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Signs of Life

By Stephen Rodriguez, Phase II Fellow

At the top of a steep hill, sits our charming little VSDB greenhouse overlooking the farm like a cloud that will eventually drop down its seedlings in scattered showers.

I have an uncle who says that all new plant varieties come from the clouds, that God crafts original seeds from the winds high above the earth, and that they drift through the atmosphere until they’re caught by the clouds, which carry them to their final destination and drop them with the rain.

When I first heard his explanation, I felt slightly amused and doubtful, but I also felt it held certain silver strands of truth and offered a sense of reassurance that was lacking in my more mechanistic understanding of the origins of seeds. Undoubtedly, generations of intention and watchfulness have gone into the seeds we sow today.

When birds choose the fruits of one pepper plant over another, setting into motion the propagation of that plant’s seeds, are they not saving seeds based on their unique aesthetic judgments? Maybe God’s hands look like birds or deer or the wind. I’m sure the groundhogs who selectively prune our crops each year would like us to think so.

Our quaint and accommodating VSDB greenhouse

While watering the greenhouse this past weekend, I felt an old sense of wonder and responsibility arise in my heart when I saw that our first flat of broccoli seeds had sprouted. These little sprouts are at the start of an incredible journey, one that will involve their entire surrounding ecosystem, from the microorganisms in the soil to the sun in the sky (… and maybe groundhogs too). The sprouts will have to store water, energy, and nutrients in their roots, stems, and leaves, allotting some of their resources to their own growth, but also saving some energy to produce the buds that we recognize as the broccoli head. It never ceases to amaze me how a single seed, such as a pea, with an outward appearance as small and unassuming as a pebble, can unfold so much information if planted, while also providing a wonderful taste and nourishment if eaten.

Delicious, nutritious, overwintered spinach at VSDB Educational Urban Farm

A farmer's office with Blackcurrant and Bermuda Grass

I can identify with the plants growing in our greenhouse, because I too find myself at the start of a new journey here at VSDB. As the broccoli sprouts are beginning to retain water, energy, and nutrients, so am I beginning to retain the motions and meanings of different signs in my journey of learning American Sign Language.

What I love most about ASL is that many signs have an intuitive relation to their meaning (a quality called iconicity), which appeals to the same part of my brain that is drawn to rhyme and metaphor. I still have a lot to learn before I’ll be able to carry on a conversation that goes beyond mere small talk, but I feel encouraged when I’m able to see and make sense of short exchanges, such as when one teacher asked her Pre-K student, “Where is your jacket?” and the student replied, “In grandma’s car.” The information being shared was nothing revolutionary, but the transition I experienced from passively observing a signed conversation to actively interpreting its meaning felt groundbreaking.

VSDB Farm in February

These first two months in Staunton have been filled with so many wonderful gifts and learning opportunities, from the literal seeds that were exchanged at a Seed Swap & Potluck hosted by Norm Shafer at Geezer Farm to the seeds of thought that I’ve picked up while attending VSDB events such as an MLK Jr. Day assembly and my first game of goalball (look it up!).

Who knows what kinds of seeds will fall from the clouds in the months to come? Sometimes when you find a random seed on the pavement, you just have to plant it and wait to find out!

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