Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Tomato Massacre

Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Tomato Massacre

On August 23rd, 2014, a strange storm began to brew inside the greenhouse.  Unbeknown to others, a massacre of tomatoes was taking place while each of the core members was working on various projects on the 20 acre parcel.  It was only a matter of time before we would find out what happened during a tour that was scheduled to take place the next day at 10 AM.

It had already been a long summer.  With so many projects happening, each of us felt exhausted with the amount of work that we had commissioned.  We were gearing up for a once in a lifetime opportunity to host world renowned Aquaponic Pioneer, Murray Hallam for a three day event.  Each of us were so excited for the event, but we knew that it would be a great endeavor for us to pull off while completing a greenhouse build and keeping to our summer schedule of tours and local outreach.

One by one, each of us found time to get away before the final push commenced to complete projects.  Tyler Muir, Jr. Ingenuer, was the first to leave on a week long vacation with his family.  He writes:

It started with a beautiful weeklong family vacation away in the Wallowa mountains in eastern Oregon. Nothing but crystal clear streams, vast landscapes of rolling hills, trails that scale cliffsides to glacial lakes, and untouched terrain full of old growth…not to mention the time to spend with family, laugh, catch up on life and think about the future.

After a long return drive and a day’s rest in Portland, my extended family and I packed into the car to go drop me off and see what we have been up to at Ingenuity. I was glad to be on the way home, there’s no place like it.

Taking the extended family on the tour was a lot of fun, a lot had changed since some of them had last seen everything. They enjoyed seeing the chickens we had gotten, the orchard full of fruit (which they absconded aplenty of), the material & organization we had attained in the Barn & loafing shed, and the work that had been put into the Aquaponics system inside the greenhouse.

However there was a note of sourness in the greenhouse when someone bit into fruit unknowing they were sharing with some bugs. I had also noticed that there seemed to be formations of root balls, root rot in areas, mold from the disorderly nature of the planting, not to mention quite a bit of insect & pest activity. I saw decay with yellows, browns, and grays throughout whole beds. Needless to say, besides a tomato dilemma, everybody was impressed with the simplicity & vibrance of our Aquaponics system. 

While mulling over this later, I felt embarrassed by the event and the lack of what I felt the aquaponic beds could & should be. I was also a bit annoyed that despite what I had expressed about proper plant spacing, plants were planted in such a fashion that lead to root balls, poor ventilation between the plants, vines that sprawled in every direction, and fruit in some cases that looked ill.

Seeing all this, I rationalized, from my individual perspective, that if we want a healthy aquaponics system there needs to be order & thought put into planting certain types of vegetation. I did more figurin’ and figured we can’t have anaerobic-bacteria promoting root balls or rot the Aquaponics system if we wanted to avoid these problems. Without much delay, I proceeded to playout a chapter of Ragnarök unto many a vegetations and tomato plants I saw less than perfect. When the dust settled, I felt I had taken care of the beds that had the issues, but with a lot of collateral damage to the vegetation involved nearby. I remember remarking to myself how too much I had removed.

Tyler had made a decision that evening to remove all of the tomatoes in the greenhouse.  Each and every one of them were pulled from their beds and disposed of outside.  With their fruits still one them, the lay lifeless on the ground.  No one would know until the next day right before a tour that was scheduled to take place at 10 AM.

The next morning, each of us were preparing for the tour.  Rosemary Imhof, Art Expressionist, had invited several women from her Creative Arts Therapy Association out for a tour to learn more about aquaponics and Ingenuity.  She went out to the greenhouse before they arrived to get some vegetables for a lunch  that Kate Wildrick, Co-Founder, was going to prepare.

“The initial loss and sadness due to the close relationships that I had to each and everyone of those plants became overwhelming,” Rose stated.  “This action took place without any communication about doing so.  Going outside to the shadowy grave of the plants caught me graveling to collect the precious specimens of the fruit still intact.”

Rose’s anger and hurt immediately spilled out once she found Tyler.

“While getting ready in the morning, I overheard Rose talking with Tyler about tomatoes,” stated Kate.  “I could hear in her voice that she appeared to be hurt, but I was unsure of what happened.  Not too much later, the tour arrived, and I could tell she was distracted by something.  At that time, I had no idea as to what was going on and worked to help entertain our guests and prepare lunch for them while they were off touring the facility.  After they left, I asked Aaron [Sr. Ingenuer] what had happened.  It was then I learned what had taken place.  I immediately walked out to the greenhouse where Tyler was at and began asking questions.  Tyler knew I was mad and I felt I had every right to be.  Given that we all had agreed that this is a community project, I couldn’t understand for the life of me why he didn’t speak up and communicate his thoughts to others.  His decisions took away the learning opportunity for others and the chance for us to decide together what is a best practice.  In addition, he had also ripped out other plants that other volunteers had nurtured from seed and planted in the system.”

Aaron witnessed firsthand the shocking difference of the greenhouse while out on the tour.

“I walked into the greenhouse with people expecting to show them the abundance of what aquaponics can bring,” recalled Aaron. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. Every single tomato was gone. The greenhouse looked empty especially in summertime when everyone’s gardens are full of bounty.  I did my best to stay calm and collected during the tour.”

