Farm Apprenticeship Week 8 Reflection

An apprenticeship update & an exploration of what our treatment of weeds perhaps reveals about the limits we place on compassion

It's already week eight of the Apprenticeship; time has truly flown by here at the farm and gardens! This evening in the Farm Center I'm surrounded by apprentices playing charades, others prepping for tomorrow's meals, and bouquets of fragrant and enticing flowers from our flower and bouquet class yesterday.

Earlier today, I learned a bit about how to grow peppers as well as the many different kinds of peppers in the world. (The article we read and reviewed this morning is available online here.) We will be growing 67 different varieties of peppers in the Chadwick Garden alone this season, totaling more than 1500 individual plants throughout the garden! These will all be planted by hand. Sometime next week, we've been promised a dried and smoked pepper tasting session, as well as a potato and garlic varieties taste test. I'm so excited to try multiple varieties of some of my favorite foods!

To get another glimpse into my life on the farm, you can read the profile interview I was featured in for the Sustainability Office newsletter here. For years, I helped select folks to profile for this section of the newsletter, so it was fun to be on the other side. This profile is so hot off the press that the newsletter itself hasn't even come out yet, but the article's live on the blog, so you can get an early reading.

And now, for some reflections, a harvest compiled from meandering garden thoughts, which sprout up throughout the day and sometimes flower and fruit into ideas (perhaps) worth sharing. This compilation weaves together thoughts about nature connection and place-based learning and human relationships, which occurred during hours of weeding and clearing brush in the Chadwick Garden in the last couple of weeks...

We are continually in conversation with non-human life and nature--and of course, we are of nature. We continually choose the tone and possible results of our conversations and communication with the natural, plant, and animal world, just as we choose how to communicate with fellow people. Do we know our neighbors, the plants and animals we share our neighborhood with? Do we see individuals when we look at a forest, a meadow, a garden bed--or do we just see a general group of something other than ourselves without name or distinction? Do we know the names of these beings, the human name we have given them? Have we ever considered what name they would give themselves if we could understand their language better? When we see an unknown plant or one that we've been told not to cultivate, do we only see weeds or do we recognize potential for an unknown use or value or simply validity in existence? Do we immediately and without question see friend or foe in the unintended guests in the gardens of our world?

It seems that we tend to care for what we know and understand. What's familiar is more family to us than the unknown, whether person, place, or non-human being. Think of a plant you love, whether to eat or grow or smell or look at. If that species was threatened or someone were about to squash it with their boot or you saw someone treating it as a weed and ripping it out of their garden, how might you react? Even if you aren't phytophilous, or a lover of plants, would you not stand up for your favorite vegetable or fruit if someone suggested eradicating its entire species? And when we know a place intimately, we carry our stories and others' her/their/his-tories from that place. In doing so, we also care for it in a way that we might not care about a place we've never met or known or experienced as a real true place with a history. All of this is to say: what if we each got to know one (or two or twenty!) more plants or places or animals or people in our nearby world? What if we met each plant or place or animal or person as worth knowing and caring for? What if we paused to wonder and find out what kind of tree grows outside our favorite cafe, what kind of bird we hear through our bedroom window at dawn, what is the life story of our new neighbor, who were the previous occupants of our neighborhood? What if we were more curious and open to being familiar--family--with more of the beings and histories who live just beyond our front doors?

Within this series of questions and thoughts, I've been reflecting in particular on my relationship with plants--the wild, the "native," those indigenous or well-established in this locale, those brought as immigrants and colonizers with people who might have looked like me, and those cultivated by humans for human purposes. I have reflected on how we see and use and know them, including the plants whose human use we have forgotten or not yet discovered or whose purpose is deeper and more vital than human use. Life in general and human social life specifically are patterned, and so the way we interact with nature, plants, animals, land, and the non-human world is similarly patterned to how we see and treat other humans.

Starting with the "weeds," or uninvited guests, that I pull from the gardens here or the various gardens I've cultivated in the last couple years, I wonder about them and their names and what it would be like to give them their own space to grow and what benefit that would provide to the ecosystem of the garden. I have personally witnessed a hummingbird stopping to investigate a dandelion in a garden, so I know not everyone looks down on the plants we have deemed "weeds."

I am challenging myself to learn and become familiar with the many plants, weeds included, that I come in contact with--not just the cut flowers and vegetable crops we cultivate here, but also the many pollinator perennials and edge plants that have so much to teach us about our relationship with all beings. We push these neighbors to the margins of our gardens, and we do the same with those we do not know or understand in our lives or communities or nations. What if I changed how I view weeds? What else could shift in my compassion for all beings of the world?

Here's me grinning with my amateur bouquet of dahlias, agrostemma (corn cockles), raspberries, achillea (yarrow), and other plant beings during flower class on Wednesday. After writing this post, I now feel inspired to attempt to make a bouquet of weeds and wild plants to showcase them in a way that is unexpected and compassionate.

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal


  1. Thank you for this meaningful and compassionate reflection. I'm struck by this notion that as homo sapiens on this planet (and therefore the ruling class of the Great Apes to whom we are related), we get to decide what is a weed and what is a flower--an apt metaphor for how we classify diverse peoples as inferior or superior. We have all seen beautiful blossoms on invasive weeds. Perhaps all along they have been flowers. // I also like your question about what plants might name themselves if we could understand their language. T.S. Eliot wrote in his Book of Practical Cats that each cat has its own secret name that only the cat knows. Perhaps the same is true of plants. // Thanks again for this thoughtful post! We're looking forward to the Poetry Festival at Chadwick Garden!


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