Friday, March 09, 2012

Cultivating the Organic

You hear a lot about this word "organic" these days.

A whole section of our grocery store is now named this.  Everything from yogurt to fruit to cereal (to clothing!) can be organic.  I've heard of organic conversations.  Organic churches.  Organic movements.

But what, exactly, do we mean by this?  

Well,when referring to organic food, we mean food that wasn't grown or made with pesticides or synthetic components.  In terms of conversations, we mean discussions that bubbled up on their own rather than being directed or forced.  As far as churches, movements, and the like go...I think we are referring to something that is unproduced, spontaneous--and, somehow, it has the connotation of being better, healthier.

But there is a problem here.  We have taken this term, which is a farming term, and made some gigantic leaps with it.  So now, when it is used, I think we mislead ourselves to some degree.  

When organic farmers grow their fruits and vegetables, they commit to growing these crops without unnatural pesticides or other synthetic means.  So, definitely, there is this "natural" component to growing things organically.  But don't let this fool you.  Growing things organically does not mean that the farmers are just planting the seeds and letting them grow "naturally".  They are not, somehow, saying, "I've done my job and planted the seed.  It is fully capable of thriving on its own, and I will be back in a few weeks to pick its fruit." Nooooo.  Definitely not.  You better believe that gardener or farmer is out there every day, cultivating the bejesus out of those seeds.

I am certainly no farmer, and the only thing I know about gardening is from watching my husband fight with his small square foot garden on a yearly basis.  But I know enough to be sure that organic farming takes a great deal of cultivation on the gardener's part.  Once that seed pops up, the gardener must thin the surrounding seedlings, pull the weeds, water the plant, figure out how to give the plant nutrients (naturally!), thin and prune the plant so that it will thrive--not die, etc, etc, etc, until the yield is finally ready.  These are daily tasks!  Sometimes it takes years for a plant to be ready to give anything back!

You see, plants growing and producing fruit is a very natural process.  That's what the seeds were made to do.  But farming, gardening--those are man-made processes.  To yield a large crop, or even to yield a small yet somewhat predictable and edible crop, takes a lot of work.  The gardener has to be ever-present, manipulating the environment so as to cultivate the plants into what he or she wants.  

This is especially true with organic gardening or farming.  Those unnatural pesticides and fertilizers and growth hormones make it much easier for plants to grow.  But organic farmers have to be even more vigilant.  Even more attuned to the plants and their needs.  Even more responsive when things take a downward turn.

So when we use the word "organic" to mean natural, undirected, unforced, spontaneous, unproduced....we have a problem.  What is organic farming (or any type of gardening or farming) if it is not directed, forced, planned, produced??  Organic, in my mind, is not about how something grows, but all about how something is cultivated.  

In so many settings, I hear this word tossed around, used to mean "let's just start this process and see what happens naturally--organically."  In a sense, "organic" is used to mean "let's start the car and take our hands off the wheel and see what happens." Everyone nods their heads because we know that organic is better, healthier.  And then we're surprised when what grows is disappointing.  But, really, should we be surprised if a car crashes when we take our hands off the wheel??

In our push to do things "organically", we've ignored the fact that the best things in life are cultivated carefully.  Sometimes with much effort...for years...before producing fruit.  Healthy families don't just happen.  They are cultivated by diligent parents doing specific things.  Healthy organizations don't just grow.  There are wise leaders at the helm, pruning and weeding and making the hard decisions about how the organization will best thrive.  Very little in life "just happens".  Even environments that feel very easy, very spontaneous, very free, are cultivated to be that way.  

I do believe there is a difference between organic and inorganic, and we're on to something in using that term. We're trying to communicate that we don't want things to be fake.  We don't want to manipulate them into something that they're not.  But just because we don't manipulate something into something it's not doesn't mean it can't be manipulated.  In my mind, "organic" is a matter of manipulating a plant or a circumstance or an event into what it was meant to be.  Into its best, most fruitful, version of itself.  It all comes down to how we're cultivating.

And just for the record, I do not hate the word organic, and I generally know what people mean when they say it (and give them the benefit of the doubt).  It just always strikes me as odd that as a society, it has come to connote something so opposite from what it actually means.

So what things are you cultivating in your life right now?  Are there things that you're tracking carefully, albeit allowing them to grow as they will?  Are there ways you've taken your eyes off of something, hoping that it will thrive naturally?  And how is that working?  I would love to hear your thoughts.


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