This week I have the pleasure of introducing a dear friend of mine, as well as a new team member in the OAC for this next term in the garden. Meet Ruth Atkins, aka @friendscallmeru! Ruth, while working for the state in the area of public health has also recently completed her master's program at Penn State. Today, she's sharing some history that reveals a bit about the process that our culture is in currently.
For the past two and half years I have been working on a master’s degree. The focus of my master's program centered around sustainable community development. As students, we were pushed to think about how the economics of a city, county and region supported or failed to support the viability of the community's way of life. We were taught how city planners, organizers, various agencies and engaged residents work together to intentionally design an area to meet the needs of the current generation without inhibiting future generations from meeting their needs. To say it's complex is an understatement. Technology continues to advance, the political landscape evolves and crisis outside of our control or foresight will continue to happen.
City design is not a new thing, most of us are aware of the birth of the suburbs. In the beginning of the 1900s, 11 million people migrated from rural farming communities to urban cities. Just 40 years later, at the end of WWII, people were sold a city design call “the suburbs.” The suburbs were a wagon hitched on the back of the American Dream. People were now being promised all the benefits of the country, just right outside of the city. The problem is that their jobs still resided in the city, and now their little piece of the country was a three bedroom, two bath house, an hour commute away. Families still had somewhere between two to three kids, and all of the extra-curricular activities. You know what kids used to do...bike to their friend's house and play stickball in the street or hunt for tadpoles in the backyard creek. Now they are being driven to soccer practice, dance rehearsal, across town for a play date, and then back home to finish their eight pages of english homework.
The crazy side effects of the suburbs that city planners didn’t anticipate was the effect that time and distance would have on the American family. When you add up the commute time, drive times to extra curriculars and all the resources it takes to support those, from gas cost, vehicle maintenance, little league fees and team potlucks, many families had to go from a one income to a two income household. Which meant that both the mother and father were working, and kids were in daycare. When you add up the costs, and add up the benefits, was there really a net-gain with the development of suburbs? Were suburbs all that they promised? Was it really an agrarian lifestyle, close to the city?
So where did we go from the suburbs? We went to community gardens, backyard urban gardening, community supported agriculture and local public markets. In almost every community there has been a center street or market street, where commerce originally derived. The commerce of all societies first centered around food. Until the invention of the refrigerator, women would go to town, to market street, to get the ingredients needed for supper. Of course they all had small herb gardens at home and usually some livestock. This is typically where bartering came in. Nevertheless, market street was where everything happened. Women purchased and bartered for their family's needs; they also talked. They talked with their neighbors, with the farmers, with everyone. Connection happened.
When we look at where we have come from as a society, is it no wonder that we are attempting to return to some element of it, even in the midst of suburbia. No matter what the newest gadget promising modern convenience, the new urban trend, or what is going on in the national news, we are never more than our basic needs. Our need for people and food, our need to create, contribute and work. Our need to work hard at a worthy cause, our need to be in touch with the earth, our need for a child's laugh, our need for sitting at the feet of an elderly woman while she tells stories of another time. Our need to be connected to our history and our future. When we look at development, or city planning, or just our own choice in where we live, what we spend our time doing, would we see a lifestyle that reflects these basic needs? In reality, we aren't that different from our grandparents or great grandparents. We’re not all that different from Adam and Eve back in the garden. We need connection to each other and to the earth.
Take time this week to take an inventory of your life. Look at where you live and where you play. Look at where you spend your time and energy. Is that time and energy spent throughout the day connecting you to the life-giving rhythm that we all need? Are you taking time for meaningful connections to people, to the earth and to purpose? If you are longing to return to the basics in life, start somewhere this week. But start small and start doable. Maybe make one less playdate, and instead get in the dirt with your kids. Maybe take a bit more time wandering through your local farmer's’ market, and just talk to people. Put your phone on airplane mode in the evening and create with your family and friends. There is a shift happening in our world, a call back to the simple needs of life. When this happens and we honor our basic needs as a society, we find we are the most creative, innovative, connected and satisfied.
-Ruth Atkins @friendscallmeru