Friday, June 29, 2012

#111 Collard Lessons

There were bugs in my collards, nasty little gray things that grew like mold, sucking the life out of those tender young leaves. I watched the leaves curl up and dry out—and I was devastated. I had grown those collards from seeds, marked the first little sprouts, already imagined the big juicy greens that we would be enjoying in not so many weeks—and they were dying right before my eyes. I felt powerless in the face of this nameless malignant force. It was hard to get motivated or find the time to act when I didn’t know where to start or what to do. I crushed some of the bugs, and picked off the worst infestations and threw them away, but I had no confidence that would be enough. If collards were the center of my life, or if they were the first sight to meet my eye every morning, I might have acted more quickly, more decisively. But I was busy, so the threat just hovered at the edges of my awareness. I felt diminished, like I was living under a cloud… Then I chanced upon a pre-school display of bug photos and got a name: aphids. I scolded myself, should have known. And I lived my busy life a little while longer with a threat that now had a name, till I was finally able to shove it far enough up my priority list to look up aphid control. Not willing to apply poison, or to rearrange my whole garden to provide a comprehensive organic solution, I was not hopeful. But one remedy that I found was simple—a detergent spray followed a few hours later by a cleaning spray. This I could do. Energized by the possibility, and with a clear step to take, it was easy to find the time to make a spray solution and do a careful job on each of those tender collard leaves. Then I went back a few days later and did it again. I was now feeling invigorated and powerful— not totally confident of success, but ready and willing to engage in the struggle. And so I think about our lives. We all know of nasty forces that are attacking us and those we love, sucking away at our energy, our confidence, our sense of well-being. But they feel too big, and we may not even know what they are. We don’t know what to do or how to start, so we do nothing. And doing nothing sucks a little more of the life and power out of us every day. The alternative that my collard experience offers seems pretty simple and totally worthwhile: put in the effort to give those forces a name, identify steps we have at our disposal to fight them, and then start taking those steps. Is a little soapy water enough to save my collard crop? I don’t know. Will the steps we figure out to take in our lives make a visible difference in the face of forces like materialism, greed, injustice, war or environmental destruction? I don’t know that either. Is the time spent in trying worth the effort? I believe it is—if only to let us claim us role as actors, rather than as passive witnesses to the destruction of what we love. Looking back, I wish I had been more assertive in facing that bug directly, searching out its name and deciding to do something about it. The passive endurance, tinged with despair, was the hardest part of all. DARING TO THINK-- A new economy is possible! 2012 has been named International Year of Cooperatives by the United Nations in recognition of the fact that more than 800 million people around the world belong to one of these economic networks. Coops flourish in all sectors of the economy proving that economic efficiency and equitability can co-exist. They represent a commons-based alternative to both the private market and state controlled enterprises. Four in ten Canadians are coop members (70 percent in the province of Quebec). In the U.S. 25 percent of the population belongs to at least one coop ranging from credit unions to food coops to major firms like REI and Land O’ Lakes dairy, according to the International Co-Operative Alliance In Belgium, coops account for 20 percent of pharmacies: in Brazil, 37 percent of all agricultural production is from coops; in Singapore, coops account for 55 percent of supermarket purchases: in Bolivia, one credit union handles 25 percent of all savings; in Korea and Japan, 90 percent of farmers belong to coops; in Kenya, coops account for 45 percent of the GDP; in Finland, 34 percent of forestry products, 74 percent of meat and 96 percent of dairy products come from coops. Around the world, coops provide 100 million jobs, 20 percent more than multinational companies. Some things that have made me hopeful recently: All the Occupy groups that have gone on to support folks whose houses are being foreclosed. A letter from Greece telling of all the ways people and communities there are pulling together and rediscovering core values in the midst of austerity. The two women in my community garden--and many others like them all over the country--who are tending vegetables to deliver to struggling neighborhood food pantries. Two growing movements around the financial system: a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions ( and a Move OUR Money campaign, with an emphasis on getting public money out of the big banks ( More resources: Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years:, a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world. For earlier columns, go to


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