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Finding Strength and Beauty Among the Weeds

Catherine Rutan

By Catherine Rutan, 2018 MIAP-Noble Fellow

Posted Aug. 20, 2018

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

A weed is anything growing that was not planted. Does that mean all weeds are bad? If you ask a gardener, they probably will not hesitate to agree. Weeds can be impossible to remove. They steal from plants you actually want to grow. They can be poisonous, full of thorns and just downright annoying. But I think Emerson was right. You know the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? That same perspective can be taken with weeds.

Back home I always thought of sunflowers as weeds. While sunflowers are beautiful, they take a lot from the soil and easily crowd out plants cultivated for a purpose. In Uganda, a successful sunflower harvest can be a source of gold for a farmer. Conversely, I have seen one of my favorite landscaping plants, lantanas, growing on the side of a Ugandan road more than 7 feet tall.

Rose shows off her sunflower garden.Rose shows off her sunflower garden.

Do you think weeds existed in the Garden of Eden? Weeds have grown into this negative thing, when really they are marvelous creations built to survive. They remind me of a quote from Doug Larson that says: “A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.” After walking about six miles every day this last week through about 60 fields, I feel like this describes Ugandans to a T. To the world Uganda might be seen as a weed: It does not fit with the rest of the world, it struggles, it has nothing to contribute.

My friends, God has a different story to tell about Uganda. Just in the last 50 years, Uganda has been constantly bombarded by war – in and around the country – and yet its people are some of the happiest and most loving I have ever met. They have suffered severe hardship in agriculture due to drought and disease yet still remain to be blessed with the most fertile soil in Africa.

Cabbages growing in the gardenA secondary student at Restoration Gateway grows a garden plot.

Ugandans have mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows – but we’re working on that. While I will still advocate for our farmers to regularly pull the weeds, I might take a second to appreciate their persistence and beauty as God has created them to be.

About the Author

Catherine Rutan is a 2018 MIAP-Noble Fellow serving in agricultural development roles in Uganda. Rutan is from Spring, Texas, and is a student in the Master of International Agriculture Program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on international development. This fellowship is sponsored in part by the Noble Research Institute.