Reflections based on Kimmerer’s Honorable Harvest in her book Braiding Sweetgrass


Taylor, Lerner, and Cooke

Video of our Reflections:


Our stories this morning are all adapted from the book “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer from 2013. The subtitle is “Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.” Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology. At the intersection of those to aspects of her life, she reveals the wisdom of sustainability as something both modern and ancient.

As the season turns once more to the time of harvest and our country’s holiday of thanksgiving. I invite us into the wisdom and wondering that Kimmerer’s book offers. She writes about our needing to see ourselves as a part of our ecosystem. That we should not merely take, but instead both give and take. As heterotrophs, we do not photosynthesize our own energy. Our role is to consume, to exchange a life for a life.

Kimmerer asks

“How, in our modern world, can we find our way to understand the earth as a gift again, to make our relations with the world sacred again? I know we cannot all become hunter-gatherers- the living world could not bear our weight- but even in a market economy, can we behave ‘as if’ the living world were a gift?” [p. 31] 

Do you have a story of how you’ve grown or foraged or hunted your own food? Are you a part of your ecosystem and the give and take that is needed as you consume? As you sit down for a Thanksgiving meal, can you note where the various foods came from and how they came to your table?


“For much of my life, I have had access to fresh grown foods. For instance every year my family has a garden that always at least has something growing in it or my first job was working on a vegetable farm. For this I am thankful as it has given me a very open perspective to the benefits of eating food produced in this manner and as a kid it gave me the opportunity to enjoy vegetables that many others my age never got the opportunity to experience or learn to enjoy.

Another place I ended up being involved with food was my grandfather’s old garden. It was a project of his to grow some food for himself, an endeavor which lasted a handful years. Over time he began to downsize it as the work began to outweigh the benefit to himself. Year after year it began to shrink until there was only one bed left that happened to be full of asparagus. For him the time had come to let this final part of the garden go. As he requested, I mowed over the area as I had with the previous garden beds leaving his yard garden-less or so we thought. The thing some of you might not know about asparagus is that once it is left untouched for its first two years it begins to be self-sufficient making it become super resilient. This meaning to this day year after year that asparagus pokes its way out of the ground showing exactly where the bed was and during its most active time of the season, even while mowing over it weekly there are enough stems to make a dinner side out of each week.

The resilience of asparagus is definitely something to admire and just one of many examples that if nature is not pushed past its breaking point it will continue to provide.”


Dylan reminded me as we were preparing for this service of that favorite Dr. Suess quote from the Lorax. “Unless! Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” The path to a better world is for people to care. The path to caring is being connected, being interconnected and familiar with the world.


I grew up the youngest of eight children to parents in NW Pennsylvania who grew up during the depression and experienced food rationing in World War II.  We had a stove with 8 burners, two ovens, a griddle and a broiler. It’s not surprising that, having to feed all of us, they were experienced in gardening, foraging, fishing, hunting, bee keeping, and raising chickens and other fowl.

Some of my favorite memories are walking along the trails in the woods near our home picking raspberries, blackberries and blueberries with my Dad.  Along the way we’d sometimes find mushrooms to bring home for dinner. He knew which ones were safe and which were not.

My mother loved to grow vegetables that seemed unusual to me. I’m still not sure what salsify is, but it sounded exotic.  She grew brussel sprouts long before I ever saw one at the grocery.  I wasn’t much for weeding, but I loved the harvest, and learned to freeze and can produce for the winters.  We were always taught not to waste food, or anything for that matter – we’d hear, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

I remember holidays that were packed with people cooking and baking and sharing stories, and I’ve tried to pass down the wisdom and love to our children.  They are all excellent cooks, and one is a professional chef.  Our holidays continue the loving traditions of our ancestors.

Many of you know about John Murray, an early Universalist in this country, who landed in Good Luck NJ near the home of Thomas Potter.  The Murray Grove Retreat and Conference Center is still on this property, and is a favorite place for many UUs to retreat and relax.  One fall, I noticed that the wild concord grapes that grow around the pool had a bumper crop of grapes.  My foraging genes kicked in, and a few grocery bags later, I was on my way home to make jelly.  No Hell Jell, we called it, and I donated most back to Murray Grove as a fundraiser.

I’ve been following along with the lives of some youth leaders from my time with the UUA Metro NY District, now adults.  Of course, many of them are in the helping professions, and I’m delighted that more than the average number of them turned to occupations in sustainable agriculture – like

Katie who was farm manager at John Hart Farms, a family-run working farm that offers resources and information to growers at any agricultural scale—from families looking to raise a few chickens, to industrial-sized operations.

Kassandra in Colorado at FrontLine Farming, a food and farmers advocacy group focusing on food growing, education, sovereignty, and justice.

And Tobin in Mass, working with Book and Plow Farm, associated with Amherst College.  They provide high quality vegetables and nourishing education that feed the local community in sustainable ways.

Watching these youth and my own children grow into caring and nurturing adults really gives me hope for the future.


For my part, I can only witness to the blessing and abundance of the earth. I am not an attentive gardener. I have many examples I could share of herbs and vegetables under my care that did not make it. The farmers’ fields from my youth were a fertile land for my imagination, but I never actually paid attention to the food that was growing there as well. I am a child of the supermarkets and restaurants. Kimmerer’s question drives right to heart of my own living. Perhaps it is different for you. I welcome you to call your own story to mind.

Kimmerer asks

“How, in our modern world, can we find our way to understand the earth as a gift again, to make our relations with the world sacred again? I know we cannot all become hunter-gatherers- the living world could not bear our weight- but even in a market economy, can we behave ‘as if’ the living world were a gift?” [p. 31] 

In a world without end,

May it be so.