The tomato incident

Tomato Harvest

Tomato harvest season. Photo: Manjith Kainickara via Flickr (

I was in my greenhouse the other day, watering some enormous tomato plants. These plants are massive — well over my head and still going strong. They’re planted in a raised bed, with about thirty of them shoulder-to-shoulder in close quarters. It’s literally a tomato jungle. They’re lush, full, heavy with tomatoes and the pride of any gardener.

Enter my friend, who upon seeing this eye-candy, says “You can’t grow tomatoes like this. They will never survive.”

After a pause to do a quick reality-check, I said, “What are you talking about? I am growing tomatoes like this and they are gorgeous, verdant plants.”

Totally blowing off my comment, my friend went on to tell me that he had read an article on the internet about how to grow tomatoes and it would never have condoned my simulated jungle effect.

If it was a snake it would have bit me

Okay, so I’m not only a gardener, but also a philosopher. So, there I stood, dead in my tracks, amazed at how the in-your-face evidence didn’t override the article’s speculation.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for reading, researching, and learning. But, what do we do with all of that head-knowledge when it doesn’t match up to what’s happening right in front of us?

Thus, the “tomato incident,” as this came to be called around my place, became the jumping off point for a lengthy discussion about the general paucity of critical thinking in contemporary culture.

We have, as a mass culture, unfortunately, moved into a media madness in which info-bytes override experience. For many people, having read about it, seen it in visual media and/or heard it in a podcast supercedes what’s happening right in front of their eyes. If the media said that the Emperor has clothes, he must have them, right?

Stop, look, listen

This flies in the face of Permaculture Design Principle #1, which is observation. This principle challenges the idea that you only take your information from accredited sources. Permaculture is constantly on the lookout for general patterns that shape events.

According to David Holmgren, co-originator of the Permaculture concept, the first principle of Permaculture is to observe and interact. Holmgren says,

Good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship to nature and people, in which careful observation and thoughtful interaction provide the design inspiration, repertoire and patterns. It is not something that is generated in isolation, but through continuous and reciprocal interaction with the subject.

Transition and Permaculture

The Transition movement is rooted in Permaculture principles, which some people call Social-Permaculture. Applied on a social level, the principle of observation leads to some important foundational questions. Where are we? What’s going on? Who’s involved? Where are we going? How are we getting there? How do we work together?

This isn’t something that we can simply read articles about.

We need to experience these questions together in shoulder-to-shoulder, hands-on kinds of ways (kind of like my tomato plants) to see — by trial and error — just what makes us lush, green and bountiful. Reading articles can ignite good ideas — but they have to be tried on, worn, and felt.

We also have to experience what works and what doesn’t in order to make choices for our communities (and our gardens) that will give us thriving resilience.

This means getting out there and doing it.

It means shucking off the social isolation that, as Americans, we’ve unquestionably accepted for the past two decades. It means letting go of the concept of rugged individualism.

The Transition movement is about transitioning away from overly individuated singularity toward an integrated synthesis. We, as individuals, will necessarily awaken to our roles as a part of the collective. We will reclaim our rightful place as citizens, as community members, instead of being merely content to be consumers.

When this aspect of Transition happens, culture will change because we will be shaping it instead of sitting home in our isolated houses complaining about “how bad things are.”

We’ll be out there making the changes that we want to see.

We’ll be developing our local economies through trade, barter, gifting and time banking. We’ll be participating in community gardens, fruit gleaning projects, seed saving, herbal remedies, community kitchens, wildcrafting, establishing bicycle paths, milking goats, and making cheese.

We will be on our way home!

–Sherry L. Ackerman PhD., Transition Voice

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  1. says

    I thoroughly resonate with your parting observation that all of this mutuality and communal engagement will send us “…on our way home”. We will be home in our healthy bodies, home in our inspiring relationships; earth will once again be our home rather than our major commodity; and our collective Spirit will be home with the Creator of our understanding.Thank you for such a concrete explanation of the path home………

    peace and blessings! Dele

  2. says

    Great quote, Sherry: “We have, as a mass culture, unfortunately, moved into a media madness in which info-bytes override experience.” We live in a culture that doesn’t know how to think critically, and which our educational system often encourages, making us more compliant consumers and uncomplaining couch potato non-citizens.

    As far as “coming home”, I’m going to toot our horn a little, to say that these are the kinds of people we’re meeting in our Peak Moment TV episodes — folks at the grass roots creating more locally reliant communities. Fruit tree gleaning, alternate currencies, tool libraries, lots of permaculturists, homesteaders, people tearing down suburban fences to make community in place. or YouTube’s peakmoment channel.

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