Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hey, plant some vegetables already, will ya?

(But, really, no pressure!)
I went off on a little tear (positive-sounding, I hope) in the comments section on a great blog called Bamboo Geek-- http://bamboogeek.blogspot.com/ . Yes, quoting myself is madly tacky, but... well, there it is.
"Everyone should be growing at least a little bit of their own food. There's nothing more local than the tomato growing in a pot on your porch. And, it can't be taxed, California won't stick a provision in the Farm Bill limiting it (as they have done with CSAs) there are no food miles, and you can grow amazing varieties that can't tolerate shipping. If you have a yard, it is absolutely astonishing how much food you can grow. Cheap energy severed our connection to our food- now is the time to reclaim it."
Writing that little blurb made me want to expand on the thought, and I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Reading Michael Pollan, Richard Heinberg, and David Montgomery, a girl gets to thinking. I apologize ahead of time if this just comes off as an absurdly long rant- I'm trying to organize all the snippets in my head.
We humans in the USA abandoned kitchen gardens only about 3 generations ago. I tend to blame the Victory Gardens of WWII, the end of which happened to coincide with an abundance of the cheapest energy we have ever known. Victory Gardens were "voluntary", but the government applied a lot of pressure on citizens to plant them. Nothing turns off a person to gardening faster than being forced to do it. And understandably, after WWII ended, people were thrilled to stop gardening altogether and buy food from new-fangled and sparkling-clean supermarkets, made possible by all that cheap energy. Frozen and canned food from often thousands of miles away now stocked pantries and electric refrigerators. Thanks to the national PR machine, growing your own food was deemed hopelessly out of fashion- not "modern". Big Ag was created, and it quickly took over what grandmas and moms had been doing since the Neolithic Revolution. Mix in our lack of national food identity in this country of immigrants, government-sponsored "nutrition experts", state and federal lobbyists paid for by the food industry, and the magic of capitalism, and voila- no more home-grown vegetables, no more home canning (Michael Pollan lays all of this out beautifully in his new book, "In Defense of Food"). Gardening knowledge and food preservation methods handed down for dozens of generations (nearly) vanished in a matter of 60 years.
What was the benefit in that trade-off? Well, convenience, mainly. But now, that trade-off is coming with many side-effects that we are beginning to regret. Our Western diet- from the way we grow food and the way we process food, to the chemicals we use to replace food- is making us and the whole planet sick. Massive monoculture farming is dependent on enormous quantities of petroleum-based fertilizer and pesticides. But those chemicals further kill off any and all microflora and microfauna in the soil, which, it is strongly suspected, contribute mightily to the nutrient content in our food- and sterile soil requires even more fertilizer. Now our dirt is now mostly dead, and it's the base of a major food chain- the one that we depend on. Nitrogen runoff from the petro-fertilizers is the number-one cause of acidification of the oceans. The massive amount of fresh water required to run these Big Ag farms is draining ancient aquafers and rivers dry. Then there are the myriad food chemistry industries making us fat and probably giving us cancer. And GMO? Thank you, Monsanto- you took something that was not broken, and broke it.
So, why did I start growing vegetables? I don't exactly come from a long line of gardeners. I never had a yard as a kid since I grew up in apartments. But three or four years ago, Peak Oil was a tremendous wake-up call for me. I was in a total panic for about a year. Finally, I rested on one thought- I have no control over the trade or availability of oil, but I can grow some food. It quieted my mind.
But here's the weird thing- Peak Oil is just a low hum in the background for me now. I absolutely thrill to see my vegetables coming up, and I know they are pesticide-free and far more nutritious than anything I can buy in the store- and if you're a foodie, it's the best food you'll ever taste. Besides, you can't get more local than your own kitchen garden. And if, by some miracle, we don't plunge into a 21st century global Great Depression along with a world-wide energy, water, and food crisis (never mind this gigantic mess of a climate crisis), I am deeply grateful that I know how to grow even a little bit of my own food. Peak Oil gave me that, and I'm just incredibly thankful for it.
And now that I understand- best I can, anyway- the web of Big Government, Big Money, Big Ag, and my food, I've come to think of gardening as a pretty subversive act. The old punk in me totally digs it. I can opt out, just a little bit, of this vast, senseless mess we've created in the name of short-term profit. And so far, no one can stop me- at least until the Big Ag police show up on my porch some night and smash my tomatoes.


Verde said...

Oh yea, you go girl. This is a powerful post. I think you are on the mark.

So, as I walked to the office today I entered by a back gate I'd never been through before, and I noticed a knee high pile of pigeon poo and thought of your post... no, no, In the most gracious of ways I assure you!!!

The thread went like this: pigeons... city... urban homesteading composting... and there before me fertalizer!!! So have you had a chance to "harvest" such fertalizer of the city?

The Barber Bunch said...

gret thoughts.....well said.

I have not had much luck with doing tomatoes. I was going to skip it this year and support my local agriculture by buying at a Farmers Market. Is that OK?!?!?!?


ilex said...

Verde, I'm honored that you'd think of me and poop at the same time! I don't collect "urban varieties" of poop, though, because of pathogens. I use my bun's poop because I know exactly what goes into their mouths. If either of them were on medications for some reason, I would stop using it for a while.

Carlolyn, absolutely. You could maybe grow some lettuce, though? ;)

Mad Man Bamboo said...


Thanks for dropping by the other day and thanks for the complement on my blog, much appreciated. Funny (irony, not "ha, ha"), I watched a movie called "End of Suburbia" followed by reading the book "The Long Emergency" by James Kuntsler about 6 months ago and it fundamentally changed my outlook on the state of the nation and the status quo, from Big Ag to suburbanization to mass consumerism. Yes, your right, thinking of this whole mess can be deppressing, albeit, a bit overwhelming. Like you, I took it as a personal wake up call to change how I live my life. Nothing like a shock to the system to wake me up. Now, if we can just get the wider society here in the US to do the same, perhaps we can begin to witness some real and profound change. I believe we are starting to see some of this as gas here in CA rolls around to $4 a gallon (streets are quieter and the cars are shrinking), but for many just reactive to a wider condition, hopefully it leads to lasting change. We'll see. Anyways great post and do drop by more often. I appreciate your insight and point of view.