In this series, Gary Paul Nabhan muses on important topics relating to his forthcoming book Food from the Radical Center: Healing Our Land in Communities. In this post, he writes about community engagement.
What if each of us—as time and energy allows—tried to take a day each month to work exclusively toward the restoration of our lived-in landscape with our neighbors? What if we went beyond picking up garbage and mending cracked sidewalks, to planting trees, building check dams across downcut gullies, or sowing native grasses and wildflowers along bike paths and railways that have become barren or weedy after years of grading and spraying? All I am sure of us is that every time I have engaged with neighbors in such efforts, we grow deeper bonds between and among us. It is as if we are inoculated with some cultural form of antibodies or beneficial microbes that then help us fend off any potential assaults on our neighborhood or shared landscape from the outside. A few years back, Manda Webb, Caleb Weaver and I gathered dozens of people together to plant hedgerow after hedgerow on the edges of private orchards, community gardens, student gardens and pastures. The gratitude from our neighbors who received the pollinator-attracting trees, shrubs and wildflowers was immense, but so was the reservoir of good will that welled-up among all who offered their hands for this work. The word "communion" should not be restricted to the act of eating bread and wine together at a common table. It should be extended to our collective efforts to grow the grain and grapes and other crops needed for our common tables…to bring the old and infirm or marginalized together with us for the feasts of gratitude. Nothing much can happen in our communities over the long haul is we do not partake in the daily or monthly actions of taking care of one another and building common trust. Without it, the trees and vines will wither and die, the check dams will tumble down. Long-term landscape restoration cannot proceed without long-term confidence-building and collective actions among those of us who live in the same community and watershed. One reinforces the other.