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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Church in a Greenhouse

I eat a lot of lettuce. I just love the stuff. And even before the recession and getting laid off, I had a lust for homegrown salad. Since I live in an indoor jungle, it seems natural to extend it into my fifth-floor apartment window boxes, and to learn the art of lettuce growing from seeds, I recently joined my local community garden. An unexpected benefit was that the garden’s greenhouse is located behind the world famous Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. The Cathedral is not only a breathtaking work of architecture, but it has a long history of supporting progressive causes and a mission to be “a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership.” Technically what’s happening in the greenhouse is not one of the Cathedral’s many service programs, but, for me, it has become church in a greenhouse — a weekly dose of horticultural therapy.

There is nothing like planting seeds to counterbalance the resounding silence that meets most job queries. And in fact, windowsill and small space vegetable gardens in city apartments seem to be in vogue. This week, Leonard Lopate did an interview on the topic on WNYC radio. Sustainable publishing’s Chelsea Green has put out an excellent new book on the topic: Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting by R.J. Ruppenthal.
And as the directive to practice local sustainability reaches a roar, websites to help are popping up all over. (Mentioned on the WNYC show were Retrovore.com and TheWildGreenYonder.com.)

But back to the greenhouse. Saturdays, I go to church. My minister is a slow-talking Buddhist named Tom Thies who, with his wife Jean, imports gorgeous Tibetan art and implements through their company Sharchen Imports. Tom has instructed me on the art of germinating lettuce and tomato and all kinds of flower seeds in the little greenhouse behind the grand Episcopal cathedral where peacocks stroll.

The greenhouse is church with no religion. It’s a place where people literally bump into one another and get dirty. And as the weather gets warmer, we will move to the garden. There, the plants will grow and bloom. And people will come and admire them. There will be music and theater in the garden (on West 89th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, if you’re in the city). People will harvest their vegetable plots. They will cook their food. They will have conversations and arguments across their dining tables. And in the winter, the plants will die ... then rise again in the spring.

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