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 on a fairly large-scale for a modest neighborhood.  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.  I now wonder if, in addition to providing a significant amount of food (my grandmother liked to can her produce — her bread and butter pickles were heavenly), 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 our home gardens, they tended to be smaller affairs, tucked away in a corner of the backyard.  To be honest, the memories of our 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:  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 busy — 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 laying 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 agriculture 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.


Variation on Panzanella (we just call it bread salad) -- one of our favorite dinners. All chopping, no cooking, exceptional yum!


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Carissa on April 5, 2011 at 2:28 am

    You’re definitely right on lots of points here. I think it’s a combo of what you said between the grandparents garden seeming bigger when you were little and many other factors including people just not taking the time that it takes to cre…ate a giant and beautiful garden. My friend Heidi is a garden GURU, she has at least 100 sq. feet, which is big for today’s standards. I can remember my parent’s garden growing up was as big as my back yard. I think so many people are not willing to take the time, so the industry for convenience foods continues to rule. Our grandparents chose to work for things and enjoyed the rewards of hard work and many people survived on gardening instead of buying food from a grocer or market. History is such a good teacher, people were not so generally overweight and unhealthy and they ate better and so much less and sweets were a real treat instead of a daily availability.See More


  2. Posted by Shan on April 17, 2011 at 3:14 am

    So inspired by your blog, Jenny! Just put out collards, broccoli, and cauliflower. Also started a spinach and lettuce table. Fingers are crossed.


  3. Hey! Thank you for the mention Jenny! We have thousands of people looking for gardening partners – every mention helps!


  4. Of course, Liz!! Your site was a big part of my inspiration. The pictures from members alone make it impossible not to get out and garden.


  5. Very true! Lovely lusciousness! We have some great gardeners!


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