Over the days to come, there was an inexplicable sadness in the house.  Tyler had withdrawn to reflect on the magnitude of impact that it had on the team.  Discussions occurred off to the side as others struggled to understand what had compelled him to act so out of character.  Each of us knew that the greenhouse was becoming more and more of a showcase piece.  As locals and people from the Pacific NW and beyond began to discover Ingenuity Innovation Center, each of us knew that this visibility would only increase especially with Murray Hallam’s presence.  At that time, local economic development tours had been scheduled to happen in less than a week.  The Murray Hallam event was scheduled to take place in a little over three weeks.  The greenhouse looked barren now that all of the tomatoes had been removed.  We all could see and feel the devastating effects of what had happened, yet none of us really knew how to move through it.

“I kept waiting for Tyler to move through his process so that I could really express how I felt so we could move forward,” stated Kate.  “The whole event brought to light many other issues that I had buried deep down inside.  It wasn’t just about me and Tyler’s relationship, it was about understanding my unspoken and spoken expectations around working with others.  After all, how can I embrace community innovation knowing that at times it may be at the expense of getting my needs met?  I really had to ask myself, what am I willing to do and do knowing full well that the real gifts are in the mistakes.”

Finally, Tyler began to speak to each person one by one about his choices.  The group decided to meet for a few hours to clear the air around the event and look at ways to move forward.

“It was an intense meeting,” Aaron recalled.  “Each of us had a lot of feelings that had built up.  It had turned into more than just the greenhouse, it was around trusting another person.  I understood Tyler’s concern about the root bound nature of tomatoes in plant beds, but I felt the timing was off due to our upcoming events in the greenhouse.  It does bring up a need to aerate root bound crops and I think we will be developing new techniques in the future to avoid ripping out the crop prematurely.  This is the beauty of this incident because new techniques will grow out of this event along with more communication.”

Rose suggested that we employ a new approach in helping people move through their process of sharing how the event deeply impacted each of us and then work together to restore relationship.

“After much grief and tears shed, it dawned on me that some of this destruction was actually needed on a deep level so I began to entertain the possibility of how creation and destruction are both needed in a greenhouse throughout the seasons,” Rose shared. “Then it occurred to me that maybe our human relationships also need elements of these opposites in order for there to be harmonious connection that only Eros (Mythically he is the great Connector) can instill.”

“This action lead our group here at Ingenuity to utilize some of the skills I [Rose] had learned from Ross and Martha Snyder where we reconstructed the event of the rampage and then listened to each others feelings and needs from the destructive action taken.  This deepened our appreciation of each others motives and intentions and offered a deeper understanding to others feelings and needs.  I was reminded of the deep empathy that comes from such a practice and how people are much more important than plants or things.  The bonding that followed from the exercise has much to my surprise been worth every damaged tomato in the lot.  It truly is our blunders that are the greatest learning lesson in my life so I give thanks for having had an opportunity to work within our Ingenuity Community in this manner. As one of my guides, Richard Rohr states, “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it….”  From this experience the faith in my community definitely has increased.”

The tools and techniques Rose brought to the conversation significantly slowed down the dialogue so that each person could share their experience and what feelings had arose.  She worked with each person one at a time to ensure that as every point or emotion that was brought up, that is was reconnected back to a personal need that each of us had.  The process of slowing things down, enabled every person to connect with the emotion and move it through in a positive manner that ultimately restored relationship.

“The results were amazing.  Not only were we able to address this issue, but we were able to bring up and clear the air around many other issues at the same time,” recalled Kate. “What we experienced afterwards was a huge shift in participation and support for one another and the projects at Ingenuity.  This was nothing short of a miracle in my eyes!”

In an effort to help restore the balance with the volunteers that had been impacted by the event, the team at Ingenuity met with volunteers in the greenhouse to clear the air and restore relationship with the plants and people that tend them.  Together, each person shared their intentions and wishes to create a space where all can thrive by working in partnership.

Key Take Aways:

  1. The greenhouse is an incredible teacher.  It is not just about learning how to raise fish and vegetables together, but it is about raising our consciousness around the interconnected roles we play in this world.  Having a connection to the earth through an act like gardening can help you see things from a very different perspective.
  2. Sometimes our dark sides comes out.   Striving to be perfect and look good may not always work when choosing to do community innovation are not exactly helpful.  They take away opportunities for others to learn and set unrealistic expectations for others to achieve.
  3. There is always room for improvement around communication and compassion. In our fast paced world where a lot of emphasis is placed on “productivity,” we do not always stop to reflect, listen and seek to understand.  Developing new skills around listening and seeking to find common ground, even if you may not see eye to eye on the same issues opens up the door for discovery especially when compassion is involved.
  4. Be willing to be vulnerable.  Sharing your experience while being willing to acknowledge the areas you are not strong at can serve as a opportunity to connect.  It opens the door to allow others to do the same.
  5. Never give up.  Keep trying and be willing to use new techniques and strategies to cultivate the outcomes you wish to see in the world.  After all, in order to solve wicked problems, you will need to acquire wicked tools.