Weeds, and Other Conundrums
The dicti0nary defines a weed as “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.” Sounds about right in line with the way we all perceive weeds in our gardens, our lawns, and our public spaces in general. We’re taught to pluck them from their roots, toss them aside, and hope they never grow back (even though almost inevitably, they will).
But what if I told you we’ve got weeds all wrong. What if weeds were the last bastion of an indigenous biome, fighting for their survival against invasive flora brought from every corner of the earth to sap the soil of its nutrients and feed hordes of the greatest invasive species of them all, humans, in the most efficient way conceivable. Maybe harsh? Maybe a little true?
But will anyone think of the dandelion? Common throughout our region, these yellow flowers sprout up over the spring and summer and burst into glorious puffs of super-spreading seed masses, inevitably spreading their short roots and capturing the ire of lawn-owners in perpetuity. But, the dandelion is far from a nuisance plant. They’re renowned for their medicinal purposes and when you’re not looking, or maybe while you are watching and judging, folks everywhere are gathering their leaves, stems, and flowers to make teas, pet foods, medicines, and otherwise.
When we vilify a largely inocous plant species, we’re committing the same, probably unconscious sin, perhaps in different form and certainly in a de-anthrophocentrizing way, as we commit whenever we place the value of certain groups over others. When we prioritize the voices of the power-holders over the experiences and voices of our students when they call out for healthier meals in their cafeterias; when we lift up students who are the loudest or highest achieving over those who may be irksome or slower to reach the expectations we set upon them; or when we lionize our volounteers who make the most gragarious contributions without giving nary a thanks to the folks whose quiet work make our missions possible through their seemingly mundane taks and alms.
When we fail to recognize a weed for what it is, a native plant whose purpose on this Earth may be contrary to our needs as gardeners but possibly essential to the needs of so many other people and organism, we’re reinforcing in a lesser magnitude inequitable attitudes towards those people or students or other groups that lay outside of our natural preferences.
Weeding is a moral quandry, for the discrimination it reinforces, for the carbon it releases from the soil, for the labor it requires to constantly upkeep and the ways we do or don’t pay for that labor. So when our studnets asked “how do you tell what is a weed” this past week, the answer was more complicated than just “the plants that might harm the one’s we’re growing for food or that don’t look appealing to be around.” We weeded anyway, as our crops and soclial order require of us. But it shouldn’t stop us from considering the dandelion, or the clover or the bittercress or the morning glory. When we pick and choose the plants to grow and the plants to cull, it’s not just our immediate needs we aught to consider. There’s a whole ecosystem, filled with reciprocating relationships between native and invasive species. What role are we meant to play in an environmnet that does not belong to us, while sustaining our communities and teaching our children to be stewards of both?
About the Grantee
The Elijah’s Promise Community Kitchen was started in August of 1989 and since it’s inception, the soup kitchen has grown from an organization of three paid staff and 100 volunteers serving 35,000 meals a year to a multi-service organization of 26 paid staff and over 3,000 volunteers serving over 170,000 meals annually between all of our meal service programs.