This was originally written as a guest post on Free Range Chicken.
“My mother’d say, “Pick everything up so nothing gets wasted.” – from The Gleaners an I
I recently stumbled upon “The Gleaners and I,” a documentary that I first saw several years ago about the ancient tradition of gleaning, or rummaging for unwanted stuff. In the film, Agnes Varda follows many different types of people as they glean a variety of different things: primarily food that has been tossed away by farmers, city dwellers, and so forth, as well as objects, furniture, and whatnot that is used by people for their subsistence or turned into art. Through the film, the filmmaker herself is revealed as a gleaner of sorts: a gleaner of gleaners. And in gleaning these stories and experiences, she asks a lot of interesting questions about how we assign value to food and objects within a culture of commodification and over-commodification. Is commercial value meaningful, or arbitrary and shallow? What is beautiful? What is waste?
The story that is most poignant to me as an eater and a gardener is the first one that takes us to a potato field where tons of perfectly good, edible potatoes have been cast aside to rot as waste because they are too big, too small, or misshapen. The value placed on the potatoes that make it to market is purely aesthetic–they are unblemished and therefore deemed beautiful and commercially viable. It has nothing to do with nutritional value or taste.
As a gardener, I have hands on experience with food. I have a hand in its development and I see its progress from seed to harvest. I know what food looks like, feels like, and tastes like. Through this process, I am given an insight into what good food is and how to define it. Through the experience of being a producer, I become an educated consumer, and at times, the lessons of the garden have helped me to redefine “value” outside of the parameters of commodity in general. Beauty is messy, mangled, and imperfect. Some of the best things in life are free. My yearly income has absolutely no bearing on my value as a person. The fact that I can grow my own food is a skill that I can use for the rest of my life. Its value is limitless.
Watching this film again was a good reminder of these lessons that gardening has taught me. It was a reassertion of where I’ve been, who I am, and the life I have created for myself. It was a gift.
What life lessons has being a gardener taught you?