by Craig Oshkello
The local farm supply store, a seventh generation family business, left a message for me on Shabbat. Probably not aware that it was the fourteenth day of the counting of the Omer, they let me know the barley has arrived. I am one of a growing number of Jews that are leading a lifestyle based on environmental stewardship and social justice. As a Jew in the diaspora this path had yielded deeper meaning in my spiritual growth and a stronger connection to/ longing for the land of Israel.
It is now Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night) and there is a buzz on the farm. Although the north faces of the 4000 foot mountains on the horizon are still under 65” of snow, the first flowers are blooming here at 800 feet above sea level at our home in the valley.
Colts foot, Trout Lily, Marsh Marigold, Trillium, Lady’s Slipper and Blood Root are all of the first to bloom. They are “ephemeral” species whose bloom and foliage will disappear in a month. First to flower among the trees, the White Poplar, has a distinctly hairy looking flower locally referred to as “Popple Fuzz”, is now joined in a subtle symphony of tree flowers that rivals the beauty of their fall foliage. Pinks, reds, peach, white, golden, silver hues which adorn the valleys today will progress up the hillsides and yield to as many shades of green as the season evolves. It was over three months ago when we celebrated these trees birthday. Is this now a display of their adolescence? What is the connection with our ancestors and how did I get here? After 19 years of living and farming in this bioregion, I do know that these are some of the phenomena that serve as signs for to take specific actions on the ground to sustain the healthful and miraculous relationship I have with the food we grow.
After writing this piece, I will harness the metaphorical horses and drive over to Kenyon’s to pick up the barley seed. With the warming temps and moist soil today will be a good day to plant the barley and seed another plot of spring wheat, one of rye and another of oats and peas. While the fruit of the barley will not mature in time for Shavuot, nor will any fruit mature in the next 35 days, I feel a soulful longing for the place of my ancestors held in creative tension with the joys of my life of freedom. While I try to make sense of this on the first two of the four worlds, I revel in the ability to tell a story that weaves elements of the past present and future into a diasporatic earth based journey from Pesach to Shavuot. In remembrance of Yom Hazikaron, I will stop by my friend’s nursery and purchase some of his horseradish roots to plant in our perennial beds, on the sunny side of the hazelnuts, between some masses of Echinacea plants. In preparation for a farm to school event and for a Mother’s Day celebration I will work with my wife Sephirah today to prepare some of the vegetable plots for planting peas this week. In 2003, we bought northern chickpea seed, which is different from a garbanzo bean (think about that…), which we have been growing, saving seed from, and making hummus with ever since. This year we will appropriate a Native American agricultural practice of planting corn, beans and squash with a chickpea substitution and allow its 6’ vines to trellis up the corn stalks. This phenomenon of companion planting also referred to as plant guilds are exciting ways to maximize plant diversity in an more permanent agricultural system.
Engaging in processes of creation is a sacred and meaningful practice. In my experience of growing plants, there are always more questions than answers. Starting small with intention will yield the best results. Whether you are an experienced grower, or a first timer, the myriad combinations of plants that can be grown together creates an exciting opportunity for creative expression in your garden. I encourage you to grow plants this year. Plan for three species that you can plant together in your garden, on a container on your patio, or in a window box inside your apartment. Take the time to nurture this intention and consider your place in the world. Plants offer a marvelous reflection onto the nature of our universe.
Blessings on your journey,
Living Tree Alliance, Vermont USA
**Renewal Concept of Four Worlds – https://aleph.org/four-worlds-judaism
**Container Gardens – https://www.bhg.com/gardening/container/
**Plant Guilds – https://permaculturenews.org/2016/08/22/guilds-small-scale-home-
Living Tree Alliance is a Hakhel community. Learn more about Hakhel – the first-of-its-kind Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator