“Of the art of acquisition [of food] then there is one kind which by nature is a part of the management of a household, in so far as the art of household management must either find ready to hand, or itself provide, such things necessary to life…” Aristotle, Politics

For Aristotle, producing food in some way is natural to the household. Other things too are natural to the household, such as caring for children, caring for the elderly, eating together daily, hospitality, and engaging in significant activities of work and of leisure.

According to Andrew Lytle, writing in the 1930’s, our homes and lives are more and more deprived of “the ordinary functions of human living.” I love this line; and I think it is imperative that we make it a centerpiece of how we think about our lives today.

The ordinary functions of human living are still within our reach, or at least many of them are, if we are willing to focus. Remarkably, many of them will no longer feel ‘natural’ to us, and so they might require a real effort.

Producing food is not the most important of them. Yet in many ways it stands as an archetype for the others. It is a form of work; it is healthy in the very doing of it; it exercises our mind and our body joining them in an amazing harmony; it is a great context for solitude; it is an even greater context for company, joining us with those we love; it attunes us to the patterns of nature, revealing these as the incomparable gift they are; it is fruitful in ways almost incomprehensible, most directly in its nourishing and delightful produce.

In a world of more and more non-living or outright deadening things and activities, growing food is enlivening and life-giving.

When my parents were children, our whole nation united in an effort to make households productive again. The Second World War made home gardens a necessity, and thus so-called ‘Victory Gardens’ sprang up everywhere, becoming a household word and practice.

This is no longer a matter of war between nations. It is a matter of the survival of our households and the human life within them.

Plant a garden, even if just a few pots on the patio, or a fruit tree or berry bush in the yard. It is a matter of life, human life in the household.

Seasonal Note:
For many of us August is the final chance to plant annual vegetables. All kinds of greens, such as lettuce, spinach, and a quick/easy favorite, arugula, can still be planted now—if you act soon—for fall harvest. Fall is also an alternative time to plant trees or berry bushes; you can check with suppliers to see if they have fall stock available. And in any case, it’s never too soon to start preparing the ground for next spring, perhaps by putting down some mulch or compost, or even throwing in some clover or vetch seeds to grow a ‘green manure’ crop now to improve soil fertility for later.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Politics is one of his major ethical works.

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