Many folk across the Prairies are already enjoying summer salads from their gardens. I can recall the abundance, years ago, of our former backyard in Prince Albert. By mid-July we could go out to our raised beds just before a family meal with a bowl and fill it with a variety of greens, young carrots, radishes, chives with maybe a spear of late asparagus or a handful of new raspberries. The seeds we planted in May provided us with a tasty bounty, which could be enjoyed usually well into the fall.
Seeds can still be put into the ground in mid-summer. Even now a second crop of radishes and certain varieties of leaf lettuce will grow to maturity here in a northern garden, maybe even a fast maturing variety of peas. Our growing season is intense under the high northern sun and usually productive despite the threat of early fall frosts. Our first killing frost in the Yukon can occur, however, any time after the first week in September.
This is the 20th season for our community garden here in Whitehorse. When the Yukon Anti-Poverty Organization organized this as a food security initiative for low-income downtown apartment dwellers in 1997, they didn’t know then it would help spark a revival of gardening right across the territory. Now two decades later almost every community in the Yukon has a community garden along with many schools and other community groups like our Whitehorse Food Bank. A Master Gardening course at Yukon College, a seed bank administered by the territorial government, a food security network and a host of gardening talks are among the efforts continuing to build interest in gardening and local food production.
Not all of the coalition’s projects have faired so well. Efforts to get succeeding territorial governments to implement an anti-poverty strategy remain a struggle. Universal basic income security programs still seem like far-off dreams. A “housing first” approach to our homelessness challenge, though, has yielded a concrete plan, which has engaged various levels of government and local First Nations plus key community groups. This initiative looks hopeful, but this is only in its first budding now. Many hope to see real fruits from it.
Are we the sower or the seed that Jesus’ parable speaks of as told by Matthew? I believe that in many ways we are both. As Matthew says, “the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it.” We show this by living our faith daily. When we do, our active example becomes a seed planted in the hearts of those who witness our efforts. Too often it seems our efforts as individuals or communities, though, fall “on the path,” “on rocky ground” or amidst the thorns, only to be choked out or wither. This shouldn’t stop us.
With our faith, our commitment, we know we have to keep trying to bring our vision of the kingdom alive in our parishes and the world. In calm, contemplative moments we can look back over the decades and see the slow unfolding around the world of the outlines of the just, equitable and ecologically sustainable New Jerusalem we long for. Yet we have very far to go.
Some seed surely will fall “on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” How often have we been surprised by volunteer plants self-seeded from an overlooked fruit the summer before? My compost pile always yielded wonder plants to be carefully transplanted and watched. Similarly our actions unbeknown to us may trigger a fundamental change or conversion in others around us.
Some gardeners carefully lay out their rows, making sure to plant companionable varieties. Others literally cast seed generously about and hope for the best. A couple of years ago here in Whitehorse a group of young folk made “seed bombs.” Their recipe combined of three handfuls of packable soil and clay with five handfuls of a rich compost and one handful of seed. With just a bit of water this mix could be formed into balls which they would them launch into vacant lots around town.
Whatever approach we take, the desire is the same — to live out our faith. Our actions always start with a small seed, our own conversion.
We all hope to walk in the garden the psalmist speaks of, where “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” Will it ever happen? Isaiah the prophet wrote so many centuries ago of its inevitable realization. “Thus says the Lord: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
Faithful to that visionary unfolding, Paul told the early followers of Jesus in Rome that they could see it happening just as we can also today. “We know that all creation is groaning in labour pains.” And in seeing it, feeling it, we know we “have the first fruits of the Spirit” calling us on to continue being the seed and the sower.
Dougherty is co-chair of the Social Justice Committee at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse, Yukon.