Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Revolution Needs Lots of Gardens

So, I realized that I didn't ever spell out why I think a blog can mix gardening with the theme of political revolution  (PEACEFUL, dudes, PEACEFUL revolutions--changes in the heart and mind and maybe at the ballot box).  Well, for me, I got into local food and anarchy/revolutionary thought through the same mechanisms, and the two are inextricably linked in my mind.  Namely, I attended an epic Latin American feminist convention on food sovereignty, and learned why countries should focus on producing people food for their citizens first, and agricultural commodities for export, well, ideally, never.  In Latin America, soy and corn cash crops grown for export have displaced "people food" (i.e., vegetables, fruit and free-range cattle and chickens).  This results in an increase in food prices, which leads to increased hunger.  It also has resulted in a lot fewer people working on farms, since the cash crops are mostly processed with large machinery instead of human labor.  (Yes, a lot of agricultural work is very difficult and miserable and not everyone is interested in doing that work.  Still, it is employment, and many would have preferred to remain employed farm workers rather than unemployed urban slum dwellers, which is the major shift.  This is a complex issue which I do not pretend to understand fully.)  Anyway, practicing local food growing and eating allows people to have more control over their lives (a clearly anarchist principle).  On a national/large regional level, as Henry Kissinger said, "If you control the oil, you control the country; if you control the food, you control the population."  This is possibly the only instance in which I agree with Kissinger.  When we source food locally, we keep control local.  If Mon***** is in charge of all the food in the country, well, Mon***** becomes the invisible government (I am not saying they currently are. Not quite.)  And what is morel local than my yard?

Now, I cannot possibly grow enough food to feed me and my husband, even, let alone kids, so for me gardening is linked to local control only symbolically.  It is good to learn survival skills, like how to grow food from seeds, as a stab at knowing more about the world and increasing our chances of survival in case of an economic meltdown.  This, again, is mostly a theoretical and symbolic use of gardening.  But, practically, there are a lot more connections between gardening and the revolution.  By gardening, I learn to view soil and water as natural resources.  When the soil that I'm entrusted with grows food, I feel like it is being used more effectively than when it only grows grass as an ornamental feature (although grass has its place in this world, too, and is an important cover crop, and all that). I also become a lot more connected to the natural rhythms of the earth, which oil and indoor climate control and a sedentary lifestyle all disrupt.  I am becoming more grateful to God for the abundant plant life s/he offers us to learn about and cultivate.  I am more appreciative of the labor that goes into producing my food, and am more appalled at the low wages endemic in the agricultural field.  (Most of these arguments are familiar to readers of Michael Pollan and others of his ilk).  Gardening is a terrific source of connection, too. It allows me to chat with colleagues of very different viewpoints.  It's one of those activities where what's good for you is good for me, too--not a zero-sum game--an activity focused on learning and production rather than competition and winning.  And if I had a coherent political platform, that would be it--more focus on learning and production, less focus on competition and winning.

Also, gardening produces great joy in me (and if gardening does not create joy for someone, I would never ever want to impel her to practice it).  Supervising growing lives gives me a sense of wonder and gratitude and smiling. My little squash plants are all growing larger now; several seem to have escaped the original slime plague.  I planted some cucumbers late, and they are coming along beautifully.  I am almost to the phase of having more basil than I know what to do with.  Basil is a miracle plant--the more I take from it, the more it produces.  And I learned that thanks to a kind lady at a farmers' market who explained to me that me not harvesting basil was actually causing the plants to die!

This is a good blog on basil, if anyone else was having the same troubles I had:  Harvesting Basil.

Also, through gardening/local food circles, I found out that the city where I live offers composting bins at a deeply discounted price.  So J. and I went to get one yesterday.  I think we are ready for the excitement and waste reduction of backyard composting; that is our afternoon project! Toodles!


  1. Interesting thoughts. I'm curious, where do you get most of the food that you don't grow?

    We are excited for Tobias to know a little about where food comes from, even though he is currently growing up as a "city boy" with no fields and swamps to play in. It seems to be working, as he certainly is very aware of where strawberries come from, and likes to watch the baby 'matoes growing on the plants.

    Enjoy your compost! We just got a tumbler and it's nice.

  2. We do try to get as much food as possible locally; fortunately, Kansas can grow pretty much everything except citrus and rice. Kansas flour is relatively easy to find. We have local beer and wine. We are members of a CSA (community supported agriculture), which is basically a produce subscription, and we get lots of fresh veggies from a local farmer that way. We get most milk, butter, eggs, and meat from farmers within about 35 miles; they all sell at our natural food coop. During the summer, we go to farmers' market; at this point, I would say we get about 75% of our food locally in the summer, and maybe 30% locally in the winter (through that same food coop). When I have to choose between organic and local, I opt for local.

  3. Love it! I am going to follow your lead and try to start buying as much as I can locally, too. I agree that this is one of the keys to political revolution.

  4. That's great. I haven't checked out any of the farmers markets here yet. We get some in-season fruit from farmers at our church and we can buy boxes of "wrong size" apples that are locally grown. I've also started ordering some foods from a local website called which is like an online farmers market, you order and then pick it all up on Friday afternoon. I get most of my flour from Azure Standard which is based in Oregon.
    All that is still probably a small percentage of our diet at this point.
    Next step for us I think is eating less meat but better meat. I am hoping that if I do that right, it shouldn't be much of an increase in the food expenditures. That's why I was quizzing Rachel on good vegetarian meal ideas.

  5. Yes! The switch to less meat is essential. when J and I first started eating locally/seasonally/etc, we were appalled by how much money it cost--we thought we were going to go bankrupt doing the right thing. That was because we were still eating meat four or five nights a week, which was very expensive. And free-range chicken breast, which is fairly expensive. Then we figured out that an affordable local diet is mostly plants, with meat maybe once or twice a week, and our food bills settled down to reasonable levels. I highly recommend the cookbook "Simply in Season," which has lots of super vegetarian and meat-as-flavoring-not-main-course recipes with fewer ingredients (read: cheaper) than many "gourmet" cookbooks.

  6. Thanks for the cookbook recommendation, I will see if the library has it or put it on my Amazon wishlist or drop birthday hints.

    We definitely do meat-as-flavoring meals a lot too. With an active growing toddler, and me being pregnant (and nursing some too right now, although I assume that doesn't take quite as many calories now as it did 6 months or a year ago), it's hard to find meals that are low-meat yet ideally have a LOT of protein and fat and calories. I assume that women have done this for centuries, but it's still taking some learning for me.

    I would love to see a copy of your meal plan for a week or two! Maybe even an example from each season! Of course our produce would be a little different timing here, but I like to see what other people are cooking!