In the Garden:
Upper South
April, 2009
Regional Report

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Creating gardens with vegetables, fruits, and herbs is a tummy- and soul-satisfying experience.

A Victory for Everyone

If the situation weren't so serious, I'd find the current bandwagon for backyard (or front, for that matter) food gardening a bit bemusing. No doubt, converts will fall by the wayside once they discover the amount of work involved. Hopefully, some will also discover the rewards and pleasures, continuing to garden for many years to come. I also hope that even more will flock to farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs).

As I was thinking about all this, I happened upon an article in the October 2008 BBC Gardener's World magazine. It was authored by Monty Don, a BBC personality and the president of Britain's Soil Association, which is a leading organization in promoting sustainable, organic farming, and championing human health. His words were so to-the-point that I wanted to share some excerpts with you.

Restoring the Link Between Growing and Eating Food
"Our culture has largely lost the link between growing and eating food. This is the vital connection that gives you ownership and responsibility for what you eat and the whole chain of events that springs from the process. On a human level it is empowering and ennobling, and on a practical level healthy, sustainable, delicious and entirely pleasurable. But the only place today where there is still a real, if sometimes tenuous, connection is in the garden.

Far too much of our food relies on cheap imports and a "just in time" supply chain, driven by supermarkets. This means that at any given time we have just over a week's supply of food, much of it in lorries on the motorway. As a result, it is hugely vulnerable to blockades, strikes, oil shortages or terrorist action.

The vast majority of the food we consume is highly processed and packaged. This is also dependent on a chain of suppliers, from plastics manufacturers to the "food" producers that concoct their products motivated solely by the desire to make as much profit as possible.

A frighteningly high proportion of packaged food depends on a few basic ingredients, such as maize, soya and palm oil, that can only be produced on a huge scale and at rock-bottom prices by a combination of environmental rape and human exploitation. We are literally burning up the planet in order to produce food that is harmful, unnecessary and repulsive. The growing and trading of the greater part of these basic ingredients is controlled by just four huge companies.

Almost all the food we buy, especially from supermarkets, has been funded by a limitless supply of very cheap oil. But those days are over. The knock-on effect may be seen immediately in transport and heating costs, but will be perhaps felt more dramatically in the cost of fertilizers and plastics that are such an essential link in the modern industrial food chain. Without cheap fertilizers you cannot have cheap grain. Without cheap grain you have no cheap bread. As 30 percent of all our grain goes to feed animals, there can be no cheap meat.

Being outraged by this situation isn't enough. We -- and I mean gardeners everywhere -- have to solve the problems or, at the very least, try our utmost to do so. It's a crisis, and to stick our heads in the sand and hope it goes away is to betray the future we leave our children.

Luckily, gardeners have two things that can do more to start the process of change than anything else. These are the knowledge and land. Both are available, out in the back garden, in huge supply. Gardeners know about the soil and the seasons, they read the weather, they recycle, compost and are part of an intricate ecosystem.

We should also be teaching every child how to grow what we eat, as well as how to cook it. Individual gardeners working with their families, friends and neighbors in small communities is all the organization it needs, beyond the desire to grow our own food. Youth can help infirmity, wisdom advise inexperience. While self-sufficiency is an unrealistic goal, it's much better to do what you can with others, then buy locally what cannot be easily grown in the garden.

In terms of food production and consumption, we need to get used to the idea that we must eat less -- in particular red meat -- and pay more for what we do eat. Much of this can be done by simply valuing what we have more and wasting less. Nothing encourages this attitude more than growing something yourself.

This doesn't preclude supermarkets or good fast food, olive oil from Italy, wine from Australia or avocados from Chile. I don't want to return to the past but shape a better future. I'm still besotted by the ornamental side of gardening and wouldn't want a Stalinistic decree imposing edible gardening at the expense of the decorative -- there's room for both.

But I am convinced that there's a way that gardeners can take control of what we eat, in our own hand, in our own back gardens."

Gardener's World magazine: http://www.gardenersworld.com
Britain's Soil Association: http://www.soilassociation.org


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