Food Gardeners Unite
First published on garden.org on May 8, 2008, by Suzanne DeJohn
Like many of you, I take announcements of new "trends" with a grain of salt.
One year purple is in, the next season it's orange. One year it's Victorian
baroque, the next, minimalism. However, a recent spate of news items caught
my eye. It seems that home vegetable gardening is on the rise. "Interesting," I
thought. "Can it be true?" So last weekend when I was buying plants at a
local greenhouse I asked the grower if he had noticed an increase in vegetable
transplant sales. He said yes, he's seen a big rise, and he's already running
low on tomato and pepper plants -- and the official spring planting date
(Mother's Day) was still a week off. He told me people are buying vegetable
plants early and storing them until it's time to plant, telling him they
are worried about rising food prices.
A Gardening Renaissance?
Except for some of the local old-timers and "back-to-the-landers," few people
I know have been growing a significant amount of their own food in recent years.
Supermarket food has been relatively inexpensive so there wasn't a financial
imperative. Flowers and lawns were the focus. Food gardens were a novelty --
a few tomato and pepper plants.
All that appears to be changing. Is this a food gardening renaissance or a blip
in the statistics that will flatten if and when food prices drop -- or when we
just get used to them? I hope it's not just a fad, but rather a sea change in
the way we look at our food.
People ask me why I'd rather can and freeze my own food when it's so much easier
to buy it in the store. (And probably cheaper, when you add up the cost of growing
the food and buying the mason jars and electricity to can them.) Because to me
growing and preserving food are life skills with intrinsic value. I'm not a purist,
but if I have a choice I'd rather eat food from my garden than food grown who
knows where by who knows who. And I DO have a choice.
I value the old-fashioned homesteading skills -- gardening, canning, sewing,
cooking, baking bread. It makes sense to me to know how to fulfill my basic needs.
And there's no place I'd rather be on a sunny day than in my garden. I'm one
of those annoying people who likes to weed. In my spare time I read books about
plants and botany and gardening. I noticed the odd glance of a passerby one day
as I was examining up close the beautiful bark on a tree. I suspect she murmured, "She
must be on drugs." No, I just love observing nature. To me plant bark is just
as enthralling as art in a museum. I suppose you could call me a plant nerd.
Plant Nerds, Unite!
It seems like every few generations there's renewed interest in gardening and
garden-related things. WWII had its Victory Gardens. The 1970s had the back-to-the-land
hippies. Now, after a few generations of high-tech, gee-whiz electronics -- the "Revenge
of the Nerds" era -- maybe us plant nerds will have our day in the sun again.
Several "20-somethings" have recently asked me to show them how to do homestead-y
things. I showed one young couple how to bake bread, and now they bake all their
own. Another exuberant friend called, asking "Do you know how to make pumpkin
pie from a pumpkin?" As though it were akin to brain surgery. I shared
how to make a homemade pie, from cooking and pureeing the pumpkin to making the
crust. I think she was surprised at how easy it was, and I doubt she'll ever
buy canned pie filling again.
Whatever it takes to get people back into the garden, I'm all for it. Gardening
gets people outdoors and offers a glimpse into the natural world. And when people
grow food, they tend to be more concerned about what pesticides they're spraying.
So in a roundabout way, food gardening is good for the environment.
The Times Are A-Changing
Can you believe that some subdivisions prohibit food gardening? According to
one source, almost one in five Americans -- 57 million -- live in homes regulated
by homeowner associations (HOAs), whose covenants regulate what residents can
and can't do. And some of those convenants prohibit or restrict food gardens
According to the Web site for the Crest Mountain gated community in Asheville,
North Carolina, vegetable gardens are not allowed (http://www.crestmtn.com/legal_documents/coven.PDF).
At Tavistock Farms in Leesburg, Virginia, you can have a vegetable garden as
long as it doesn't exceed 64 square feet. Just how much food can you grow in
an 8' x 8' garden? And no veggies in the front yard. And free-standing greenhouses
are forbidden. Where is the farm in Tavistock Farms?
Something is very wrong with these restrictions. If your property has a covenant
that prohibits you from growing your own food, maybe now's the time to take a
stand and help this food gardening "trend" become a "movement" and eventually,
maybe, a way of life. Share your knowledge about gardening. Growing your own
food gives you power. In a world where so much seems to be out of our control,
this is one place we can all participate.
If you're inspired to grow some edibles this season, be sure to check out National
Gardening Association's Edible Landscaping Web site and eNewsletter: http://www.garden.org/ediblelandscaping