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Eat, Drink + Think

Finding Faith in a Glass of Homemade Kombucha

Becky O’Brien’s delicious homemade kombucha helped her connect to the everyday miracles around us.

It was faith that made me do it. Despite all my doubts and disbelief, I figured that if other people can make a little seed turn into food, then so can I! And lo and behold, I did it.

Well, not me exactly…

In one of my favorite Calvin & Hobbes strips, Calvin is lording over a couple of flowers with a menacing look on his face, declaring, “So you want some water, huh? Well, I’ve got a big can of it here. It’s up to me to decide if you get water or not! I control your fate! Your very lives are in my hands! Without me you’re as good as dead! Without me, you don’t…” Calvin’s rant is cut off by a downpour. The final frame shows almighty Calvin, his all-powerful watering can, and the flowers all getting equally drenched by Mother Nature.

Like Calvin, I’m used to being in control. Also like Calvin, I mistakenly believe that what happens in my life is because I’m making it happen. When I ventured into gardening several years ago, I was all too aware that all sorts of miracles and partners beyond my control would be necessary to succeed. I knew it wasn’t “me” that was going to turn those little flecks of seed into a vegetable. Microbes, worms, sunlight, ladybugs and the unfathomable miracle of the seed itself are just some of the factors I simply hoped would play along.

But play along they did! That first year, when my first seeds sprouted out of the little plot in my yard, I actually shouted in shock and joy, “They did it, they did it!” And they continued to “do it” — growing from seedlings into beets, sugar snap peas and other delights.

I witnessed another miraculous transformation this week when I tasted the fruits of a different sort of garden…a bacterial one. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at kombucha-making for more than two years, but I felt intimidated and lacked faith.

Once again, I knew it wasn’t something that I alone could make happen. It would take a slimy culture of infinitesimally small bacteria and yeast, or “SCOBY,” (the starter for kombucha) and the magic of fermentation to transform plain old tea into the elixir I was looking for. I could hope to create the right conditions, but then I would just have to sit back and pray.

It wasn’t until a neighbor recently offered me a SCOBY that I decided to take the leap of faith. Would it really work for me? If thousands of other people can do it, certainly I can too…right?

Well, shockingly, I — I mean “we”— can! Me, in cooperative partnership with billions of little creatures. After 10 days of fermenting, upon taking that first sip, I felt the same joy and shock as I did when my first seeds sprouted: “They did it! They did it!”

Once again, faith turned into belief.

Now, several years later, I continue to garden. I continue to feel what the great theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement,” looking at the world “in a way that takes nothing for granted.”

There’s still an element of faith in my gardening and much joy, but less shock. Through experience, I’ve developed confidence in my role as a good partner to the elements and creatures that make food-growing and fermenting possible. When those seeds come up, and the tea turns into kombucha, I do indeed feel deep gratitude and radical amazement, but I need less blind faith because now I believe.

With both gardening and kombucha-making under my belt, I hope to have an easier time diving into situations that require faith. Like the rain-soaked Calvin, from a perspective of humility my experience of radical amazement is that much richer.

Becky O’Brien is a gardener, amateur kombucha brewer and the Boulder Director for Hazon. Send your favorite kombucha flavors and tips to her at Becky@Hazon.org.

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