Dream Big

Sharon October 15th, 2009

Today marks the start of our Farm and Garden Design class, and I thought I’d start with the process before the process, if that makes any sense - with the dreaming that preceeds design. 

So close your eyes.  Or first, open them, and look at your property - or your friendly neighbor’s property, or your church’s lot, or your community garden plot.  Now that you’ve got it in your head, close your eyes.  And take what’s there and add on - what do you want to see?  Look at it closely.  Smell it. Taste it.  Listen to it.

What do you see?  A balcony that is covered with twining vines dripping grapes and hardy kiwis, with tomatoes and peppers, lettuce and herbs filling the corners, and scented flowers attracting butterflies and hummingbirds?  Do you see yourself on it, harvesting tomatoes and basil to go with that local mozzarella?

What do you see? A community garden plot that integrates flowers with food - borders of pot marigold and lavender around tall okra and sweet corn, pole bean tepees in front of a short hedge of blackberries, elder and honeyberries, and nasturtiums twining around the pumpkins.  Are you in it, watching the kids play with the children of other gardeners, while you make a salad of edible flowers and multicolored lettuces?

What do you see?  A patchwork of neighborhood gardens that you tend - a three sisters garden in your friend’s backyard, where her children help you twine the beans up the corn poles.  A perennial forest garden to be enjoyed by the neighborhood at your son’s school, where the kids devour blueberries and hide in the sunflowers?  A meadow of native prairie flowers in the front yard, attracting pollinators and wildlife.  A garden of roots and trees around in the back, and you invited everyone to a garden dinner, filling  your belly and your neighbors with sweet potatoe pie and plum tart.

What do you see?  A suburban backyard with a playset - and 10 raised beds, each filled with many meals worth of annual crops, and a chinese chestnut tree, that the children swing from and from which you harvest your winter’s nuts?  The birds nest in it, and the garden forms around its protective shape.  You see yourself planting seeds, while the little ones watch, and dig in their own patch, getting filthy and excited aboutt he possibilities of their earth.

What do you see?  An urban mini-farm on 1/10 acre - bees in their white boxes pollinate your dwarf apple trees, espaliered against the fence, chickens eat the weeds that poke up in the corners, rabbits feed the worms that feed your garden, and are fed in turn on stalks and scraps.  Meanwhile the lettuces wave like af flag and you walk with fragrant bundles to sell your herbs to the restaurant down the street.

What do you see?  A sunny half acre, filled with a medley of tropical plants - citrus, pomegranate, fig, banana, malinga.  Underneath the trees, grateful for their shade, run sweet potatoes and taro, while chile peppers and dryland corn fill a sunny corner.  Are you in it, watching the fish in your pond grow to dinner size, as the cat suns herself on a rock and dreams, just as you do, of a fish dinner.

What do you see?  A small farm of a few acres, with pigs that root out weeds and manure the ground and then feed your family, and chickens for eggs and a small woodlot, managed for mushrooms, coppiced wood and acorns for feed.  Every year you plant more trees, grow more crops, and new garden beds sprout like weeds.  There’s a sign at the end of the driveway reading “fresh eggs, raspberries” and the neighbors stop by to pick up your extras and trade neighborly gossip.

What do you see?  The family farm brought to life again - the land made productive again, the weeds cut back, the family brought back, swales built to catch precious water, with new crops and new techniques for making fertile space out of what seemed like a lost cause.  New hope, and the chance to work together again?  Do you see yourself, slowly, patiently planting new trees, repairing the tractor, laughing with your sister again?

What do you see?  Draft horses, pulling logs from the shady woodland, and a barn full of animals.  A business plan and a market for your lamb, your wool and your vegetables.  A diversity of plants and animals - life without monocultures.  A pond.  A quiet spot to rest, a kitchen full of peaches ready to can.  And you see yourself, at work, at rest, in the kitchen, on the land, but there, and present, and ready.

I don’t claim these dreams are easy to enact, or that they will always come to fulfillment - I have dreams myself I haven’t finished - for terracing and beds, for plants and animals I’ve never yet gotten to.  But without a vision, without a dream, without asking that question “what do you see” we can’t begin to make it into something real.


8 Responses to “Dream Big”

  1. Josh B says:

    That’s a beautiful vision and exercise Sharon. I love your writing. Thank you for doing what you do!

  2. Safira says:

    Darn it, Sharon, you got me all teary-eyed at work!

  3. Debra says:


    Is it too late to join the class?

  4. Jerry Lee Miller says:

    This is a very helpful exercise for me regarding something which just came up on Wed.
    Several weeks ago I put a notice on a bulletin board at a local store, stating that i was looking for a small plot to garden. Yesterday I received a response.
    A couple had purchased this odd shaped suburban plot a few years ago at a tax sale. It is 20′ by 151′ and runs from the street and up between 2 lots with houses. Evidently the developer was thinking about putting a lane there and thought better of it.
    They had thought about gardening there, but never did anything.
    So, they want to gift this to me! All I have to do is pay the transfer fee. If my calculations are correct, it’s about 1/15 of an acre.
    It was raining when I went to see it today, so I didn’t get out to inspect it. It’s partly covered with trees and thicket. I’d like to see what’s there.
    One issue would be water. I’d either have to haul it or make an arrangement with one of the neighbors.

    I know I could put a small storage unit there if I wanted. Besides the ‘What do you see’ exercise, what else ought I be doing? Taxes, they say, are $250 annually.

  5. Sharon says:

    Jerry, that’s awesome! I’m so glad to hear that. And Debra, no, not at all - there’s plenty of time since we’re just getting started. Send me an email at [email protected].


  6. Kerrick says:

    Dreaming big? Okay.

    The other day I passed a lot on a busy corner that I sometimes walk by. It’s been proposed for development since I’ve lived in this town, for the last 4.5 years. It’s an empty lot, relatively flat, given over to weeds that are periodically mowed.

    I can imagine a food forest growing there, starting with some disease-resistant filberts, a couple of dwarf plums and apples, olives and figs, some of the delicious Chilean guavas I just tried from my neighbor’s easement, a fence of caneberries and an arbor of hardy kiwis and table grapes, snap peas, Chinese yams, barrels of potatoes and yacon, asparagus, spinach, tomatoes and salad greens, amaranth and quinoa, beets, onions, garlic, and a patch of corn, beans, and squash. I can imagine a little sheltered outdoor kitchen, a compost loo, rainwater catchment and an outdoor solar-heated shower for rinsing off when you’re done working. All the built stuff would have plants growing up every available surface, naturally. And outside the fence, comfortable benches that are actually made for people to sleep on, if they need it, sheltered by more fruiting vines. Throughout the day volunteers come in to work in the garden, and while they’re there the gates are open for anyone who needs food to come share the harvest. I’d include poultry, but I’m not sure about that part of the vision; protecting animals requires a whole different level of security. We may not be able to have free range poultry and free range people in the same garden.

    In real life I think they’re putting in some housing with a couple of retail shops on the ground floor. But I can’t see it happening soon-there aren’t any retail shops that can stay open on that block right now.

  7. Kate-B says:


    I decided that i might as well make the very most of your class and use it to write up a proposal for the community I have been staying at. It would be an excellent educational opportunity for me and no matter how rudimentary my efforts are, they would still be a very welcome contribution to our permaculture homestead.

    Thanks so much

  8. Ella Wieser says:

    This is definitely one of the better articles I have come across on this topic. Have you considered the opposite side of the argument of natural health? To be candid, I think a good argument could be made either way, but please let me know if you have found more sites or articles on the Internet that back up what you are discussing.

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