My small harvest of beans grown on the lanai that wraps around our apartment feeds who I am as a Catholic in all kinds of, maybe muddled, ways. For Catholics, the idea of seeding and bearing fruit and harvesting runs through so many of the familiar stories of the Bible that take root in us early in childhood and remain with us forever. From the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the image of heaven in Revelations with the “river of life-giving water… which flowed down the middle of the streets. On either side of the river grew the trees of life.” (Rev. 22:1-2).
I think of Jesus the Gardener telling stories of love, faith and redemption using the lilies of the field and mustard seeds. I think of Him calling down an eager tax collector from his perch in a sycamore tree. Riding into Jerusalem while jubilant disciples bore palms in his honor. Reminding us all, prophets true and false, that we will be known by the fruit we bear. “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? “ (Matthew 7:16). And every year during Holy Week, we relive His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Growing beans is nothing like facing down the thugs of wealthy landowners bent on destroying the rainforests and terrorizing the poor as Sr. Dorothy Stang did in Brazil, at cost to her life. Growing beans is nothing like the lesser known work of the nearly 100 year old Mission Sisters of Ajmer’ (MSA) in Jaipur, followers of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint who rejoiced in nature. The sisters work to combat domestic violence, fight for the rights of Dalits and prisoners, alleviate the suffering of rural women, and, yes, help them generate income through sustainable agriculture.
My two small harvests of beans—just enough to offer as a side at family dinner—calls to mind those who fight poverty by helping communities plant crops that feed them or bring in an income that can provide for their families. Like Father Stephen Ano, director of Karuna Kengtung Social Service who has helped 200 Catholic villagers in Myanmar find in coffee an alternative to poppy cultivation and the opium trade.
I am a long way from Brazilian rainforests or sustainable agriculture in Jaipur or coffee smallholdings in Myanmar. But I am on an island where Native Hawaiians have long understood that the community good depends on shared responsible cultivation. A place where Native Hawaiians like Jon Osorio and others envision the possibility of addressing homelessness by “a vigorous back-to-the-land movement with training and housing and employment all located in ahupuaa that were naturally designed for growing taro and harvesting fish.” In the Value of Hawaii farmers like Charles Reppun call on each of us to take small steps towards sustainability. He argues that “maybe it doesn’t work to have 1.6 percent of the population of Hawaii doing agricultural production, and it doesn’t work to keep bringing in poor people from other nations to do the work. Maybe we need to see how much of an agrarian society we can become again. That might just be possible in backyards, schools and community gardens.”
My lanai is no ahupuaa. But plucking a handful of healthy beans from my two planters is still a quiet, affirming thrill. Sharing it with others even more so. A sacramental moment that buying vegetables flown in by Safeway cannot provide.