I offered seeds in an innocent gesture prior to a class on positive communication. The woman who rejected the seeds assured me that neither the woman that I had inquired for, nor she personally had “time to garden.” It was growled at me. I kept the beautiful seeds tucked into my jeans pocket and wondered where have we gone wrong?
Gardening is considered a hobby in much of the United States. We all know that we are conditioned by cheap low end food that is low in nutrition and light on the budget thanks to government subsidies and mass importation. You are often hard pressed to locate local produce at grocery stores in Hawaii. People here in Hawaii often pick fights with me noting that they cannot afford organic vegetables, nor can they afford to take time to even grow one potted plant, then they drive away in $50,000 cars or trucks. I’ve begun to wonder if they are happiest being unhappy.
These fights go nowhere, as they are one sided. I often simply reference their ability to make more of their dinners from whole food, rather than buying so many “ready made” meals that cost a fortune. But part of me questions what is below the surface of these confrontations over things as simple and pure as whole food and free seeds? I’ve gotten hate mail, harassment, stolen crops, and worst of all intentional crop destruction. I just want to provide food without using chemicals.
I once had a large group out to the farm for an educational tour. They were seed savers. It surprised, and disappointed me that three would mention stealing seeds from the farm, worse yet, laugh about stealing when I asked them not to. Why would they pose as ethical, sustainable farmers and then steal? What is the world coming to? I had already taken the initiative to share my knowledge and to hand pollinate, harvest and dry seeds for this group. They knew I would give my seed work to them in the form of seeds that would make squash growing easy. It took years to accomplish this, but the point was to get Hawaii replenished with these vines that once covered the islands. I also had to wonder, how many more did, and didn’t tell me? It made me wonder about gratitude and greed.
Many flock to Hawaii and expect all to be as perfect as the weather. The problem that confuses many here, is even when “paradise” or kindness and generosity is served up in the form of open sharing of knowledge, free seeds, or beautiful food, it is still rejected, stolen, or mowed down.
Recently, my neighbor died of an overdose. Though shocking, it changed my life wildly. You see, my neighbor stole from my garden nearly every day. She stomped plants, and then complained that she would take even more if she could identify what “weird” things I was growing. She complained about the taste of the beans. I couldn’t comment, because I never got any. This was the second time in Hawaii that I had a neighbor like this. I’d like to say that I was ready for this, but you never really are.
I work hard to defend myself from the verbal attacks and online trolls, there is little to do to protect your plants in your absence. No fence, nor confrontation could keep her out. What confused me initially was the stealing. I offered a bounty to neighbors every chance I got, in part just due to kindness, but also hoping to keep thieving neighbors to stop crushing the plants. The more I offered, the more that was stolen.
Soon after, the man down the street started stealing more from my garden. He was stoned every time I encountered him. One afternoon, I went over to visit him, and asked him why my vegetables were on his lanai. Rare heirloom vegetables are easy to identify. Another time I went to my dance class where a woman boasted about stealing my pipinola (chayote) through the fence. I told her that she was stealing the fresh food from the pet pig. Her jaw dropped. She never considered a charging 400 pound pig into the theft equation, Perhaps it was the shock that she was looking for, she smiled and bragged; she wanted to make me react. I realize Hawaii has problems with untreated mental illness, as well as overwhelming drug and alcohol addiction, but it now seems like it is hitting record levels. If you don’t believe me, plant something in your garden and set up a camera, and see what happens.
Two of the chefs that I supplied, and one of the grocery stores, all admitted that they have bought avocados, mangoes, citrus, squash, and other crops from “unknown sellers” who were not known as food producers. One of the chef’s was thrilled to be getting “free produce” from a man who only wanted to receive meals at the restaurant. What was happening, was “tree clearing” or field clearing thieves who roll in after dark were stealing through their “gathering” and then delivering and selling of produce that wasn’t theirs. The farm has had tracks in the lime field from unknown vehicles driven between the citrus trees that were now empty. My squash curing table was raided many times, my seed pumpkins were stolen off the front step. Tomatoes off the vine. None of these people were hungry. Drugs were the most common thread. Agriculture crime is now being prosecuted in Hawaii, and it is indeed a growing trend. These family farmers don’t get a break: 90% of the food is imported, the 10% that is locally grown, is then vulnerable to thieves and vandals.
Gratitude is a hard one to teach. Many learn empathy, and gratitude when they are young, as they do it naturally, they just don’t have a name for it. Others due to their design, will never develop gratitude. They can mimic it, but they mimic it so to use it as a tool to manipulate. That’s not gratitude, Hopefully, we learn to take care of our things, and to not always want more. Greed kills gratitude. When looking at the culture surrounding us, one hears the opposite message: that “more” will fill the void, and empower us. It’s really just a distraction and often a parade of power, or overpowering another. For those of you who read my earlier post about my delivering bananas to my neighbors, I did make an effort, and found out who my kind neighbors were. On the other side of the coin, through watching my garden, I learned also who the thieves and vandals were too.
Can we teach grownups to be grateful, even if they were raised in homes where it wasn’t taught, or where they had to be greedy in order to survive? Can we teach the lady at the office to open her hand and her heart and accept a gift of seeds? and if she can use them, to share them with a neighbor who would like a chance to share in the beauty and potential captured within a seed and a garden. Can we as individuals continue to give, even when the receiver is ungrateful, or even unkind? We must. We simply must be better.
These are tough situations to face, but many gardeners already understand the gratitude that can come from their labors. Watching a garden grow is humbling, and sharing the bounty is rewarding. People can steal, stomp or mow down your fields, but they cannot steal your knowledge or your stamina, It’s heart wrenching to deal with these people who struggle with, or are devoid of personal ethics and compassion for others. But gardeners are resilient, and their knowledge is like an iceberg: 85% is unseen, and unable to be stolen. As difficult as it is, what better place to face these tough social issues then in the garden where life, potential, and beauty surrounds.