From Farm to Garden

The most important bond between people and the earth is food. Hunter-gatherers looked to the land to provide food: fresh meat, wild plants, fish, tubers, eggs, fruits and berries. Trading and learning to cultivate foods provided a more diverse diet, and placed added importance on soils in supporting larger and larger human populations. In North America, until the 1950s, growing food on small family farms was a dominant way of life. [1] Since then the advent of industrial agriculture has provided us with an amazing quantity and array of foods, however there are valid questions about the sustainability of this approach.

Many people first come into contact with the soil through gardening, and positive experiences help people connect with the land, plants, animals and each other. [2] We can even see this in urban areas where roof top gardens, school gardens and community gardens are taking root. Some artists and poets point to the health, aesthetic or spiritual benefits of gardening. [3] For many, growing food is a necessity. Advocates for more equitable and sustainable agriculture have called for a transformation of the suburban sprawl in industrialized countries into productive garden homesteads. Food activists who are connecting people, especially youths, to the land and the community through urban gardening projects, have taken up this call. The projects offer so many things: nutritional food, leadership training, teamwork and the confidence that comes from practical experience. [4]

Gardening is rewarding work that bonds family and community through shared knowledge, labor and food. People who live with long dark winters pore over nursery and seed catalogs promising abundance, and look forward to spring. [5] Planning what to grow--human food, food for wildlife, food to attract beneficial insects, plants for soil fertility—offer exciting conversation over winter tables. Some gardeners find satisfaction building soil fertility through composting. [6] Breathing fresh aromas of soil, eating soil, tending growing plants, and eating freshly harvested food evoke family memories, connecting us to the past. [7]


1 The Land (Deborah Greenwood)
2 Shared Garden (Gerald Cawdell); Fresh Produce (Gerald Cawdell)
3 Search/Reveal (Cynthia Back); Keeper of the Earth (Marjorie McNamara); How to Develop a Healthy Immune System (Jan Dove)
4 Eclogue to GRuB (Lennee Reid)
5 Seductive Promises of Abundance (Debbi Commodore)
6 Alchemy (Robin Cushman)
7 Earthworks II (Natalie Cunningham); A Scent More Intoxicating and Geophagy (Suzanne Bailie)

The Land - Deborah Greenwood


Toroidal; collage; vintage postcards, farm equipment ads, almanacs and handwritten materials; 12 pages; 5 x 7 x 1 inches; one of a kind.

A search for synonyms revealed many associations to the word dirt. As well as soil and earth, land referred to agriculture. It also surfaced as political territory in the expression – one’s native soil.

This toroidal book is an exploration of the archetypal relationship humans have with the land as told through the images on postcards from the early 1900’s. The writings speak of the farm, work, or express awe or delight as they move across the land.

Dear Sister,
All done with grain, quite little rain, have done thrashing, turnover very poor.

Hello Wife,
Just arrived from the ranch. House nearly done and two calves, both very
much alive.

Dear Friends,
Don’t think that I have forgotten you. Altitude 8.117 ft., I climbed it today.

Shared Garden - Gerald Cawdell

In the garlic patch
Digging the soil for insects
A little wren

Fresh Produce - Gerald Cawdell

The soil
Fills the grooves in carrots
And my fingers


Search /Reveal - Cynthia Back

Multi-fold glues book; drypoint, collograph, rubber stamp; Rives BFK; 8 x 6 x .15 inches; edition of 10.

This book is a visual statement of how when looking below the surface there is much life and beauty. Pages can be opened and closed to change the plant life shown. Each turning of a page reveals more green growth until the last folding reveals colorful flowers.  



Keeper of the Earth - Marjorie McNamara

I wake to fingertaps of rain on the roof,
whisper my way into the wet of the outside
world and crouch on shingled garden paths,
knees bending over the earth,  to free
my flowers from weeds chain-stitched around them,
my fingers furrowing into dark garden loam.

I work in holy rhythm, sticky weeds to the left,
waiting transplants right;
gone to ground, covered in clay,
I rise slowly.   I am my garden’s Golem:
large and empowered, Messianic, mission
writ large in the  mud on my forehead,

soul lost in the song of the fragile roots.
Lines of slip drip from my skin primordial
as at last I clump inside for a needed wash. 
Later, nails still embedded with dirt,
I bring flowers you caress but say you can’t grow
as you can’t bear looking down at the earth for so long.

How to Develop a Healthy Immune System - Jan Dove

Accordion fold; inkjet, ultrachrome inks; Asuka, Rives BFK, Cave Paper; 3 pages; 24 x 6 x 1 inches; edition of 15.

These suggestions are from a generation of humans whose mothers demanded that they “Get outside and play!” These mothers also said, “A little dirt never hurt anybody” as well as “Scrub behind your ears; you could grow potatoes back there.” 

More recent generations have grown up in attempted germ-free environments, with indoor activities and hand sanitizers. Also with more asthma, allergies, childhood diabetes, and obesity. Increasing research is showing that a “little bit of dirt” helps the body learn to fend off the really bad bugs.

