Archives for posts with tag: garden

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A group of friends was discussing how a program grows in communities at varying stages of development, and the term “organic growth” came up and needed some clarifying.

In the beginning, growth is often a bit of a mess. Somebody tries something. Somebody else tries something else. Something catches on. Something else doesn’t. Maybe people talk to each other about what they’re doing, and maybe not. Patches of activity sputter to life and die out again. Conversations happen, or they don’t. Peopleusually individuals, but sometimes small groupsdo what they can, in whatever ways seem to open.

There’s not a problem with these initial messy efforts. It’s a beautiful mess, after all, seeing growth where there wasn’t any before. And it makes little sense to compare a community at this stage and feel terrible, comparing with more advanced communities that have all kinds of structures in place: teams focused on specific lines of action, coordinators for educational programs, committees thinking about quarterly cycles of activity, annual calendars, budgets, resources … all these things develop with effort and experience and time.

But sometimes, in an effort to avoid comparisons and feel better about where we are, we say things like “Well, we’re growing organically right now.” And that’s not necessarily accurate.

Organic growth, of course, isn’t the same thing as frenetic growth. It doesn’t mean the same thing as “without structure” or “without a plan.” Anyone who has ever gardened or taken regular walks in the woods has seen organic growth in action. A plant will absolutely adapt to the local environment as it sprouts and grows, taking advantage of light, moisture, space, and support wherever they may be found. But there is still a structure and an order to this growth. Stems grow before buds. Leaves appear at particular intervals in relation to one another regardless of the circumstances. Roots go down, stems up. Every individual is different, and yet they all follow a comprehensive plan. There is a framework for organic growth.

Why does this matter? Because if we conflate organic growth with frenetic growth, the opposite of organic becomes systematic. When it comes time to grow beyond one or two or five little hubs of activity we’re unable to step forward, because the next steps are what we have viewed as the antithesis of our strengths. We cling to freneticism in the name of naturalness, not understanding that growing into structure over time is also natural.

“Systematic,” in turn, doesn’t mean “rigid,” “hierarchical,” “forced,” or even “complex.”

“Systematic” can mean taking notes after your children’s class, so that a substitute can help fill in when you’re sick.

“Systematic” can mean you and a group of friends get together over dinner once a month to talk about what you’ve been doing and reflect on what you’ve learned.

“Systematic” can mean choosing your next steps on purpose, having looked at the needs and resources around you, rather than responding in the moment to real or perceived emergencies, or panicking about growing in all ways at all times regardless of your ability to address each area of growth effectively.

Sometimes, in learning to grow from beautiful mess to systematic growth, we forget the emergent and adaptive quality that is also at the heart of an organic approach.

We appoint someone to coordinate an activity when there is nothing yet to coordinate.

We push a particular line of action without stopping to consider whether there is a foundation that can be built upon.

We cut off an area of strength in order to adhere to an unhelpful conception of “balance.”

We insist on a single approach, rather than providing a framework and seeing what emerges.

If complacence keeps us stuck in the stage of beautiful messes, it’s impatience that drives us to the other extreme. Organic growth requires a calm sense of urgency that’s not particularly encouraged in today’s society. It’s something I struggle with on a personal level myself, often mentally swinging between “everything must happen now, and here is the exact method for achieving it” and “forget this, I’m just going to do what’s pleasant and convenient regardless of the need.” It’s consultation with others that helps keep me a little more focused and level. (Thanks, y’all.)

Organic growth is about creating an environment that challenges and encourages it. We weed, we water, we provide trellises or light or heat … and the plant grows. We know what roses or tomatoes or oak trees need, but the circumstances are always a bit different on the ground. Perhaps the soil here is more acidic, or the drainage is poor. This valley is prone to floods in May, this particular plant is prone to blight.

But the only way we learn these things about our local conditions is to get out there and start a garden. And if we’ve only read books about gardening n the past, it’s probably going to be a mess at first. Mud and tears and fits and starts.

It will be amazing when the whole world has gained so much experience that we can all move smoothly into true organic growth from the start. Until then, we’ll keep working through the stage of beautiful messes and into something appropriate and new, doing our best to help our gardens grow.



During our business class in massage school, we had to write down the five things we most wanted to do before we died.

One of mine was to grow an amazing food garden.

I’ve been an apartment dweller my entire adult life, and a busy one at that. How on earth would I ever end up with the time, space, and energy for proper gardening?

No guarantees on the “proper” part, but I finally have a garden.

Four of us, all apartment dwellers, are growing food in my brother-in-law’s back yard. It’s just a little patch, mostly tomatoes, chili peppers, and herbs, with a cobbled-together compost bin in the back. We take turns watering and weeding and squealing about it online.

None of us have ever done this before. It might not be much of a harvest. But we have so much fun in the meantime, gathering to cook meals together or play cards or finish putting up a woodchuck fence.

Although it’s on private land, my garden is a “community” garden, in the truest sense of the word. It was only because of the community that any of us could build the garden. And it’s only because of the garden that this community came to be.