Om shanti, shanti, shanti
That is the whole, this is the whole;
From the whole, another whole becomes;
Take away the whole from the whole,
The whole remains.
Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!
– Isha Upanishad
written in 500 BC
Ancient cultures, like those of India, inherently understood the importance of the Holistic perspective. In today’s world, modern science has taught us that to understand complexity, we must break it down into smaller and smaller fragments, and that by understanding those fragments we will have a better understanding of the Whole. Sadly, although modern science has a produced many amazing technological feats, the greater understanding of fragments has not led to a greater understanding of Wholes. The science of agriculture is a great example of this dichotomy of rising knowledge with failure of understanding.
Agriculture is increasingly complex. A quick look at the areas of study at any agricultural university will bring up terms such as plant morphology, molecular biology, plant genetics, pomology, and many more. Yet it has become abundantly clear that modern agriculture has failed to live up to its promises of ample, healthy food for all. Sadly, the current state of the world is that somewhere near 1.5 billion people are overweight, while another 1 billion people do not have enough to eat.
How did we get to this point? Of course, the answer is complex, but a lack of Holistic thinking and an inability to understand and comprehend Wholeness is definitely a major part. It is true that industrial agriculture has produced more calories worldwide than ever before, but do calories lead to healthy, happy people? (Side Note: Is GDP actually a measure of economic health?) The answer, of course, is a resounding NO. When we begin to look at the world through a Holistic lens, we reach significantly different solutions to the problems of the modern world. Instead of searching for the latest fertilizer and pesticide to increase our yield of nutritionally useless corn, we look to home gardens, urban farms, soil health, watershed management, and local economies to create an abundance of health, wealth, creativity and friendship in our communities. We understand that though the problems of the world may be large and complex, the problems of a community are understandable and manageable.
However, a switch to holistic thought is not very easy. It requires going against the training and education most of us have received for our entire lives. It requires an openness and willingness to accept ideas that we have thought to be absurd or impossible. More importantly, it requires a fundamental shift in our ways of living and being. Luckily, the garden is a great way to understand these ideas in a concrete and easily understandable way.
A healthy garden is whole. A garden is not simply a collection of plants. but a living, changing, adapting, responsive, emotive, creative expression of life through plants, soil, water, insects, animals, and humans. Although pieces of a garden may die, the garden lives as long as its wholeness remains. While a garden is made up of different living organisms, through a holistic view, we may began to view the garden itself as an organism. In this view, an excess of weeds, a lack of fertility, or an abundance of pest insects is viewed as an imbalance (or sickness) in the organism, rather than an isolated problems. A small story:
When we first began to establish the gardens here at The Growing Home, we were often plagued by many of the problems that are common to gardeners everywhere: bug outbreaks, fungal outbreaks, stressed or weak plants, etc. One spring, a beautiful swath of Nasturtium grew underneath our Fuji Apple and Jujube trees. The nasturtiums, however, were soon attacked by aphids, which within one week had completely covered the undersides of all the leaves of the plants. During tours of our garden, many guests said that we should definitely spray the nasturtiums with a pesticide so that the aphids would not spread to our other plants. We, however, operating from the holistic perspective, viewed the aphids as a momentary disruption caused by an imbalance in the garden and we refrained from killing them. By week two, we began to notice a few ladybugs on the nasturtiums, chomping away at the aphids. What we were surprised by was that by week 3, our first few ladybug friends seemed to have called in all their other friends: there were hundreds of them. What’s more, the ladybugs had decided our garden was a safe place to mate as well, and the nasturtiums were soon covered with ladybug eggs and larvae (who were also chomping away happily on the aphids). Although the nasturtiums died soon after, they had not a single aphid left on them. Ladybugs have been in abundance in our garden ever since, and we have yet to see a large outbreak of aphids ever since.
In the six years we have been gardening at The Growing Home, we have seen an abundance of such examples. In that time our trust in the Garden as a living Whole has only grown stronger. When problems arise, we always look to the source of the imbalance rather than trying to address the symptoms of a problem. Had we killed the aphids (the symptom), we would have never understand the true imbalance (a lack of ladybugs). With each successive season in the garden, we see the wholeness of our garden becoming more and more complete. As the soil becomes richer, softer, and more fragrant, our minds and understanding become richer and more complete. We ourselves become more whole. We hope you will join us on our journey of understanding, and invite you to grow with us as part of The Growing Club.
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti