As the soil warms with the spring sun, I look forward to meeting my friends again. They’re quite small, and easily missed. But if I sit for awhile and wait, soon enough I’ll see many of these friends – the ground-dwelling bees – peek out from their homes. Some are amber, some are striped, others are tiny and metallic green. Unlike honeybees, which are a European import, many of these native bees prefer creating burrows in the ground rather than nesting in hives. I first met these friends at the Common Table Farm, where I work. Now that I know who to look for each spring, I’m eager to greet them again as they emerge for a new season.
The Common Table Farm is an urban farm project of Flemingdon Park Ministry in Toronto. We grow and distribute fresh produce in Flemingdon Park, and our work is part of a broader movement working towards food justice in our city. The pandemic has exacerbated systemic injustices that impact communities like Flemingdon Park. With the urgency of these social issues, it may not be immediately apparent why we should take time and space on the farm for also planting milkweed and flowering shrubs, as we have in the past two seasons. But when it comes down to it, it’s not the farm team who is feeding the community – it’s the bees. Without these little guys travelling amongst the flowers, vegetable production would not be possible. Their work integrates with that of the worms and microorganisms in the soil, who create the nutrient-rich conditions for our plants to grow and bear fruit.
As a member of the farm team, I’m just one of many participants in this local food (eco)system that feeds upwards of 150 families each season. I love that this incredible web of life calls me to join in this work together. This really is a community affair! There are human counterparts as well: our team is solid each year, and I could not keep up my motivation all season long without the enthusiasm brought by our volunteers.
I confess that on many days, in the busyness of trying to stay on top of tasks, I can forget the sacred and interdependent nature of this work. Thankfully, at just those times, a lance of sunlight through the maple trees may slow me down, inviting me to take a breath and remember. We are physically embedded in the world, although many of us forget this basic truth. Working on the farm is a vocation involving muscles, breath and observation of the land. This kind of work roots the farmer in place. Nicola Creegan, a theologian based in New Zealand, observes: “We live within this life and not on top of it, though we have come to think of ourselves as living on the world rather than within it.” Living within this life – not above it – is transformative. We are brought home to ourselves, as creatures that need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat. I have the privilege of holding soil in my hands on a regular basis, and that contact reminds me of how we daily depend upon on soil.
As a farmer, I also have the joy of handling many different kinds of seeds. We save seed at the Common Table for self-sustainability and continuity from season to season. The practice of seed-keeping is deeply spiritual in many communities. Seeds are the source of each year’s sustenance; they are also keepers of ancestral knowledge and familial history. Seeds are tied to the sovereignty and cultural integrity of nations and groups, holding connections to land and community. At this time of year, the farm’s season begins with seeds. Like the bees, these tiny beings hold power that is often overlooked. We fill trays with soil and carefully seed them. The small pockets of earth are watered daily and watched for signs of life. Each variety of seed has its own timing. Lettuce takes no time at all to make its appearance. Other seeds take a week – or even two – before sprouts emerge.
Every spring, I’m held in thrall by this process. I know what is going to happen. And yet, the physical experience – of planting, waiting expectantly, worrying about germination, and then being surprised by the force of life – never fails to delight. Tiny seedlings poke through soil and reach for light. They unfold their leaves, ready to begin their work. It won’t be long before they’re transplanted into the ground. There they’ll greet the bees, and our summer work together will begin in earnest.
Legacy giving can be transformative