Benjamin Weiss is a certified permaculture designer and teacher, gardener, brewer, musician, and poet from Lancaster (PA). He has designed and managed three organic farms, taught permaculture at Pendle Hill, and led many gardening workshops in the mid-Atlantic region. Ben is teaching Organic Gardening at Pendle Hill over seven Saturdays from spring to early fall, starting April 5, 2014. Below, Ben shares how he got involved with organic gardening, why it matters, and what he hopes his course will mean for participants and the Pendle Hill garden.
Ben, how did you become interested in organic gardening?
I first became interested in organic gardening when I was in college at Millersville University in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I was a member of a club for social justice advocacy which was doing some volunteer work at a community garden. The directors of the garden, Schirlyn and Saheeb, who later became my good friends, spoke to our club about how they were able to trace the root cause of many of the social ills in their neighborhood to the quality of the food that people eat and to a disconnect with the natural world. I was very inspired by this vision and eventually took a job with their organization so that I could spend more time in the garden.
Why do you believe backyard gardeners should grow vegetables organically?
I feel that because our very presence in the universe has an impact on everything around us, we are obligated to take an ethical stance about the way that we live. And because organic agriculture, even on a very small scale, minimizes our negative impact on our local ecosystem or may even be of benefit to it, to choose to use this set of technologies instead of those that are more destructive, is a way of establishing “right relationship” with our food, the earth, our neighbors, and the other living beings that we share our environment with.
What is your vision for the Pendle Hill garden?
At one time, the Pendle Hill garden was very large and produced much of the food that the community ate. Over the past half century, the garden has gradually become less and less of a focal point of life at Pendle Hill. I was first invited to teach at Pendle Hill four years ago because there was a wish in the community to see gardening, environmentalism, and a connection to the earth become much stronger threads in the fabric of the community, as reflective of core values of Quakerism. My goal for the garden is to elevate its value as a feature of Pendle Hill that can once again be of service to those who seek these connections, as well as simply to supply the kitchens with an invaluable source of quality food that is not only nutritious, but that is grown with a spirit of intentionality and grace.
Do you have a favorite heirloom vegetable (or more than one favorite)? What is it about these vegetables that makes them special for you?
Many of my favorite heirloom vegetables are ones that were bred in southeastern Pennsylvania and are unique to this region, or to the people who inhabit this place. Among them are the Brandywine tomatoes, Amish Paste tomato, Amish crookneck squash, Speckled and Forellenschluss lettuce, and the York Imperial apple. I also am very fond of heirloom strawberry plants such as Yellow Wonder and White Soul.
What do you hope that participants in your Organic Gardening course will take home with them from the course?
I hope that folks who take the class will feel confident that they can go home and design beautiful, bountiful gardens, and tend them well. I’d also like to impart a deep love and appreciation for the earth, and for humanity’s relationship with the earth.
Ben, we’re looking forward to your course and to a new season of gardening and marvelous produce at Pendle Hill!