Forum, Spring 2017
I have a friend who is an inveterate gardener. It’s no surprise she grew up on a farm. She has a large garden on her property and tends it with care year round, and her household enjoys her garden’s harvest of fresh vegetables year round as well. She doesn’t only grow vegetables. She has a deep a love for flowers, and her house is surrounded by beds of annuals and perennials, including my favorite calla lilies.
Every child knows the thrill of digging in the dirt. The gardener knows that, too, and lovingly plants a seed or a seedling in the ground and tends it with water and mulch to encourage its growth. Watching a plant grow, my friend tells me, is the ultimate joy.
What I have learned from her is the great investment of time a garden requires. Over the years, I’ve done my fair share of planting shrubs and roses and even a few trees, but the daily tending of flowers and veggies is a time-intensive activity that I honor by admiring others’ gardens.
Poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry believes gardening can be transformative: “A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices that will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has his mind precisely against what is wrong with us. . . . [I]f we apply our minds directly and competently to the needs of the earth, then we will have begun to make fundamental and necessary changes in our minds. We will begin to understand and to mistrust and to change our wasteful economy, which markets not just the produce of earth, but also the earth's ability to produce.”
Imagine the transformative effect on the children from urban elementary schools who spent time working with Michelle Obama in her garden on the South Lawn of the White House. Schools across the country have followed her model in creating gardens of their own.
Might we think of Phi Kappa Phi as a garden? We have long-established chapters and newly planted chapters, and a whole lot in between, all producing our annual harvest of new members. A good chunk of my work involves visiting the colleges and universities that want to sow a ΦΚΦ chapter on their campuses — we’ve found that actually spending a day on a campus and meeting with the individuals who signed the petition to establish a chapter is the best way to determine how rich the soil might be for the growth of a healthy chapter.
Since the convention last summer, we have installed four new chapters: in Puerto Rico, Arizona, and two in Washington. By the time this issue is in your hands, three more will have been installed in California, Virginia, and North Carolina. More are in the pipeline. It’s been a busy planting season.
Of late we’ve been using a gardening word — grow — in our work with chapters. Because the organic growth of Society membership comes from the students who accept the invitation extended by chapters, we recognize the obligation to provide resources to nurture our chapters and their outreach to prospective members.
Spring is around the corner, and with it the first greening of trees here in the South that will gradually move north as the days lengthen. Gardeners, like farmers, will soon prepare the ground and start seeds and a new season of planting and reaping will begin. And Phi Kappa Phi chapters will be busy growing as they sow invitations and reap new members. Transformative work indeed.
-Mary Todd, Executive Director