For those of you who also follow my Broken Ground page on Facebook, you may have seen that last week, I finished a 10-Day “Create Before you Consume” Challenge. What this challenge entailed was drawing, painting or creating something for 10 consecutive days before I looked at the news, checked my e-mail or went on social media. The idea came from one of my business mentors, Marie Forleo, who encouraged people to adopt this “Create Before You Consume” idea as a New Year’s resolution.
This idea resonated strongly with me because creating before you consume falls very much in line with the concept of permaculture. As the late Bill Mollison, co-founder of permaculture, is often quoted as saying:
The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.
We are brought up in our culture to be consumers of material goods, of food, of energy, of pop culture, and of information. What permaculture teaches us to do is to become producers again, of our own food, of energy, of art, and of community. It reminds us that we are multidimensional human beings who aren’t only meant to sit in front of a computer, scroll through our phone, and absorb information. Our hands are meant to sink into the soil, plant seeds, nurture a garden, build shelters, dig swales, draw beautiful landscapes and bake bread. In this globalized world fed by industrial agriculture, our disconnection from having to meet our own needs, has meant a disconnection, in part, from our own creative force.
Now had I decided to challenge myself to do this in the spring or summer, it would have been much easier. That is the beauty of being a gardener. You are producing every day, ushering plants into existence and creating food, beauty, and habitat for the multitude of creatures that visit your garden.
But since it’s still winter here, I opted to paint and draw things from my garden instead, since I couldn’t actually be in it. Like a good permaculture practitioner, I also wanted this “Create Before You Consume” Challenge to serve multiple functions, to give followers an idea of the various species that we have growing in our food forest and how they are used.
The challenge reminded me of how, when I was young, I used to paint quite often. In middle school, my best friend and I would strap our supplies to the backs of our bikes and ride to a nearby park to paint. We’d pretend to create a ‘body of work’ that we would later ‘sell’ at a make believe auction. (Yes, we were those types of kids :-).
As I grew older, things like art fell away. Although I enjoyed painting and drawing, I wasn’t particularly talented at it so it wasn’t ever going to become a career. Therefore, spending time on it didn’t seem justified, especially if it didn’t serve a “productive” function. Besides which, the intellect was what was prized in our family. Growing up, I was a book smart kid who was expected to do well in school. Creativity wasn’t going to help me excel, or so I thought at the time. And then life got busy with jobs, relationships, family, friends and travel and then later, with building a business; there was no time for hobbies like art.
Thankfully, it’s when I started my permaculture business that I began creating again, not only in the garden but on paper. In garden designs for clients, I would sketch drawings with colored pencils. Besides doodling in my journal, these were the first drawings that I had done in years and I was reminded of how much I like it. If given the choice, I would prefer to draw a design for a client rather than make a digital site plan. Moving a pencil rather than a mouse, coloring instead of clicking.
So every morning for the ten days of my “Create Before You Consume” Challenge, I woke up, made myself tea and created something. It wasn’t easy to break out of my normal pattern of grabbing my phone and opening up my e-mail first thing, but I resisted. It also made me realize that even as a person who lives outside of the mainstream in many ways, there is still a strong pattern of behavior that makes me feel the need to be connected every morning to the world "out there".
If you’re interested in seeing the results of my challenge, you can click here to see an album of what I created. Every painting or drawing has an explanation of the species growing in my garden and the usefulness of that species.
A lot of things are going on in this world right now, some good, many bad but all of it is information that we absorb and consume every day. For a sensitive person like me, it’s sometimes difficult to know how to respond, what to do and where to pour my energy.
Yet we need to remember not to forget ourselves in the clamor of this information age, we need to remember to be artists, creators of beauty, of joy, of community, and of course, of food.
So, today, tomorrow or next week, I encourage you to do your own “Create Before You Consume” Challenge. It doesn't have to be painting or drawing either, it can be baking or journaling or writing a poem. And it doesn't have to be for ten days, it can be for three, or five or thirty. And if you're willing, I'd love it if you shared your experience and thoughts in the comments below.