In today’s age, it is possible to live chat with people thousands of kilometres across the globe, send an email to diverse groups of people on mass, and jump on a plane and be halfway around the world in a matter of hours.
This unsurpassed period of global connectivity allows us the freedom to associate and interact with people, places and cultures that would not have been possible less than half a century ago. In many ways, this ability to share information and resources almost instantly has brought many benefits to our lives and societies. However, I believe it is also eroding something far more important; our connection to the land and our localised sense of place and belonging.
In theory, we are more connected than ever; to each other and to the world. In practice, many of us have become isolated from our local communities and have lost a sense of belonging. According to Eyles and Williams (2008, p. 22) ‘Living in a global world has greatly increased the number of places people encounter throughout their lifetime. As more people travel between places, there is said to be a weakening effect on sense of place.’
Ultimately, this disconnect has caused people to neglect and degrade the lands that they come from and turn to the mindless distractions of work, consumption and overindulgence to fill the void.
So this begs the question “how do we reconnect to a local and tangible sense of place that gives us meaning and allows us to ‘belong to the land’ once again?”
Recently, in ecological circles the term ‘place’ has come to represent a sense of relationship with the land rather than the physical location of the land itself. This reflects a longing by people everywhere ‘…to recognise themselves as an integral component of the ecosystem they happen to inhabit’ (Nollman, 2005, p. 2).
It is through gardening, and connecting with the natural environment that we can begin to re-establish our sense of place. As Nollman (2005, p. 2) explains, ‘Gardening encourages a hands-on complicity with local nature’. This allows us to feel deeply connected to the land and the food we eat, and opens up opportunities to develop ties within the local community via the establishment of initiatives such as produce swaps and communal meals.
As well as gardening and cultivating local community bonds, spending time outdoors in general helps to redefine and boost our sense of place and belonging to something larger than ourselves. For example, go on regular walks in your area; finding places where you feel connected to and at peace with the world. Stop in and chat with your neighbours. Start up a community garden… The possibilities are limitless.
We are not born with an innate sense of belonging and connection to place; it is developed as learned behavior which we formulate over the course of a lifetime. To sum up; ‘A sense of place evolves as we live, experience, grow, touch, and perhaps taste the soil; learn to predict the weather, [and] garden’ (Nollman, 2005, p. 2).
Eyles, J and Williams, A. (2008) Sense of Place, Health and Quality of Life, Ashgate Publishing, Great Britain
Nollman, J. (2005) Why We Garden: Cultivating a Sense of Place, First Sentiment Publications, United States of America
Here are some photos I took of one of my favourite places. An abandoned old growth Chestnut orchard in Harrietville, North East Victoria.