When I moved to the Central Coast in 1985, I discovered all the places to go berry picking - strawberries in Nipomo, ollalieberries in Avila Beach and raspberries at a U-Pick farm on the way to Morro Bay. Berry picking outings yielded pies, jams, and berry laden yeast waffle breakfasts. So berry picking has always heralded the beginning of summer for me. It's a wonderful way to forget the "to-do" list, be out in nature and then enjoy the fruits of your labor. And it is a powerful spiritual practice to set aside one's own agenda and just be an expression of the ways of nature.
There is a wonderful documentary titled “Stewards of the Earth: One Planet, Many Faiths.” The film highlights faith based environmental programs throughout the United States. There is the Earth Sangha in Fairfax, VA, a Buddhist group dedicated to native plants and forest restoration. The Jewish Farm School in New York is an educational organic farm teaching sustainable agriculture based on the Torah. The United Church of Christ in Chester County, NY has a community garden which provides work opportunities for inner city youth and they give 10% of their harvest to local food banks. All of these programs work to repair our relationship with the natural world which ultimately brings peace and healing to our own souls as well as to our relationships with each other. It is what we call Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Tikkun HaNefesh (repairing our soul).
The young enthusiastic organic farmers atThe Jewish Farm School call the Torah the ‘Jewish Farmer’s Almanac’ because there is so much agricultural wisdom encoded in its teaching. There are instructions about what crops to plant next to each other and what not to plant next to each other and how long to wait before harvesting fruit so the tree has time to grow strong and mature. But the teaching goes even deeper. There are ancient laws about sharing a portion of the harvest with the poor so that everyone has access to food. The ecologic wisdom in the Torah is inherently social justice wisdom. It provides inspiration for going out and doing good work in the world making the ancient wisdom relevant in our lives today.
We can all do the sacred work of being stewards of the earth by recycling, restoring habitat, buying local and organic, and making sure everyone has food security. These are concrete and easy ways we can ‘pray with our feet’ as Abraham Joshua Heschel once said. The next layer of practice is to realize that food security leads to sharing and improved relationships. Restoring habitat allows you to experience nature not as a resource but as something to be appreciated for its inherent natural gift. And growing and harvesting local, organic food becomes a powerful community gathering point.
Rabbi Shefa Gold writes, “God speaks to us through the wonders and beauty and mysteries of Nature. We must learn how to listen.” I hope each of you takes some time this summer to listen.