By Captain Planet Foundation Summer Garden Management team member Suzie Pope
Frederich Buechner (Wishful Thinking) said that your vocation is found in the place where your greatest joy meets with the world’s greatest need. For many years I found these two things were very separate. I went away to college, like many of my peers, to find a way to make the world a better place. Having grown up on picket lines and singing civil rights songs at dinner parties with my parents, making the world more fair was just what you did. I was writing letters to sweatshops in third grade and traveling to Israel and Palestine for a peacemaking study when I was eighteen. Seeing very clearly some of the world’s greatest needs, while trying to negotiate a competitive academic environment was, for me, overwhelming to say the least. I left college after two years feeling a need to retreat to nature. Instinctively, I knew this would help create joy and peace inside me. It did.
Between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I spent a brief time at Acorn Community Farm, an intentional community in the hills of Virginia. This community grew enough food to sustain themselves and and saved and sold seeds for income. While there, I would wake up, walk outside, and stay outside for the rest of the day. I weeded strawberries and helped with various tasks, swam in a river, drank water from a well, and ate fresh, organic food for every meal. I found a peace and balance that I had not felt before. I was healthy and happy.
I returned to school, to leave six months later, still struggling to find a conventional, in-the-lines way of helping the world. It was exhausting. I moved back and forth from school to a farm three times. Then I realized that farm work, or environmental stewardship broadly, had helped me to find peace, so perhaps it could help others find peace. Could teaching others to grow food help make the world a better place?
After working as a nanny for a few years, I decided to pursue this new notion of a vocation. I decided to take the pay cuts and do whatever was needed to serve social justice, be with kids, and grow food. And I did it! Last summer I was accepted to work with Captain Planet as a summer garden maintenance intern and it opened many doors for me, not to mentioned taught me about the squash bug and much more about gardening. I went on from Captain Planet to work with lower-income children in Atlanta “food deserts,” teaching them how to grow food and to enjoy caring for their natural environment. I have had students write valentine messages to worms, eat kale straight from the garden, and nurture seedlings with gentle touches. It was incredible. My students, whose challenges fall beyond the scope of my experience, were beginning to see and feel the same things I felt that summer at Acorn Farm. They feel the same pride I felt in seeing tiny seeds grow with care into a bed of carrots. I sense the relief the children feel when they focus their attention and intention on de-bugging and weeding their garden. Confidence, competence, patience, compassion, all of these things are nurtured as they nurture our gardens.I am back with Captain Planet again this summer and will be working with them for the coming year as a service member with FoodCorp, because I love what I am able to do with them, because I love what Captain Planet Foundation has done for me, because I love what this foundation does. To tweak what Mr. Buechner said, I believe the world’s greatest need is more joyful people. Growing food and being in nature makes more joyful people.