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Sustainability lessons from a gardener: seeds and the universe

October 12, 2018

One way to see the world in a grain of sand, as William Blake says in his famous poem, is to become a gardener.

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Sunflower seeds.

I see a blooming meadow in a sunflower seed, happy people looking at the brown-yelloy faces, picking some for their loved ones.

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What will it be? A soup, a pizza topping, a snack, a paradise?

I see a gazpacho in a tomato seed, a summer party on my balcony with friends enjoying home made food and marvelling at how much you can grow on 10 square meters. I see someone picking out a lost seed from the gazpacho bowl and starting their own tomato plant.

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The universe.

I see an entire universe of possibilities in the mixed flower seeds from my balcony and nearby streets of Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin. What if everyone started gardening, just a little bit? On their balconies or around city trees would be enough. What if people started growing their own food, just a little bit, and buying just a tiny bit less from the supermarkets and value chains of the world? What if every kid knew what a sun kissed tomato tasted like? By the way, that’s why I hated tomatos for so long: I only knew the industrially grown ones, available in stores year round. What if all of us discovered a universe at our doorstep and therefore started traveling less?

I don’t mean all of this as a joke. I mean it in a deeply philosphical way. It is proven scientifically that any grain of sand, any pebble, contains millions of years of geological history of this planet. But do we see it? Can we really see the Universe in a grain of sand, even as we slog through traffic? Can we really hold infinity in our hands, even as we drop off the kids to violin practice? (Adam Frank has a whole series on NPR called Cosmos and Culture, in case you want to read more: https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/ )

I think we can. Gardening helps. To reconnect, to pause, to see the beauty in the moment and the universe in a tomato seed.

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These seeds will produce flowers that are beautiful and taste like honey and radish.

For the poetry lovers, I close with the first lines of Auguries of Innocence, written 1803 by William Blake. Please read the whole thing, for example here. Buddhists have known this for much longer of course, but they had less talent for english language poetry.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

A dove-house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.

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