MLK Day, the Gift Economy and Seaweed

It is MLK Day and I took the morning to read a book my sister Lizzy gave me for Christmas, Braiding Sweetgrass: Idigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

That is what I want, Wisdom, Knowledge and Teaching. I got all three this week from Dr. Martin Luther King and Kimmerer, wisdom, knowledge and teaching. I learn directly from Kimmerer by reading her words. This week I learned from King indirectly through the sixth graders at the Community Charter School of Cambridge. The students made a “quilt” of his quotes. The paper quilt was their drawing of King’s words and how those words fit with their familys’ and their own wisdom, knowledge, and teaching. The paper quilt is a gift to me as a teacher and King’s words are gifts to us all.

Kimmerer is teaching me about the ways a “gift economy” works and the lessons of plants. So far I have only read about sweetgrass, pecan trees and wild strawberries. From reading Kimmerer I realized that Carrot Day is part of the “gift economy.” Here is what Kimmerer says about a “gift economy”

“Sweetgrass belongs to Mother Earth. Sweetgrass pickers collect properly and respectfully, for their own use and the needs of their community. They return a gift to the earth and tend to the well-being of the wiinggashk. The braids are given as gifts, to honor, to say thank you, to heal and to strengthen. The sweetgrass is kept in motion. When Wally gives the sweetgrass to the fire, it is a gift that has passed from hand to hand, growing richer as it is honored in every exchange.

That is the fundamental nature of gifts: they move, and their value increases with their passage. …. The more something is shared, the greater its value becomes.”

In the Hull Garden

One of my favorite lessons as a garden teacher was and is that the soil gives us the gift of the harvest and we in return need to give the soil gifts. I believe and have taught that lesson for more than twenty years.  I believe that the goal of the gardener is not harvesting vegetables but building soil. I looked at the garden today and saw many things I liked, but I also saw where I had not given back to the soil and had not followed my own teachings.

Pictured above: Left to right spinach under a cold frame, lettuce and mustard under a cold frame, kale unprotected, and collards with their protective buckets for cold spells.

Back in December after the neighborhood kids and I had harvested the carrots and celebrated Carrot Day I did nothing to give back to the soil. To be good to the soil a gardener needs to be continuously adding and giving back and it is selfish and unwise to leave the earth bare in any season, including winter. The central focus of regenerative gardening is to protect the soil from washing away and to create conditions where the soil can develop a healthy and carbon capturing ecosystem. In this case of the carrot bed I have not done that and the degrading of the soil is clear to me in the photo below.

Bare ground where carrots had grown in 2021

Only once since the carrots were harvested have I tried to collect seaweed. None was there the day that I went. But there have been many days when I did not go and there were a huge gifts from the sea that I did not take. 

October 30th in Hull and the gift of seaweed not taken

My goal this week is to keep checking and when there is seaweed to lay it on top of the garden.

I hope you can read King today and I hope you can read Braiding Sweetgrass someday. King and Kimmerer’s words are gifts that are there to be accepted. May we all embrace the “gift economy” and the notion that, the more gifts are shared, the more value and love there is in the world.

The seeds have been shipped to me from Fedco but they have not yet arrived here but I can’t wait to send them to all of you when they do come! And I promise to give back to the soil and I hope you do so too, no matter if “your soil” is in your garden or in “your community.”

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