The Blog

From Lawns to Greens: Changing the Suburban Landscape

I have a well sustained reputation of being all thumbs in my garden and unfortunately, none of them are green! Despite this fact, we decided to invest in a backyard garden and give ourselves and our children the invaluable experience of growing our own food. Perhaps it was initiated by my husband who recently turned vegetarian or perhaps it was the beautiful spring weather in Northern California, or perhaps it was Michelle Obama’s White House garden that everyone is talking about, but whatever the impetus, the initiative is well under way.

As long as my children can remember we have shopped at the farmer’s market for our weekly veggies and fruits and the time was ripe to begin our own garden. It’s not as if we hadn’t tried before, but the clay soil and the rocks holding up the hills we live on were not conducive to growing much and the deer usually enjoyed whatever little was able to sprout. This year, with a fence, a prepared garden bed, organic fertilizers and a host of little plants and seeds we were armed for the challenge. Best of all, I had an army of little soldiers ready to water, fertilize, weed, plant and harvest. I think their enthusiasm is what really took root.

When late spring rolled in with the fog from the bay, we began our humble garden. Like Arnold Lobel’s Toad, my littlest one would sing to the seeds waiting for them to germinate. My second son joked about hitting the jackpot once the beans he planted sprouted, while my eldest dutifully watered the garden and waited eagerly for the results. The budding plants reinvigorated my family as we began to see life emerge from the ground and my daughter let each flower be- as she now learned that this will be what she soon eats!

Environmentalists will tell us how we can reduce our carbon footprint by raising our own food, while the frugal shopper will tell us that it’s the cheapest food money can buy with a bountiful yield. Nutritionists will remind us how nutrient dense and tasty our home grown veggies and fruits will be, and doctors will agree that pesticide free, organic food will leave us healthier. What I want to highlight is how much my family has learned from the experience of gardening. From germination, pollination and a short, quick lesson on the birds and bees, to calculating the amount of water and fertilizer needed by a particular plant, to patience, responsibility, exercise, faith in God and gratitude- were invaluable lessons learned with ease while experiencing the most amazing cycle of life.

Now that my family has learned the values of healthy eating with fresh, delicious home grown food, they refuse to see it go to waste because they’ve seen it take so long to come to our plate. According to Ted Steinberg, author of “American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn”, Americans spend between $30-$40 billion each year on maintaining their lawns. The US census bureau tells us the average American spends up to 60% of their weekend hours working on their lawns. Imagine all this time and money spent on greens that we cannot even eat! Now imagine fresh, crisp lettuce- without threat of salmonella, green herbs only as much as your need, blossoming flowers, vine ripened tomatoes you don’t have to pay an arm and leg for and sweet delicious fruits when you want them; all this for much less time and money. This is the outcome of changing our backyard to our green grocery store. Remember change always happens in the home- or in this case, the backyard. Large backyard gardens or potted patio plants, each of us can teach our little ones the pleasures of gardening with a bit of will, water and Wikipedia; so get growing!

Originally posted at Soulfulstudies.

Farm of Peace

Over Labor Day weekend, a group of Green Muslims drove up to south-central Pennsylvania to the Farm of Peace. The Farm of Peace is a Sufi-run free range farm that raises chickens, donkeys, and sheep, and keeps a small orchard. Its rolling pastures, tucked between cerulean tree covered hills, are a bucolic treasure. The visual gem of the farm reflects the ideology that drives it – all animals are raised halal. Nowhere is this more evident than with the chickens, who make up the part of the farm called Sumayah’s Peaceful Poultry. It is second

