My 25 year old copy of Brewer’s Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Cassell Publishers, London, 1992), adds a moral dimension with the following:
To live from hand to mouth. Improvidently, without thought for the morrow. The phrase implies the ready consumption of whatever one gets.
I can’t find a reliable source for the phrase (suggestions welcome), but with or without the whiff of moral censure, the term is positively dripping with negative connotations.
Without diminishing the very real suffering of millions of people who are doing it tough and barely surviving in a world of increasing inequality; for a gardener, living hand to mouth can mean something positive — a celebration of the fruits of our labour.
Yet the ability to cultivate a garden is beyond the reach of many, if not most, people. Access to land, tools, seeds — even water — is limited. And those who most need that regular, if small, supply of fresh food, are those most denied it.
So as I give thanks for my handful of figs, and for the beetroot, brassicas, herbs and citrus fruit to come, I also want to acknowledge the efforts of countless individuals and organisations working across the world, in a multitude of innovative ways, to grow and/or distribute fresh food within their communities.
Here are just a few of the initiatives I am aware of in my small part of the world. If you know of such groups in your community, please tell me about them in the comments, or post a link to their websites.
Community Fruit Harvesting. Auckland-based, but increasingly working across NZ to collect surplus and unwanted produce, and distribute — either fresh or as preserves — to charities.
Garden to Table. A New Zealand-wide programme that works with schools to create gardens and teach children to grow, harvest and prepare fresh produce.
Compost Collective. Auckland initiative to reduce organic landfill waste through composting, has become involved with a number of gardening initiatives.
I’ve become a gardener. Not just in the literal sense of having a garden; but more in the way that my garden has become a filter through which I see the world.
I grow flowers for the bees, set beer traps for snails, chase wasps from the swan plants and am the Big T’s eager accomplice in Monarch butterfly husbandry.
When I grow hungry, the contents of the vege patch are as important as the contents of my fridge.
And when the annoying TV weatherman casts impending rain as a villain swooping in to spoil the party, I want to shout “sod off! Think of the plants; think of the gardens.”
The thing about gardening is that you become part of a cycle; birth, life, death, decay, re-birth. Compost as metaphor!
I have become connected. Though my little patch of cultivated dirt, I feel a sense of belonging to the Earth that is not only new, but surprising in its intensity.
I found this poem yesterday and realised that where once, if asked about my attitude to life and death, I’d have quoted Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night.
End is in beginning;
And in beginning end:
Death is not loss, nor life winning;
But each and to each is friend.
The hands which give are taking;
And the hands which take bestow:
Always the bough is breaking
Heavy with fruit or snow.
“Garden as though you will live forever.” — William Kent
Gardening is both an act of faith in the future, and an investment in it. At a personal and a global level, we need plants to sustain life.
My little garden is flourishing right now and giving me enormous pleasure, as well as putting food on our table.
As the Big T and I plan our escape from the city, there is quite a lot of uncertainty about where we will g, but top of my wish list (along with high-speed Internet and a good local cafe) is space for gardens and maybe a little orchard.
It’s taken me a long time to grow a real connection with the food I eat, and the environment I inhabit. That is something I want to carry into my future.
It may not be true that a watched fig never ripens, but it has certainly seemed that way. I’ve been popping outside (several times a day) to check on the fig tree since we got back from our road-trip.
Today I was rewarded with a perfectly ripe, luscious fruit.
I’ve celebrated the start of our fruit harvest with this fig, blue cheese and rocket salad for lunch. Yum!