How do many people help and connect with each other and their communities on a basic, fundamental level? Take a look at gardens. Even when you think you are working alone in one, you are still connecting with others.
It’s estimated that over 117 million people do some form of gardening in a year. And those gardens come in sizes large and small. The plants and produce are as wide and varied as the geography.
Those gardens all represent work ― sweat and muscle tilling the soil, planting seeds, and beating back weeds ― to ultimately harvest a crop that, somehow, tastes a little better than what comes from the grocery store.
And they involve interconnectedness.
For instance, gardens are often communal. Neighborhood or residential gardens are where residents come together, often in city or suburban surroundings, to bring a little nature into their community. The bounty is shared among participants or with those in need around the community.
"Livingston County does have some people who are at the poverty level and they really do appreciate fresh produce, but they can't always afford it," a reverend overseeing one such garden operation told a local newspaper last summer. "Right now, volunteers are harvesting fresh peas and some of the Swiss chard and spinach, and later on there will be the tomatoes and zucchini, and we are just beginning to harvest summer squash.”
Sometimes gardens are tied to institutions as a way of giving patients or residents a mutual project to work on together. Or a way to let co-workers come together for a broader purpose.
For instance MassMutual has such a garden. Tended by roughly 20 employees, the volunteer garden has yielded about 17,000 pounds of vegetables for local food banks near our headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts.
But beyond building bonds through labor and sharing food with those in need, gardens are also a way to connect with future generations and teach children the importance of nature and the environment.
“I’ve always wanted to provide an outdoor classroom, a more outdoor educational experience for students,” a principal said in a local news report about her elementary school’s garden building project. “Also, that kind of farm-to-table connection is so valuable to teach our kids, especially in a community with an agriculture backbone to it.”
“The gardens that thrive are the ones embraced by the community,” added the director of a non-profit helping the effort. “Clearly, that’s what’s happening here.”
Even those gardens that are simply personal often have a way of connecting people with people. “Here have this, it’s from my garden,” isn’t an uncommon refrain to hear from a neighbor, friend, or co-worker.
Be it sharing food, labor, or love of the outdoors, gardens are a focal point for MassMutual’s philosophy of Living Mutual. And so on this Earth Day, we celebrate it.
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