Why We Do What We Do: Why they're Sharecropping at Abundancia

This story is part of our series featuring Action Takers from our May 2012 Transition Challenge, and why they do what they do! (You can read Molly's introductory blog post here and links to more stories below.)

by Molly Rose-Williams

WOODINVILLE, WA -For Cynthia Swenson, what she’s doing and why she’s doing it seem to meld together when she talks about ABUNDANCIA, the sharecroppers garden she and her partner, Joel Cuellar, started last year after getting involved with their local Transition movement. Joel and Cynthia began with no farming experience, so ABUNDANCIA really is a collage in progress, pieced together with an aesthetic of inspiration and borne by a wave of support from the community that has united to teach them the basics of urban farming. Even without any farming experience, apparently the vision worked though, now with almost an acre of cultivated land and an ever-growing community of farmers involved.

The creation of the ABUNDANCIA sharecroppers garden has been an ongoing collaboration between the pair with very different backgrounds and equally electric enthusiasm. As part of the May Transition Challenge, they stepped up their efforts to get community members involved with wood-working parties, cucumber and radish work days, educational workshops, and, of course, a potluck or two.

Cynthia, an admissions counselor for the School of Education at Antioch University Seattle, is a deep believer in experiential education, citing Gardner’s “multiple intelligences” as a pillar of her educational philosophies. She sees the garden as a natural classroom because it is a place where one can use all their senses, meaning that “every person can benefit,” she says. For her, it doubles as a farm and “informal educational lab.”

Joel, an artist, approaches the garden with a deeply engrained environmental aesthetic. During the day, he designs 3D environments for videogames, creating places that make people interested, environments that people want to explore. In his time off, he has poured himself into making the garden a beautiful place that people “just want to hang out.” “It’s a place you should miss, you want to be there when you’re not,” he says.

The ever-growing community seems like a natural by-product of their very different backgrounds. For both, these backgrounds have deeply informed their approach to creating the garden as an inclusive space, and that commitment seems to have paid off. “Indian, Swedish, Hmong, Chinese, Mexican, Filipino,” Cynthia reels off, “sometimes it gets heated out there.” Joel laughs in agreement. “But that’s also part of what’s so special about it.”

Their motivations for starting the garden run the gamut from personal experience to social responsibility, and everything in between: “reducing reliance on peak oil, starting to work towards a more sustainable future,” explains Cynthia, “but also, as a working class person, the price of food definitely was a factor.” Joel cites “Power of Community,” a movie about Cuba’s response to peak oil and local agriculture projects, as an important source of inspiration.

“The whole idea was intimidating at first,” says Joel (whose only experience growing food was a high school project about which he was ambivalent). “It seemed impossible. I kept thinking I wouldn’t be able to do this, it’s hard to grow your own food!” And it is hard, they both agree. “You sweat,” enumerates Joel, “but at the same time, it’s simple. It just takes care and love.”

Ultimately, Joel says, he had to get over his fear of failure. “Transition can be kind of tough because it’s foreign…but you just have to remember, people have been doing this for a long time.”

As we’re about to ring off, Cynthia says she just has one last thing to say. “I just want to stress, we really didn’t have any skill when we started,” she says. “The community just kind of came together and taught us what we know.”

And for ABUNDANCIA Sharecroppers Garden it has been just that simple: an action born of inspiration in its purest form and carried not by knowledge or experience, but by community. So far, this has proved to be just enough.

Click below for other stories in this series.

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