Earth Day is gaining ground among Christians and, well, it’s about time! The theology surrounding our need to care for God’s good creation is as deep as our topsoil used to be, and as rich as the fertile earth that gave birth to the Garden of Eden.
There are a lot of big ideas out there about what we can do to celebrate this day, ideas about how to get involved in the grand movements we need to pull our world back from the brink of self-destruction. Please don’t neglect the big picture! But as I reflected on this, I wondered what it would look like to make a list of Earth Day practices for the neighborhood.
Here’s a short list of what I came up with – please share your ideas in the comments section below. This list begins with the things I’ve done (1-5) and moves toward the things I hope to put into practice by the end of the year (6-10) – remember, stewarding God’s creation is a lifestyle, not a one-off event.
- Create a front yard that invites community to enter, rest, and talk. How do we recognize and tear down natural and physical barriers to community and conversation? (See my “What If?” video at the bottom).
- Community Sun Tea and Herb Garden. This might be in your own yard or in some community space. Plant mints, lemon balm, and various flowers that tea can be made from and put instructions how to use them in your Little Free Library. Plant a variety of popular herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, and others. Have a neighborhood party to explain what you’re doing so the neighbors feel comfortable coming into your yard to harvest these gifts – then ask them what they’d like added to the space!
- Build a Little Free Library… and make sure there are some good garden and earth keeping resources in it! Again, this might be in your front yard or a community space. Even better, follow the model of the Lents District in Portland, OR and instigate a neighborhood Free Little Library revolution!
- Build a Little Free Nursery. This is an idea I came up with this spring as I looked at all the plants in my garden that needed dividing, all the volunteer plants, and the over productivity of my green house seed starts.
- Create a neighborhood orchard! Most of us don’t have room to plant a variety of trees and fruit bushes. Our yard is a pretty typical postage stamp space so we had to get creative. A couple of years ago we purchased two espalier apple trees with your neighbor and planted them on the boundary line. Six varieties of apples on one tree! But then I remembered that our other neighbor shares cherries from their trees and another Italian plums! What it we got together and intentionally planned what trees each would grow and how to share the abundance?
- Organize a Little Free Seed Library. There are lots of ways to do this. Most of us that garden buy our seeds and end up with way more than we really need. What if we took the extras and shared them with our neighbors? My next step on this adventure is to get serious about seed saving – the intentional gathering of seed from my organic and heirloom plants to save for next year – there’s a hidden abundance to share but we’ve been taught that we have to buy seeds every year!
- Create a community Tool shed. We already do a pretty good job of sharing tools with our close neighbors, but how about building a whole neighborhood tool library! I was sharing this idea, which I knew wasn’t original, with Brandon Rhodes of the Springwater Community and he told me his Lents neighborhood (yup, the same one I mentioned in the Free Little Library section) has a very efficient model already going! Here’s how it works in Lents district, PDX and here are a couple of other how to guides:
- Organize a Neighborhood Farmer’s Market Party.
- Get your neighbors together and carpool to your local farmers market. Find out if there are bulk items you can purchase together. Most markets also offer a festive atmosphere with great food to eat so plan to party with your neighbors at the market!
- Organize your own little backyard farmer’s market. One year we had more tomatoes than we knew what to do with but our cucumbers were dismal. Strangely enough our neighbors just two houses down had just the opposite problem! We would never have know if we didn’t talk to our neighbors. Neighborliness creates an abundant community!
- Organize a Toxic Block Party! This is an idea that came to me just a couple of weeks ago. What if we gathered interested neighbors together to purchase in bulk supplies needed to make earth and human friendly household cleaners? There are a whole lot of recipes and ideas out there but it’s even better together! Don’t stop there, use this party as an opportunity for your neighbors to bring all their toxic cleaners to your house for recycling at the next hazardous waste recycling event at your local dump? You could even take this a step further by inviting your neighbors to a “create your own earth friendly cleaning supplies” event. Most of the store bought cleaning supplies can easily be created with just a few natural ingredients. Here are some DIY non-toxic recipes you can explore.
- Create a neighborhood bee, butterfly, and beneficial insects sanctuary. Bring your neighbors together to talk about the effects of lawn weed & feed, herbicides like Roundup, and plants purchased from nurseries that use known toxins that kill beneficials. How can you work together to create a whole block of yards where bees, butterflies and beneficials can reproduce and thrive? This discussion should include what not to use on the garden/lawn but also what plants and habitats actually encourage a healthy environment.
This day is a celebration and a day of repentance as Rebecca Joy Sumner captures so well in her prayer for today which closes:
And on this day we mark to remember the land and all that lives in and on it, give us a seeming impossible cocktail of repentance, your undeserved absolution, good work to do with our hands, and rapturing wonder and joy in the beauty of this earth you have given to us and us to.
What are your ideas for localizing Earth Day in your neighborhood? Some of these ideas are great for people with houses but what if you live in an apartment? How would you live into Earth Day there? And how might we all move from Earth Day to the kind of stewardship that makes everyday a day we celebrate God’s amazing creation in ways that sustain and bring forth life?
- What does it mean to practice presence in your neighborhood?
- How do you cultivate place, community, right where you live?