ultimately, it has created a culture where local is foreign.

So what is the value of going local? What is the value of community? In The Art of the Commonplace, Wendell Berry writes, “A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth:  a place, a resource, an economy.” He continues, “It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members.”

To illustrate I will point to a microcosm of personal experience. I like to cook. And though I’ll admit I am an adolescent in the art of cuisine, I find my adventures in the kitchen enjoyable. I enjoy sharing the experience with family and friends. Likewise, I enjoy the time of personal reflection when cooking alone. Not long ago I decided to contribute to these humbling adventures. ‘I should,’ I thought to myself, ‘at least try to have a hand in producing a part of the ingredients that help provide these experiences.’ Needless to say, I am a novice in the art of crop science. So I went small and tried my hand at growing rosemary.

It seems trivial. Regardless, the few seeds I planted became a source of awareness. Each day I made sure that the soil was neither too dry nor overly-saturated. I ensured that it received enough sunlight. And my aging and increasingly blind dog did not mistake the pot for a new fire hydrant. In short, I cared. I took pride and showed concern for that which I produced.

Parallels can be drawn with local economy. There is the need to produce food for local consumption. Hence, it is practical.

But, as Berry writes, it is also social. That which we create is an extension of us. It represents us. It is our livelihood. And therein lays value. In the present condition of our massive, ill-contrived corporate economy we rely on the ever evolving and questionable ethics of big business to provide service. But when something is produced locally for local consumption it engenders conscience and accountability. 

And, finally, it is human.  While growing my humble crop I found that I had too much. Rather than dispose of it I shared it with family, friends, and neighbors. One thing led to another, and my family, friends, and neighbors shared with me. In the end, many a fine meal was prepared and enjoyed in the company of others.