This weekend I went on a camping trip with our church’s youth group full of city kids, most of whom had never ventured into the woods to sleep before. It made for an entertaining evening filled with instruction on tent construction and etiquette and their sounds of awe at the realization that wood really does burn to make fire. The next day, I escaped the hot sun to spend some time lounging in the shade. Since I was living closer to the land than usual, I thought this would be an appropriate time to read my library book of Wendell Berry essays, Citizenship Papers (Berry is a farmer/writer/cultural critic who has a lot of wise ideas about good ways to live).

As I looked up from my reading to see a young boy from the youth group drop an entire tomato into the dirt and proceed to toss it in the trash bag because it was “dirty,” I thought about the fact that this very tomato was born in the dirt. The large disconnect that exists between the food we eat and the dirt it came from contributes to the “profound failure of imagination” that Wendell Berry describes in his essay “In Distrust of Movements“:

“We are involved now in a profound failure of imagination. Most of us cannot imagine the wheat beyond the bread, or the farmer beyond the wheat, or the farm beyond the farmer, or the history (human or natural) beyond the farm. Most people cannot imagine the forest and the forest economy that produced their houses and furniture and paper; or the landscapes, the streams, and the weather that fill their pitchers and bathtubs and swimming pools with water. Most people appear to assume that when they have paid their money for these things they have entirely met their obligations. And that is, in fact, the conventional economic assumption. . .

Money does not bring forth food.”

I know that my imagination has often failed in this way without even realizing it.

This past spring I helped out at a wonderful organization called Joshua Farm in Harrisburg, PA. When Kirsten, the woman who runs it, informed us that part of her mission for the urban farm was to educate kids living in the city that the food they eat comes from the ground and not the grocery store shelf, I chuckled. Everyone knows that food doesn’t come from the grocery store… but maybe subconsciously we don’t. Our general concern is that we have the money needed to acquire our food, and we don’t concern ourselves nearly as much with the health of the land and the weather conditions that are the real reasons we have food. As I worked at Joshua Farm each week, I discovered that I was the urban child that this farm was educating.

Jesus for President (my most quoted book of the summer) poses the question,

“How can we fully love the Creator when we’ve grown so far from the creation?”

I’ve spent much of my summer marveling at the first garden I’ve ever had. My dad and I work on it together, and our neighbors generously let us grow it in their yard. I can’t believe how different the experience is to collect my food from the ground that I’ve watched and cared for all summer.

It’s making my imagination fail a little less.