Opinion: Village Matters

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One head lettuce = one box of Kleenex

ann christoph
By Ann Christoph

Three heads of lettuce = one large package of toilet paper. I know that “lettuce” can be a slang word for money, but in this barter economy, especially when people are looking for fresh vegetables untouched by unknown humans, it seems to be a tradable commodity without the use of the paper stuff.

Growing something out of almost nothing is what I have been doing every year with my lettuce plants. I let two lettuce plants—one green and one bronze—go to seed every year, gather the seed and save for next year. In the fall, I clear an area of my plot at the South Laguna Community Garden Park, dump all the hundreds of seeds in there, spread them around with sweeps of my hands, covering them with soil as I go, water and wait. Pretty soon there is a carpet of leaves, some of which can be harvested as baby greens. Then individual plants can be transplanted to other areas of the plot or given away as starts to other gardeners. It’s amazing how well the plants adjust to the transplant. Pretty soon heads develop. When they are harvested, some of the remaining crowded-together plants can take their places and grow into heads themselves. 

Thus I have developed my bank of lettuces. But I didn’t know they would produce such a nice return on investment. Who would have thought last fall that Kleenex and toilet paper would be such desired items anyway?

But an even more wonderful return is the return of kindness. Up until a month ago we were all bemoaning the tenor and hostility of public discourse. It’s still there, but it’s overwhelmed by expressions of concern, acts of helpfulness from neighbors, and creative action to address shortages of medical supplies. Yes, we still have sewing machines. We can still make things ourselves. We build confidence. We have poetry, share inspiring pictures, and a feeling of togetherness overwhelms the now distant memory of campaign bickering, foolish politicians’ pronouncements, and absurd city proposals to transform the town. We’re seeing that it’s a higher priority to help those in need, find places for unhoused people to be protected, foster the livelihoods of those on the edge of our economy most damaged by the shutdown. 

We’re fighting for our lives, fighting for a return of life as we knew it. But maybe that’s not what we should be fighting for. Is there a new kind of life benefiting from the priorities that have come from the enlightenment of this crisis?

As we stay healthy, help and comfort those in need, give our lettuce and treasured homemade items to our neighbors, and keep our medical systems going, let’s imagine what that new kind of life will be.

Christoph is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor.

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