In 2007, Tyler Hale and a group of philosophy students, as well as their professor, Corwynn Beals, started the Community Garden as Tyler’s final project for a philosophy class on Wendell Berry. I asked him to write a reflection, seven years later, on his memories from starting the garden, as well as his thoughts on what it meant for his life now. Here’s his post:
The best things often start with small beginnings. It’s fitting that our garden, which has produced so much from such little seeds, started just that way. Our class on the philosophy of Wendell Berry, the first of its iteration at George Fox, met not on campus, but in the upper room of a local coffee shop. Of course there were those few who rolled their eyes, skipped the readings and half-heartedly completed their final projects—every class has those. But I think most of us were captivated: dragged into the world of Port William, commonsense farming, and the admittedly romantic image of a world that shares, respects the land, and celebrates the often abundant miracles it produces when well tended.
Our classes dripped with potential. We were like explorers, discovering uncharted territory. It seemed wrong, like it would dishonor Berry himself, if our intellectual pursuits only amounted to an hour-a-week-navel-gazing. So, our professor unleashed us on the world. Our final projects had very little restrictions, only that they be something that grew out of our text study. Our professor, one or two other students and I began to talk about growing our own food, frustrated by the fact that we were surrounded by land, but all of it was covered with grass, non-edible ornamental plants, or bark-dust. At that time the University had just acquired a hospital that it planned to turn into academic buildings. Behind the hospital was a now unused helipad. Filled with weeds, gravel, and construction debris, this land looked to us like an oasis to be transformed.
A very few of us began to reclaim this piece of forgotten land to turn it into a garden. We drew plans and began to clear the land, feeling the sun beat down on our backs as we weeded. We hand raked countless piles of gravel out of our garden. We tilled dirt and our sweat mixed with the sandy loam for which Oregon is famous. Our philosophy class began to make sense; Wendell began to make sense. It was late May before the ground was even ready to plant. We had designed fourteen beds that wound into a central concrete watering pool. On paper it looked like the garden of Babylon. I think our Professor planted half of the garden with tomatoes and basil that year (a delicious example of a monoculture!) and we began hand watering the garden using borrowed water (and a hose that we had pilfered from plant services) from a nearby house.
It wasn’t always fun. Our plants didn’t always grow. But I think that garden changed my life. We joke that college students are often delirious or naïve in their desire to change the world, but I think their sometimes brash pursuit of social change scares us. I am older now and work on a college campus and see groups of students huddled together chatting excitedly about how things could be. I hope and pray they will look at the land and see gardens, warm sun-ripened strawberries, and hear the land calling them to put their hands back into the rich soil and to remember that from soil they came and to gardens they will one day return.