Tao of the Farm – Principle number 4: “You are not the first person to plant a lemon tree”

Hlubi and I this weekend visited “Babylonstoren, a beautiful wine farm somewhere between Paarl and Stellenbosch. It has beautiful vineyards and fine examples of historic Cape Dutch architecture, but more than anything else, it is the gardens that leave a lasting impression. The three hectare garden is expansive and is set out as a long rectilinear grid and irrigated with a water channel that runs along is length down the gently slope.
Annuals and Perennials, Fruit, vegetables and Herbs

The gravel pathways form blocks which frame different zones of fruits, vegetables, poultry, herbs and flowers. It is a beautiful place, but at the same time is a fully functional, productive garden producing the highest quality produce for the three restaurants and shop on the site. The gardener is highly knowledgeable, as have been the gardeners that took care of gardens just like Babylonstonern in the cape since the time on the Company Gardens in Cape Town in the 1600s. The point of course is that gardening is not something new. People have been perfecting this art for thousands of years. Each generation of gardeners has worked to make slight improvements and modifications to the work of the previous generation. No successful gardener has ever plunged themselves into an open field armed with only muscles and a spade. Of course effort is the key ingredient. But in as much as Law of the Farm Number 3 is true when it says that reading about sheep does not make you a shepherd, it is also true that there is a huge volume of information available to be passed on about any conceivable subject, including becoming a shepherd and including planting a garden.

The central gravel access path

At Pebblespring Farm, I have planted one or two lemon trees, but I simply don’t have 10 years to wait to see if this particular variety grows well in the particular spot I have chosen for it, with its particular soil and moisture characteristics. To short cut this process, I talk to other gardeners, I read books, I Google, I travel to Cape Town and visit places like Babylonstoren. Why? Because its all been done before and if I am thorough in my research, I will be sure to able to take advantage of the learning hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of lemon tree planters across the world. By playing my cards right I can obtain the power and clarity that would otherwise only be available to me if I had lived for many generations.

An abundance of texture and colour

This is of course true whether I am interested in planting lemon trees, learning the art of Kung Fu or the craft of knitting a jersey. Invariably what we are trying to do has already been done, and if we look hard enough we are able to find the stories of those that have done it. I have seen though in my own life, that finding the information is not difficult. What is often difficult for me is that, faced with the huge quantity of available information, the process of trying to consume it becomes all consuming. The balance between research and action becomes distorted and I end up binging on information: books, movies, travel, blogs tweets and Facebook pages. In the same way perhaps as the obese load up with so much energy giving food that they eventually become so heavy that they are not able to move to use up the energy, causing them to become immobile and to the point where the only action they are capable of is to take in more food.

My view then is that we must rather be led by action than be led by research. Let us push forward with our mission to the point where we can see that we can no longer advance because of our lack of knowledge. We will know when we have reached this point because a question will begin to formulate in our mind. We will start digging the hole for the lemon tree, and a question will begin to formulate. “How deep should this hole be?” Once we know the question, it’s quite easy for us to know where to look and to find the answer. The research then directs our next action. We dig the hole to the required depth only to be faced with the question of soil preparation. Should we fill the hole with compost, or should it be manure? Do we need to increase the acidity; do we need to make it more alkaline? As we proceed in our action, we are prompted in research. The research then  prompts us into further action. It sounds obvious I know, but actually what I am suggesting is completely in contradiction to our contemporary education system which at very least creates the impression in people’s minds that education and training is what happens in that part of your life before you start working. So, we” frontend” twelve or seventeen years of schooling into a young life at an age where working is frowned upon and even illegal. Once this stage is over, we enter our working lives where research is most often seen as a diversion or a destructive waste of time to the point where Google may be disabled on your company PC.
But don’t worry about all of that. Rather you just be sure that:
·         Number one, you know your mission.
·         Number two, you take the first step.
·         Number three, you recognise when you are stuck,
·         Number four, you find answers to the questions required to get you unstuck.
·         Then proceed, re-check to be sure that you are still on mission and repeat steps one to four.
You can’t go wrong!

Author: Tim Hewitt-Coleman

The World can be a better place.... But how? Taking the debate beyond the political, beyond the theoretical into the real economy, into the physical and spatial dimension where cities, landscapes and livelihoods take form.

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