“Gardens of Choice”: Good Ideas, Hard Work



As energy and food prices continue to climb, I think I really do feel those  winds of change starting to ripple a bit. One index: I’ve  lost track of how many stories I’ve seen, national and local, about the importance of backyard gardens, which was a total snooze of a topic a year ago. I’ve kept a garden for seven years now, and the typical response I’ve drawn from most people over that time can be summed up this way: What an eccentric pursuit. Must be a lot of work.

Now, however, many people are waking up to some of the unintended consequences of our global food system, which include the large energy/carbon costs to bring vegetables and fruits thousands of miles from field to table.  And, when everything is outsourced to distant strangers, we don’t even know who’s to blame when there’s a salmonella or E Coli outbreak in the food chain. (Not to mention that most store-bought tomatoes taste like cardboard.) 

As with so much else, the Age of Cheap Energy made it easy to ignore how the whole thing worked, but the Peak-Oil theorists and others believe those days are going, going. . . We’ll see if they’re right. Meanwhile, national syndcol Ellen Goodman picks up on the garden wave by interviewing a “locavore” activist who’s trying to change the way we get our food. That’s his organization’s logo shown above. Goodman’s  piece is here.

I’ve described my modest and fumbling efforts at gardening in this radio piece, careful not to claim too much Thoreauvian virtue. I’m largely a hobbyist, and if something goes wrong, I schelp off to the grocery store like everyone else. The “garden of choice”–i.e., the garden we grow because we want to, not because we have to as our grandparents did–is a lot of work, and the outcome is always uncertain. Last year’s freakish,  torrential summer rains spawned bumper crops in my backyard–by July 4, we had picked over 150 large tomatoes– but this year we’re back to the standard Texas frying pan,  the yields are much smaller, and the sweat-equity ratio involved in producing each tomato is not something I like to contemplate.

Still, gardening has its pleasures. It feels good to achieve a little bit of independence for a few months each year, and I like the connection to some of the good ways of life in our past. I’ll remind myself of all that while I’m sweating in the garden this afternoon.


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