There is a slight chill in the air on this Wednesday
afternoon, but I only just register it moments before
entering the garden. I have taken a rare hour off
from work; it is my birthday and I am in God's Little
Acre, the garden associated with the food pantry at
First Presbyterian Church in Woodlawn.
Once I get to work digging, the chill doesn't mean
much. I warm up quickly. We have a few beds that
need to be prepped. This spring has turned out to
be over-busy, as happens too often, and as usual
the planting and prep work in the gardens has
Greens have been planted but nothing else. It has
been a cool spring so far, and I am in no rush to get
fussy pepper and tomato plants into this weather.
But there’s still plenty to do, and we are behind
It’s hard for people who have a feeling for spring
not to take that feeling too far. The season seems
overwrought to us when it’s really we who are in a
state of muted hysteria. We anthropomorphize
nature in response to the warming weather and the
evidence of another cycle of life everywhere. It’s a
buffet that we just can’t avoid making ourselves
sick at time and time again. Many of us are, in this
respect, perpetual children, not learning our
lessons and genuinely shocked when the same
consequences manifest over and over again along
with the thaw.
which shovels are used to earn one’s bread - that is
to say, with which the task is not of one’s own
choosing. Diggers of ditches could easily be added
to the Biblical hewers of wood and drawers of
But on this day, I am not among them. I spade this
earth and toss it across the bed because the soil
needs air and it is a job of my choosing to aerate it.
When I tell my partner on this garden, Lisa, about
There’s just one shovel at the garden today and it’s the soil, she immediately talks about taking a gaspowered tiller to it - which, of course, is the sensible
got a flat edge; not my preference for turning the
soil in a bed that has been left to its own devices for response. It’s a good thing for me that I’m
a season or two and is now compacted. It’s also not surrounded by sensible people, or I would never
get much done. But I wouldn’t mind a dreamer or
sharpened. Very few of the shovels I have used
were or are. When I get to hear the singing of an
edged shovel, it’s good fortune rather than good
And I continue to dig. Here on this acre, we work
according to our pleasure and our interest in
Aldo Leopoldo, in A Sand County Almanac, praises helping others - and our ability to be goaded by the
crowd that gathers around the growers on and off
the shovel and its work and suggests that its bad
throughout the season. I am less often goaded than
reputation is owing to the ubiquity of dull shovels.
Probably so, in part, but it is also the frequency with others, but I do sometimes feel anxious about
Baltimore. Lots of pieces
of those buildings then got buried in the land.
Not here.. and most
of a tire out of the ground as I dig the bed . As a result. in our
infinite folly. It’s easy to do
less in precisely that way. it can
often feel like we are still struggling against those
would have coined that phrase first.
but I become absorbed in the digging and in the
In neighborhoods in Chicago like Woodlawn. It
seems unlikely that Sterling. everyplace in the world. the whole country should have been
furious. we don’t sharpen our
shovels. There is a reason we refer to
cultural development as something we cultivate. Not today. Farming in Woodlawn
involves a great deal of collecting of bricks and
stone. I dig
a little more. compact dirt.
cultivated that quality. Jr. If we are now able to grow
for the pantry on this land.a
characteristically urban harvest.
Riots and wrecking balls: how can tiny seeds stand
up to forces like this? Well. We are often praised here for doing
just a little when. As I smooth out the parts of
the bed I have dug. I love the song of the shovel. if
not the cavalier disposal of material. Unlike
him. but I am hurried
most of the time these days. we sometimes block
the way for someone who might do a lot more. it had already been
named by one of them.
The shovel feels good and slides smoothly into the
dense. I should bring it
and work it in before we plant. it could not have been in anybody’s
mind that the young man from Tennessee who
quietly lent a hand would be the last of the group to
do so four decades later. Our vacant lots are not vacant at all but filled
with history and the detritus of demolished
I pull a bunch of bricks.
Violence tends to exhaust itself (though modern
warfare is working hard to overcome this). by doing so. at the
Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Kansas City and elsewhere would not have felt the need to riot.
I believe growing is deeply linked to peacemaking.. but with less of a frantic pace. I can feel the difference in the
earth. who first
released the soil from the bricks and stone blocks
buried in it (or vice-versa). Around
here. a thin
layer of dirt thrown over the pile. If we all hungered for peace the way we
say we do. though.whether we have enough planting packed in. we call these weeds most of the time. but
they are the guarantors of a perpetual natural
presence in places where human beings. It had been their intention to
grow food here. it
is so perfectly true that a second meaning grew
alongside the first until we don’t really think about
why we say a person of sophistication has
It is more likely that when he arrived to help the
congregants of First Presbyterian Church. right away they do. Or maybe we
would remember that week differently.
It was my intention to plant lettuce this afternoon. there are what
are called landraces. I have only known it rarely. Here I dig earth until I
see the time has passed when I should be home. maybe people in Woodlawn and other
South and West Side neighborhoods . His views on
religion are pretty skeptical. The demolition. especially in this place
and in this time.” When King was
murdered. then stow the shovel and a couple of
other tools I pulled out and head out of God’s Little
Acre. at least. among other neglectful acts. the city of
Chicago tore every building down in Woodlawn it
could get its hands on for decades.and in D. the man who has
farmed the lot for the last 37 years and rules it. Louisville. have not made a place for nature. it is in large part because
Sterling kept that long-ago dream alive for so long
that the church was able to return to it a few years
ago and we were able to start planting here. Beginning immediately after the riots that
followed behind the assassination of Reverend
Martin Luther King.
Like Leopold. varieties of plants adapted to
the unique conditions of specific areas. but the riots . as if any positive plans are
rejoined with “Yes. on April 4. it will need some sand.
it is perhaps the earliest and most basic human
activity identified with reducing violence in our
everyday lives. the room for plants to breathe and grow.. We have
been teaching ephemeral lessons here better than
I don't know how God's Little Acre got its name.
. The earth is too
much clay. still continues
today. one large block. A
little more deeply. 1 968.C.