Eclogue to GRuB - Lenneé Reid

GRuB doesn't just feed the hungry food or the youth truth 
They serve up hope for the future too their staff walks on water 
Blue and Gaffi made sure was collected in an up cycled rain barrel 
They don't just grow food on that farm or hope or futures they grow wings
On the backs of solitary angels once slumped over lost in despair
Now found on their knees dirt in their hair smiling friends everywhere 
And just like disenfranchised youth with pink hair they lifted me up 
Through the dirt of a ten by ten garden plot next to a housing project 
But then real projects happened around a picnic table of volunteers 
In the self-esteem and sense of community we built 
You see we planted and grew respect in each other 
It seems they grow nothing but deep roots and wings 
Because anybody who is given the opportunity to just be 
At an urban farm run by old Evergreeners comes back to roost 
Like a pigeon homing in on personal growth and seeds of truth 
And I have the tag on my leg as proof 
That's why I keep coming back giving them time and money 
Because they gave me the bounty any good farm grows but
They did it to my heart mind and soul 
And it doesn't rot or expire like things you acquire or desire 
You can't go and buy GRuBs brand of food on just any old shelf 
I know I had some myself 

Seductive Promises of Abundance - Debbi Commodore

Dragon fold structure; seed catalog pages; book cloth; 19 pages; 10 x 8 x 1.75 inches; one of a kind.

Each winter I am drawn into her inviting pages as they give me permission to dream of what is to come.

This piece is inspired by the mark in time each winter—the cold, dark, dormant days when the seed catalogs arrive bringing promise this season will pass and a new one will soon begin filled with hope of abundance. Her dog-eared pages mark a place in time where we dream of what is possible and escape the realities of inexperience, uncertainty, failure and disappointment. We move between remembering past harvests and dreaming. We make our lists, plans, and schedules; we begin to look forward—she teases us with what will be given, celebrating before there is a bounty. Drawn to her lush images, poetic descriptions, and yield promises we ready ourselves, counting the days, waiting. We become like the seed germinating in the soil. The neatly planted rows become overgrown; the simple seed catalog has given permission to dream and perhaps reflect beyond the harvest.

Alchemy - Robin Cushman

Accordion fold; color photographs; Rising Stonehenge paper, Lotka paper cover on book boards; 12 pages; 4 x 6 x 0.75 inches; edition of 5.

1.a medieval science to transmute base metals into gold or find an elixir for health/long life
2.a process transforming something common into something extraordinary
3.a magical/inexplicable transformation

Composting table scraps and yard waste into soil creates “black gold” teeming with life and nutrients. This seems truly alchemical! Compost feeds the soil food web – the microscopic bacteria and fungi, worms and insects that are our soil engineers. Their symbiosis with plant roots assists them to take up nutrition, avoid diseases and even taste better. 

I chose photography to create “snapshots” of individual moments in my compost bin, to reveal a process that occurs largely unnoticed in the dark. The compost pictured here is currently growing lettuces in my kitchen garden. They are vigorous and will nourish my family then their scraps will start the cycle all over again. 

My fervent wish is that we respect and nurture our soil and its inhabitants. 

Earth Works II - Natalie Cunningham

My mother sold perennials out of our front yard.
She therefore developed her own recipe for dirt.
Mostly peat moss, with a scoop of Osmocote and a few scoops of Perlite.
The Osmocote was tiny round bubbles
and a dull, puke yellow like mustard seeds on steroids.
The Perlite was soft, light and white like snow.
I could crush a grain of it into powder
And scoop it up with a hushed crunch like low-key styrofoam.

My mother had a big white bucket,
a 50-gallon plastic drum that had been chopped off to be two feet deep.
She would sit on a low stool that was spray-painted goldenrod,
and add the most important ingredient: water.
The peat would turn mushy instead of powdery,
receptive to mixing instead of the fertilizers simply settling to the bottom.

Even now, I would instantly know the smell of peat moss, Osmocote, and Perlite,
and their smell when wet, which is completely different.
It has none of the mustiness of clay
or the subtlety of a sandbox.
It is pungent, fills a room with smell of fresh cut wood
and a waterfall.

Geophagy - Suzanne Bailie

Not just any dirt. Too much sand or pebbles simply ruins it.
It has to be soft and dark and rich.
Even a slight smell fills my head
stirring up an odd longing that I don’t deny.
Geophagy. Of course I looked up this strange behavior.
After reading about my socially inappropriate, unhealthy desire
I began a wide array of supplements. They didn’t
curb my enthusiasm for the most ignoble of stuff.
Dirt just sounds so, dirty.
Who would do what I do?
My husband smiles and gently wipes
smudges of dirt off my cheeks.
He thinks I love gardening.
Fearing my genes could taint my children I forbid
them to make gooey mud pies or even help pull weeds.
My small organic flower garden sits in the corner of the yard.
As fall nears I scope earth into plastic containers
and freeze it for the winter.
While January’s ice turns soil to cement
I microwave a spoonful of loam and hold it in my mouth
a delicious hint of a summer day.

A Scent More Intoxicating - Suzanne Bailie

The crew and I orbit in a sterile shell of titanium and composites.
Earth cargo was delivered 13:25.
Among the supplies and experiments were gifts from home.
We hovered in a circle, taking turns enjoying this bittersweet pleasure.

From my wife, a present of dirt from our backyard.
Trina wrote, “Sprinkle with water, wait a minute, then open to smell.”
Well-trained to execute orders, sixty seconds later I lifted the lid and inhaled.

Earth bound memories burst through me.
Freshly turned potatoes and carrots still covered in dirt.
The forest floor spongy against bare feet.
Muddy boots resting by the back door.
Cloaking fragrance of the gooey mire near a creek.
Rosy cheeks of our children playing in the wild.
The perfume of mushrooms, trees, ponds, fallen leaves,
frogspawn, worms and damp roots.

This was the gift of mother earth.
The others asked if they could enjoy
what made me smile and close my eyes.

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