About a month ago I was turning the soil—late of course—for our garden. This year I decided to expand it a bit to plant a few more vegetables and increase our canning capabilities (With number 7 on the way, one can’t have enough tomatoes for spaghetti sauce!). The soil was ideal for planting as it was moist from the previous few days’ rain and the work, while difficult with only a spade, turned out to provide me with a deeper insight into what truly is fertile soil.
My three-year old daughter, Meg, came out to the garden and was watching me work. Typical of a little girl her age, she began asking me questions about what I was doing and why. The thing that really interested her, however, was the abundance of earthworms that I was turning up. Prudently cautious, she was intrigued—but from a distance. I picked a rather small worm out of the soil and showed it to her in my hand. She look intently at it and asked “where’s the worm’s mommy and daddy?” I told her that they were probably somewhere in the garden. A moment later, with Meg watching, I unearthed a very large earthworm and she shouted “that must be the dad earthworm! Where’s the mommy?” I chuckled at this scene and I also thought about how the fundamental truths of life may be found in a garden.
Elsewhere I have written on—what I will call—the intellectual posture of the Distributist. Some of the typical charges against Distributism are that it is “nostalgic medievalism,” “unworkable,” “unrealistic,” “heavy on philosophy, light on practical solutions,” etc. On the contrary, the Distributist tends not to be unrealistic, but quite realistic. In being realistic he is being human, which, yes, means being philosophical. And far from being light on practical solutions, he is most practical in the solutions he seeks in order to live a more humane life. A garden is both philosophical and practical. It is also theological, as that is where God created man to be.
I have found in many discussions with those who would make the aforementioned charges against Distributism, that the one way to have them take seriously the Distributist ideal is to ask the inquisitor whether he desires more or less freedom. Predictably, the respondent will say that he desires more freedom. That, it seems to me, is a good starting point for the Distributist to begin discussing his creed. In its essence Distributism is about freedom and living a more humane life. Freedom, in its very basic definition, means the ability to choose. This, along with the intellect, is the very thing that defines a human person. A human person is endowed with a free will and therefore the nature of man is to be free. Rarely do the critics of Distributism wish to delve into these philosophical realms. Yet by doing so and looking more closely at and understanding the nature of man, one’s view of the world is forever changed. A new perspective dawns! How much more does our perspective change then when we realize, through Divine Revelation, that man is made in the image of God!
From man’s free nature, one can reason to man’s creation as being from another free agent—God. There’s an old maxim in philosophy, “one cannot give what one doesn’t have.” How do the evolutionists, who opine that man arose from some sort of primordial sludge, account for man’s free nature: his ability to reason, reflect, use his imagination? His ability to choose? These endowments must have come from some other free agent. Yet, because man has this awesome freedom, it doesn’t mean that he always uses it wisely. He can and does choose things which are evil. His freedom can be shackled by his poor choices. Addictions or easy submission to lesser goods for his immediate pleasure can and does restrict and diminish his freedom. The proper use of freedom is the ability to choose the good and live in the truth. Understood this way, persons must ask themselves what choices will be most consonant with their nature? The ancients have given us an answer: living uprightly or living according to our nature. Homer, Cicero, Aristotle and the great pagan thinkers of antiquity have agreed upon this point. Our Lord—in His eternal wisdom—then came in the fullness of time to show us how to live uprightly. He used the things of His creation to sanctify us and assist us in this way of living.
This is why everybody should have a garden. There is something to be said for the position that in getting away from the land, man moves further away from his own nature. Do not misunderstand. This is not an argument for a “flee to the fields” mentality (though I respect those principled persons who advocate such a radical change). It is, however, both a philosophical as well as practical suggestion that is eminently human and part of the intellectual posture of the Distributist. Whether you live on a farm, in the suburbs, or have an apartment in a big city, everybody should have a garden. There is nothing like enjoying a fresh tomato or preparing a meal with fresh herbs. In cultivating a piece of earth—even if it is in a little planter on the back porch steps of one’s Chicago apartment—it is a step toward independence: an act of freedom. It may require work and patience, but these are virtues that are an antidote to the culture of instant gratification. Likewise, raising vegetables in a little garden will provide those opportunities—rare in our hectic modern world—for reflection and contemplation. To plant a seed and watch it over a period of months, through the change of seasons, develop into a plant and then bear fruit is a metaphor of the intellectual and spiritual life taught by Our Lord. To truly understand that He is the vine and we are the branches, or the parable of the mustard seed, or the sower whose seeds fell on good soil, we must have an experience of this natural wonder. This is nothing other than using the created realities that a good and generous God has given us in order to appreciate and understand our own lives and the life of Him who made them. How much richer our spiritual lives will be as the result of the simple act of cultivating a bit of earth. Finally, how rich also will our family lives be when we can explain the mystery of life to our daughters; when we can share a moment of wonder and laughter together in the garden; and when we realize that the fertile soil that we have been tilling is our intellect and will to the good of our country and to the glory of God.