Reseeding The Economy

Solomon was a great king, but not a gardener. It turns out that, after all, there is an infinitude of new things under the sun. This is the essence of innovation and evolution, and the antithesis of tradition and the status quo. Thus, Darwin was, perhaps, the truest of all prophets. While I’ll never stand in the company of Darwin, much less Solomon, I’d be quite comfortable with—of all people—the newest investor in The New York Times and Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim Helú. In fact, he quotes what I would call “Burpee scripture”:

“Wealth is like an orchard, a fruit tree. You have to distribute the fruit, not the branch. You have to plant more seeds to create more wealth.”

(NY Times 6/28/2007)

Normally an excellent wordsmith, President Obama would do well to take a page from the gospel of Slim Helú and think “seed” rather than “stimulus”. Darwin escaped the mechanistic “stimulus and response” world of early 19th century science for the coastal islands of South America. In that laboratory—the vast unexplored horizons of the New World—there were no scientific orthodoxies, bloodless political or economic philosophies, and endless “zero-sum games” of give and take. There was only regeneration, rebirth, genetic flow and evolutionary flourish. Duplicate dollars make no more sense—or growth—than duplicate genes. Let the financial dinosaurs go extinct, and let the economic chips fall.

For example, a “survivor” seed grows from a 1-inch nut to a 50-foot tree. Thus, in the successful home garden, one corn seed becomes 1,000 more; a tiny speck turns into 35 pounds of tomatoes. Therefore, utilizing Burpee’s new Money Garden, one dollar becomes 25, given a bit of humus, a spot of compost, a dozen hours of tending and two months of sunshine—a drop in the hole in the bucket of our recent economic history. Is not “seed” a worthy paradigm?

The word stimulus fails to stimulate. To the extent it conjures any image whatever, one envisions a god-like doctor delivering a jolt of stimulus to a comatose patient, eliciting the odd spasmodic jerk. If unresponsive, the latter is pronounced dead. This is entirely the wrong metaphor for the dynamics of the economy. Hardly an inert body, our economy is in fact a complex ecosystem—a garden, if you will—of sellers, buyers, investors, borrowers, lenders, winners, losers, supply and demand.

Far from mere cause/effect or “stimulus/response”, the economy is the epitome of “interactive”, as is the garden. Invest for growth doesn’t mean “stimulate”—rather, it means “seed” and “feed”; “tend” and “train” into fruition and harvest. Mr. Obama and his advisers are not, I suspect, gardeners, and, perhaps, fail therefore to grasp either the metaphor or the reality of what is meant by growth in business or markets.

A gardener isn’t a doctor, just as seed isn’t stimuli. Rather, we the people are, all of us, sunlight. All we need are the seeds of knowledge and education, the nutrients of technology, time and patient attention to detail, and the gardens of our labor will grow, ripen and bear much fruit. Instant gratification doesn’t gratify, and the stimulus doesn’t stimulate. On the other hand, seeds—in reality and metaphor—are the beginning as well as the end, the alpha and omega, a link between the past and the future.

Should the President adopt a “seed” metaphor, he needs to remember not to “sow from the center”. Gardens are like the communities of America—not a European style, monocultural monarchy of cultivars, but a broad diversity of geography, climate, customs and ethnicities. Our US gardens are more Noah’s Ark than Eden; more backyard garden than White House garden. As opposed to the Education or Health and Human Services departments—with their feckless efforts to instill or “stimulate” best practices—the new administration must first identify the proper plants for each zone, so to speak. In the garden you need to be close to the ground. To do that, talk to the local gardeners, to avoid the timeless scenario of the cagey farmer who outfoxes the sophisticated city slicker. Fertilize Main Street, not Wall Street.

Once he opens the gate of the American garden, the President might, like Carlos Slim Helù, discover something “new under the sun,” and an innovative economy shall become fruitful and multiply.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 23rd, 2009 at 7:17 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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24 Responses to “Reseeding The Economy”

  1. Art said:

    I could not agree with you more. If you have a stunted plant that will not grow you do not waste time trying to save it, you remove it and make room for the other plants around it to grow.

  2. Brenda said:

    That was absolutely wonderful and SO correct! Please send that to our new President! Thank you

  3. Hank said:

    President Obama has planted 800 billion seeds so far and more to be sown. It is now up to us to help them germinate.

  4. Linda said:

    BRAVO! Well said!

  5. Susan Lunn said:

    Nice, be fruitful and multiply, I’ve read that in the Bible too. And a seed, as we know, contains all the elements necessary to produce a living organism, all we need do it provide appropriate media.

  6. Carlos said:

    Well Said and very good reading. I have to say that I enjoy reading each of the Heronswood Voice and as much as I like it sometimes I wonder if I subscribe to the right blog. I thought this was all about the garden or maybe it is and we’re just waiting for spring to get here to start writting about it.

  7. Linda said:

    Amen, Brother, Amen! If only more people truly understood the truth of this analogy! I feel I’m blue in the face myself. But as Felder Rushing says, those of us who know how to grow foodstuffs will be ready – and saved – when the revolution starts…..

  8. jennie said:

    I felt very enlightened by your blog..feel much the same way.

