Sow Those Seeds!
In August 2004, I wrote a Rural Life editorial about the victory garden movement during World War II, noting that a national crisis had turned Americans — for a few years at least— into a nation of gardeners. Now we are in the midst of another crisis. And perhaps this is the moment for another national home gardening movement, a time when the burgeoning taste for local food converges with the desire to cut costs and take new control over our battered economic lives.
There are signs that some people are already thinking this way. A number of friends have said to me, wistfully, that if things get worse, they’ll just go to the country and learn to farm, as if learning to farm were like studying shorthand or learning to weld.
This is daydreaming. But there’s every reason to think about putting in a garden. In fact, many seed companies are reporting higher sales — especially in Britain, which has a rich tradition of home gardening. At grocery stores and farm stands, the difference in cost between organic and conventionally grown vegetables can be substantial. In the garden, the difference is negligible.
I can’t help noting, too, that half of “The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating” — a widely e-mailed Web article by Tara Parker-Pope of The Times — are easily grown in a northeastern garden, including beets, chard, pumpkins and blueberries.
Growing a vegetable garden isn’t going to balance the budget or replace lost benefits or even begin to make up for the shock of a lost job. But part of the crisis we face is a sense of alienation and powerlessness. You don’t meet many alienated gardeners, unless it’s been a terrible woodchuck year.
It’s also tempting to assume that a garden can’t really make much difference in your annual food budget. But you would never convince my parents of that, who raised four kids on the fresh and home-canned produce of a big backyard garden. And I can think of few better distractions from the news of the day than the offerings of seed catalogs and the Edenic visions they inspire.
But over the years, something odd has happened to seed catalogs. They’ve come to resemble grocery stores and, in some sense, the culture at large — fuller and fuller of inedible stuff to buy, like copper plant labels and sunlight calculators and fan-cooled sunhats. One of the hard things for beginning gardeners to learn is that very little of that stuff is needed. What beginning gardeners need most, in fact, is old gardeners, the ones who’ve made do all along and who are starting their seedlings in windowsills right about now.
I think 'Dirt Cheap Farmer Paul (Maschka)' would agree.