The politics of gardening…

Dear Reader,

A few thoughts occurred to me regarding my memories of childhood gardens (see previous post, “Taking SIPs to School“).  My grandparents’ garden was in between their house and their neighbor’s, a shared resource that crossed the property line and encompassed a fair chunk of each yard.  My grandfather, a pastor, and his wife lived in the parsonage across the street from their church.  My grandfather once wrote a book called The Hoosier Philosopher; he was an enterprising fellow, with an impressive garage studio in which he created beautiful things through several mediums, including woodworking and painting.  My grandmother liked to can her produce; her bread and butter pickles were heavenly.  I now wonder if, in addition to providing a significant amount of food, the garden’s prominence was in any way tied to their position in the church and, hence, the community.

On the other hand, when I think of my childhood home gardens, they tended to be smaller affairs, tucked away in a corner of the backyard.  To be honest, the memories of my home gardens are less vivid than those of my grandparents.  It’s possible that they were larger than I am remembering, but I know that, as I got older, they got smaller.  They were never prominently placed.  It’s not that my parents were ashamed of their gardening habits, or didn’t understand a family garden’s value.  My father is the son of a professional tomato gardener and a woman whose thumb was so green she could pick a dandelion and force it into a bridal bouquet; I didn’t spend much time with them, so I don’t have memories of their gardens.  My mother’s parents are the pastor and his wife.  Without having asked them yet (which I will), my assumption is that gardening was a hobby and, primarily, a source of fantastic tomatoes – the centerpiece of many a summer meal in my childhood home.

Now that we have reached a stage in our cultural development where even fresh food rarely leaves the market without being encased in some form of plastic and – this I will never understand – Styrofoam, the return to producing at least some of our own food and doing it conspicuously has taken on a political overtone.  Most of the new home construction of the past 20 years has taken place in neighborhoods that are governed by “covenants,” management tools that may prevent cars from being set up on blocks in the front yard, but also often prevent people from drying clothes outside or, conformity forbid, would likely frown upon removing one’s front yard sod and replacing it with corn and broccoli.

Most of us are very busy and have been lulled into the complacency that highly processed and excessively packaged “convenience” foods provide.  I know the frustration of the morning dash to get people out the door and on the bus, and wish there was a Lunchable lying around somewhere, or that I had taken the time to pack lunch the night before.  I know the feeling of dread that comes after grading papers half the day, doing housework and running errands the other half, and then realizing that dusk is upon me and I haven’t even thought about dinner.  Maybe there’s a microwavable lasagna made with bleached flour, cheese product, sitting in a plastic tray and wrapped in plastic and cardboard in the back of the freezer…

Even if there were such a thing as an organically, locally produced version of Lunchables packed in 100% post-consumer recyclable or biodegradable containers, the cost would be so prohibitive and the means of producing it so resource-draining that it still wouldn’t be worth it.  I routinely have to remind myself that every meal doesn’t have to require hours of preparation, and that I don’t have to watch “30 Minute Meals” while I cook to get decent food into my family’s bellies.  Most real food doesn’t even have to be cooked!  My bread machine whips out a healthy loaf of nutrition-laden carbs in under an hour!  It does not make me a bad parent to throw an apple, a hunk of cheese, and slice of said loaf into my son’s lunchbox!

Of course, none of this makes the real food that’s actually good for us any cheaper at the market.  But there are alternatives — CSA memberships, gardening, yard-sharing (again, check out Hyperlocavore), shopping for organics at salvage stores (Angelo’s in Indianapolis is a wonderful place), canning, and bread machines are just a few examples of the resources we can use to take back our diets from corporate food production and regain control of our health and our choices.  And none of this requires a sea change or going cold turkey; baby steps will still get us to the goal.

If you made it through this entire post, thanks for listening.  As this blog continues, I find that I have a lot on my mind and I’m glad that I have you, Reader, to share it with.

JMW

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