Alibi V.16 No.16 • April 19-25, 2007 

Flash in the Pan

Easter in the Garden of Good and Evil

Who you callin’ chicken?
Who you callin’ chicken?
Chef Boy Ari

The other Sunday I was celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on what used to be my front lawn. Five years ago I covered an area of the yard with black plastic. Deprived of light and water and cooked by the sunlight-absorbing shield, my lawn was toast.

Like Easter, which connects death and resurrection, the death of my lawn gave way to the birth of my garden. During six weeks of cover, the worms and bacteria transformed my lawn and its extensive root network into light dirt, which turned over like a lover in bed, and grew some of the biggest, healthiest crops ever.

Consider doing this yourself, right now—before your lawn takes off this season. It doesn't need to be the whole patch, just pick out a manageable section. You can purchase the plastic at the hardware store and hold down the edges with rocks or 2-by-4s.

Then, some blissful June day, travel to the farmers' market or a local plant nursery and buy some tomato or pepper starts, or maybe some basil plants. Bring them home, roll back the plastic, and all of a sudden you're gardening in a Disney movie. In other words, it's easy—no tiresome breakup of tough, root-bound sod that's been reinforced by weeks of springtime growth. Your plants will ease into the soft, clean dirt like it's butter.

I was planting shallot bulbs in my front garden on Easter Sunday when a woman walked by with her dogs and kids in tow. She saw me working and smiled as she passed by on the sidewalk.

"Lucky you," she said with a hint of jealousy, "your hands are dirty."

"Happy Easter," I said.

"That's my church," she said, pointing to the ground. "The church of dirt."

When she left, one of my chickens came over to the newly turned shallot beds, looking for some easy worms, which she would happily convert to manure and eggs. (I celebrate an old-fashioned Easter: The eggs are delivered by chickens, not bunnies.) But I love my worms, so I shooed away the chicken. Instead of running away, she squatted down, held out her folded wings, and shook her head nervously, quivering her whole body.

I reached down, took a firm hold of her tail feathers, and shook vigorously. After a moment I let go, and she walked off like nothing had happened. Then all the sudden she shook herself and all her feathers puffed out enormously. When her feathers settled down, she went straight back into the old hunt ’n’ peck and back into the shallot bed. I tossed a pebble at her to finally get her away.

Any day now, when I plant salad mix, the chickens will be banished from the garden entirely. Chickens are bad enough on shallots, digging them up with their scratching, but they eat salad mix. So I will control access to my forbidden fruit (the garden) since my Adam and Eve (the chickens) can't behave. Fixated on their desire to dig and eat, and not upon the good of the whole garden, the chickens affirmed they cannot be trusted with free will.

And if you think humans are any different, consider the March 12 issue of Time magazine, which had a cover photo of an apple and the words: "Forget Organic. Eat Local."

The article's author, New York resident John Cloud, was at the grocery store obsessing between a California-grown organic apple and a locally grown apple from a tree sprayed with bug and fungus poisons. To research future choices, he bought them both.

The California apple, perhaps worn from its long journey to the East, didn't taste as good to him as the New York apple.

But he worried about getting cancer from the chemical residues on the local, non-organic apple. So he dove into the scientific literature on the subject, and the evidence he found didn't convince him the chemicals in question posed a problem.

Thus assured, the local apple won, purely for flavor and not, he constantly reminds us, for "lefty" reasons. Farmers' markets are too inconvenient, he complains, and food co-ops "too political." He's perfectly happy at Whole Foods supermarket, and if the California apple tasted better he'd have chosen it, despite all the extra hydrocarbons used in getting it here.

Cloud's choices are clearly driven by a "me-me-me" way of thinking rather than by any consideration that his piece of fruit is part of a larger garden. He's like my chicken—a bit more clever, certainly, but hardly wiser. The truly wise, like the lady who worships at the church of dirt, know that if you love the earth, chickens, farmers and gardens that feed you, your food will taste even better. Amen.