Saturday, September 15, 2007

Good for the economy

Turns out, it's a little too early for passionfruit planting, at least according to the erstwhile owner of Jeremy the goat (lately of 'Hobart'), who lives down the hill in a little house with a small and lovely kitchen garden. But there were strawberries to be planted in response to Lucy's stated 'never too many' policy, and as I placed these around the garden, in pots and beds, in a no doubt doomed attempt to ensure at least some escape Lu's impatience and ripen to the point of redness, I did some thinking.

I was thinking about why this matters, this planting and feeding, and how the garden and the girls intersect to form something so fundamental to my life.

Georg Simmel, one of my favourite sociologists, wrote with concern about money. He believed that when it became the primary form of exchange in the world, social relations would change, transforming from personal and emotional connections into rational, bounded and ends-focused transactions. How much we get would become far more important than how we get it. Simmel predicted a greater circulation of money would, ironically, impoverish our links with each other. There's some evidence to suggest this hasn't happened, and that in fact people invest money with cultural and personal significance. But I don't think that significance is as emotionally resonant as the shared and idiosyncratic exchanges I am weaving (planting? growing? - oh, the sensitive question of when to pun) into our lives through the garden.

The garden matters because it is a way of tying my family together, creating an economy based on love and care. Money matters too, and it is a prime element of my role in the family - I bring home the bacon - but I don't want that role to be the focus my relationships with Al, Lu and Nell. In true breadwinner style, I'm proud I can support my family but I want to fill our coffers with good memories, resilience, opportunity and sense of shared purpose. I want us all to feel we contribute to the give and take which is part of family life. I want our exchanges to focus on a set of values that can't be written with a dollar sign in front of them. Families make these exchanges in different ways and through different media: sewing, knitting, sharing passions, buying gifts, through experiencing travel or food or art together, or watching T.V. on the couch on a Sunday night, commenting on the footy or laughing at the same jokes. In our little unit, the garden is the focus. When I garden I'm investing the economy that matters most to me.

Circling outward, our garden gives the girls a choice as to which economy they engage with, and when. Thinking back on the discussions of 'frugal', I like the idea of a mindfulness of how we live our lives. My default position is 'don't buy' rather than 'buy' and I have a whole set of resources that allow me to adopt this approach in my life. Gardening is a way of sharing these resources with the kids: the practical ones (this is how you grow a tomato) and the intellectual and philosophical ones (this is what we value, these are the things we think about). In the end, they'll adopt or reject what I offer them, and that's fine(ish - how will I feel if they don't care to know the difference between a pumpkin and a potato?) because what I really want to gift to them is choice.

I took this photo at the beginning of the year, when Nell was still very new to the world, and I love it still.

A family meal, taken from and shared in the garden. A valued and ordinary part of our lives, and very good for the economy that matters the most.


Matt said...

Your default position of "don't buy" is very wise, IMO. I have too often bought something without thinking through its impact on my life.

I try to only buy things that facilitate my life, not things that change it, or encumber it.

VictoriaE said...

So true, about the money and the making and the family connections. And you explain it well. I learn things from your writings.

Janet said...

I've been pondering your "why do we do this?" gardening question too, and your answer also resonates with me. There are some interesting conversations at work where others marvel that our family can live on one income and I think it really comes down to doing & making rather than buying, as a lifestyle. Not that we're perfect in that regard... but we do try. I think our cultures view of economic growth as an indicator of progress has a lot to answer for. An irony that's not lost on me as I do my job, informing parents of their new requirement to seek work as part receiving payment from the govt. Oh dear, I've gone a bit, perhaps I should go and commune with the lettuce in the glow of the city night.