  9. TED KIPPING said:

    George, your are not only a proper plant-phreak, nurseryman, all-around nice guy – but a philosopher/pundit as well. – Ted Kipping from California Horticulture Society & the pacific Coast Native Iris Hybrids speaker at Claremont/Rancho Santa Ana “Out Of The Wild & Into The Garden” symposium

  10. M. Florini said:

    Dear George,
    Wonderfully said, very good metaphors, and I hope someone forwards it to Obama and to Congress. I am sending it along to many of my colleagues.
    M. Florini

  11. Celise Sharpe said:

    I have begun sending your wonderful thoughts to like-minded friends. It seems logical that a person with hands and fingers in the earth, someone who nurtures and appreciates living things, would have a solid understanding of the world and its inhabitants. Wished you lived close by, my husband and I would enjoy having a friend like you to sit with in the garden and chat about the world. Thank you.

  12. Evelyn said:

    Why don’t you send your message to the white house web site?

  13. John said:

    Darwinian Economics seems to work fine for some things. But when a lot of people are without healthcare and hardworking folks are without jobs something else is needed. I think that the Presidents message was that we are all in this society, called the U.S., together and if we work together we can form a better world than we started. That is radical gardening at its best.

  14. Jones said:

    Although the point is well taken, the aim is off by a bit. The policies of the day are not some new ‘gardening strategy’ from Obama, but the tired old strategies of Congress. There is no single message that these folks will hear, until we send them all home.

  15. Paula said:

    Great writing on using the seed and garden as a metaphor for our new (hopefully) growth economy and paradigm shift.

    I hope you post this at

    I think our new president would like to read this. Especially as it comes from one of the local farmers!

    Take care and keep up the great work!

  16. Karen said:

    Finally some sanity in this crazy mixed up world. I liked what Art said. Uproot the plant that doesn’t want to grow to make room for the others to florish.

  17. Lainie said:

    Hi George – Just read your sustained victory garden metaphor. Kept wondering where you were going with it (what does seeding translate into?), til I got to the final oft-repeated slogan, “Fertilize Main Street, not Wall Street.: Got it! Agree. Happy gardening.

  18. victoria said:

    What a great comment about reseeding vs. stimulate. It reminds me that “stimulating” a plant with a “quick growth” fertilizer is not nearly as affective as planting in good soil to start with, thus eliminating the need for constant “stimualtion”

  19. Sarah Pabst said:

    Beautifully written ~ Couldn’t agree with you more ~ Thank you!

  20. Linda said:

    You write beautifully, and your essays are such a pleasure to read. However, I agree with John — Nature and human-created institutions and problems are not perfectly analagous. We tried the “survival of the fittest approach” to economic and social policy in the past (see histories of the last half of the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries) and found that the human costs were too high, so we began to change our approach. I think using the analogy also paints with too broad a philosophical brush an issue that is far more complex than any of us can imagine. If you want to use a metaphor, how about this: Does not a good gardener spend a lot of time planning, planting, weeding, watering, fertilzing and basically controlling and nurturing his garden rather than just leaving the fate of his garden to the wiles of nature (and, the survival of the fittest)? I liken Obama to a good gardener Your words are provocative and stimulating. Got me thinking! Keep it up.

  21. Marianne Jackson said:

    Stimulate? Reseed? > What difference does the name make given the INTENT?

    Our new President has asked us politely to unite, to volunteer, and to help each other out – to be generous and to show gratitude.

    That time in November when most of us came together to elect him seems to mark the high point of our unified effort so far. Instead, we’ve marched – Left, Center, and especially Right (egad) into being a righteous Nation of Contrarians. Everyone’s 15 Minutes of Fame purports some unique approach to divide our thinking.

    How about instead let’s move to outsource all wars to The United Nations? This will leave our hearts, minds, and energy free to cultivate Seeds of Peace grown for families in Iraq, Afganistan, Pakistan, Gaza, Darfur, and, dear god, The Congo.

    We can also donate garden supplies to local community garden groups, offer our services in Auctions, volunteer in classrooms (hauling in garden supplies so students can take a plant home & grow seeds in the classrooom and on school grounds) … and more. Above all, we can now plan to plant MORE vegetables to drop off at local community or senior centers with a simple FREE ORGANIC PRODUCE sign.

    Yes, We Can, contrary or not.

    Good Luck!

    And ps. In fact, “stimulate” can indeed stir up a wondrous world of images – remember your youth, folks?!?

  22. Era Bradley said:

    Thank you for the information sent in your emails I am impressed. Wisdom is wonderful thanks. Your are an awesome writer. I look forward to hearing from Heronswood.

  23. Fred said:

    Why is it that farmers can come up with such thoughtful philosophical ramblings.
    Maybe we spend to mush time working with our hands in the soil, and at the same time use use our mind to ponder solutions to worldly problems.
    Be it resolved that all of our leaders, be it political or corporate spend more time in a garden.
    Possibly they may come up with solutions that will allow all the residents of this planet to flourish
    Happy gardening

  24. Barbara said:

    I thought your column was terrific, and the analogy is very appropriate. If the plant is dying, would we prop it up on a stake in the garden? If petals are falling off would we glue them back on? We seem to be going in the direction of giving assistance to our financial problems, rather than going to the ROOT of it all. Too much government, too few gardeners!

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