Back in late June, I’d just started working with Good Work and was beginning to incubate strategies for grassroots economic organizing using the Solidarity Economics model. It seems any community organizing practice includes going to a lot of community meetings and actively listening.
At a Triangle Food Commons, “affordable local foods” meeting, we identified community and backyard gardens as a viable solution to rising food prices and a looming global economic crisis. This strategy is really being pushed by young local food activist like Rob Jones, who are actively organizing themselves and engaging the difficult life-style changes needed to live more locally and sustainably. David Harper, of Land in Common, mentioned two organizations he knew helping people garden in the Triangle, the Farm Fairy and Bountiful Backyards.
Shortly after, at a planning committee meeting for the Growing a Just, Green Economy Conference, Chris Richmond, of the ReCyclery, put me on to Bountiful Backyards again and I gathered that it is a collective design business helping transform people’s relationship to food by designing and installing edible landscapes with client participation. That BB is a socially and environmentally conscious business not entangled in the nonprofit industrial complex was so appealing to me as I have grown weary of the begging-for-alms community change model. But, more innovate is the organic collective process, the decentralizing and nonessentializing concepts that no one is the expert or should hold most the capital or a have all the say and the praxis of balancing intellectual endevour with the physical labor that sustains us rather than perpetuating their division. I joined the collective to help actively pursue more community scale projects, but more personally to be engaged in practice that balances, ecological regeneration, operative decentralization, community building, skill sharing and philosophical and economic engagement.
Gardening is certainly not an unconventional or innovate practice, yet ironically in our current cultural-socio-economic-political context, growing some of your own food has become radical but nearing trendy and not far from heroic. I hope heroic for different reasons than the conventionally rehearsed history of Victory Gardens, a war support effort with the slogan, “Our Food is Fighting”.
The stakes are higher, we need our gardens to grow liberation from an indrustrialized, cheap-energy and unjust-labor dependent food system. Through yields of abundance in backyards and community gardens, we can grow sovereignty and shift more control in our food systems from fluctuating international markets to our own visible hands.
Luckily these ideas are growing in the social conscious and folks are looking to models from the past while redefining the mission for a way forward. In San Francisco,
- independence from corporate food systems
- community involvement
- getting people closer to the natural environment
In the NY Times article, “Farmer in Chief“, Michael Pollan advocates,
The president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking“victory” over three critical challenges we face today: high food prices, poor diets and a sedentary population. Eating from this, the shortest food chain of all, offers anyone with a patch of land a way to reduce their fossil-fuel consumption and help fight climate change. (We should offer grants to cities to build allotment gardens for people without access to land.)
In another recent NY Times article by Michael Pollan, “Why Bother?“, Pollan invokes Wendell Berry’s perspective on “specializaton” and speaks frankly about division of labor creating a culture of specialist (Have you heard that the Triangle has the highest number of PhDs per capita compared to any other region of the country?) dependent on technology and government grand-schemes and disconnected from their own survival and how gardens could restore balance in our relationships.
But the act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind….
You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way “solutions” like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do — actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate….
The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.
As we move ahead, we will need to remember and inspire ways of creating economy for ourselves that do not leave us disconnected from that which actually sustains us. It psychologically healing and liberating to be in harmonic relationship to nature and its abundance and insane to be systemically pitted against nature for our livihood and for the sake of perpetuating scarcity and growing capitalist markets. Generalist and experiential learners, who are more inclined to DIY, will be more adept at the economic balancing act involved in living sustainably.