nature for us to block out where the drumstick at dinner or breakfast eggs come from, but most of the chicken we ingest, including chicken slaughtered according to Zabiha standards, comes from hormone-injected birds who often have their beaks removed and are kept in cages too cramped to move around or flap their wings. On the other end of the spectrum is Peaceful Poultry, where the chickens are true free range and given the opportunity to live and grow naturally. You can learn more about Peaceful Poultry and its philosophy at their website.
Sumayah herself is an inspirational character
who kept us captivated as she spoke about her efforts. She helped us look deeper into the ethics of where our food comes from, reminding us of the great privilege mankind is given to take another creature’s life, and the responsibility that comes with that. We rarely think of the dignity and God-given purpose that is so often robbed from creation to supply our own sustenance. Sumayah helped bring our place in nature’s order to focus.
She made sure we gave back to the land as well, and had us clean the manure from the donkey stalls and lay it on one of their pastures. Though a small effort, it felt good to reconnect with the land and take part in its natural renewal. DC can leave one wanting for a stronger connection to nature, and the work was therapeutic. It also made the potluck iftar with some members of the local Sufi community that much more satisfying.
At some point, it would be great to bring more members of Green Muslims to the Farm of Peace. They would greatly appreciate the help, and there is reward to be found in it by anyone. Sumayah would certainly be thrilled to meet more members of our group as well, and we all have much to learn from her insight and experiences.

Our Second Service Day at Marvin Gaye Park

Jazzakum Allah khair for all your hard work folks! Here’s a recap:
1. Getting to know each other at the Riverside Center

2. Taking the tools over to the work site

3. Smiling and full of energy as we await instructions

4. Our work: digging holes for a guardrail around the stage

5. Making progress…

6. This was much harder than it looks!

7. Getting started on the guardrail (cutting and welding)

8. Almost there!

9. Mixing concrete for the foundation

10. Ahhh… admiring the guardrail.

(thanks to Rama and Ambreen for the photos!)

Are there Ayaat in the Hardscape?

The Qur’an states that there are ayaat on earth, and in ourselves, if we could only see them (51:20-21). Ayaat on earth are signs in the landscape, if you will. But last weekend, at Marvin Gaye Park, we were working on the hardscape not the landscape. So are there ayaat in the hardscape, as well? i.e. lessons for us to learn about ourselves and about life.

My blisters are healing now. Making it that much easier to type this blog post, to say nothing of my other daily chores. And though my muscles are still a little sore, it’s a gratifying kind of pain. It reminds me of the good work we were doing and the good people we were doing it with last weekend.

What does that word, work, mean for those of us who are more used to wielding pens and pencils than pickaxes? Or more used to prying open laptops with a quick click and flip, than prying through asphalt with crow bars and digging holes in what seemed like impenetrable urban soil…

Physical labor is hard but satisfying work. Our minds and our bodies crave it when we don’t get enough. Both for the respite it gives us from the cognitive gymnastics of the work or school week and for the subtle lessons learned in the process.

Here are the lessons I learned from last weekend’s hardscaping. Foundations take time to lay. The first step is the hardest. Teamwork makes it easier and more fun. The work happens largely “underground.” Inconspicuous at first, as it moves slow and digs deep. But it sets the stage for more rapid and upward progress, insha’Allah.

Mercy Mercy Me

Pictures from Green Muslim service trip to Marvin Gaye Park

Oh, mercy, mercy me.*
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be.
What about this over crowded land?

How much more abuse from man can she stand?

*Lyrics from Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)

DC Urban Gardening

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of flowers everywhere and wishing – like me – that you had a garden to grow all those pretty plants. Ok, well…maybe not. But in honor of gardens and my love for watching them grow, I’d like to direct y’all to this article in today’s Washington Post on urban gardening:

Community Gardens Need Room to Grow (link)
By Adrian Higgins
Thursday, February 14, 2008; Page H01:

“The District, like other major cities across the country, is witnessing a renaissance in community gardening as interest in fresh organic food, fears about loss of vacant lots to development and a concern for the health of the planet combine to breathe life into a staid gardening model rooted in the victory gardens of both world wars.

As they join this environmental crusade, new gardening converts are realizing what earlier generations have learned: Beyond the substantial pleasure of raising a cabbage, these collective plots push blight and crime out of a neighborhood and connect fellow residents.”

The weekend before our dinner – DC Urban Gardeners hosted a forum at the Parks Center with workshops on everything from DC’s green infrastructure to growing herb and medicinal plants. If you’re interested in helping out with various parks and gardens in area or just want to start your own and need advice, link up — visit their website and join the Yahoo Group. Their blog also has a number of great resources for the (sub-)urban gardener!