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Backyard Gardens: "A Subversive Plot" Whose Time Has Come

Published on Tuesday, April 18, 2006 by CommonDreams.org A Subversive Plot
by Roger Doiron


"The green rectangle represents current kitchen gardens (i.e. mine), the red rectangles future ones (i.e. my neighbors')."

Welcome to my neighborhood and my not-so-private fantasy.

The green rectangle represents current kitchen gardens (i.e. mine), the red rectangles future ones (i.e. my neighbors'). I'm going to have to ask for your utmost discretion because my neighbors don't know yet that they will be planting these food gardens.

My subversive plot to win them over is to use my subversive plot, all 1000 square feet of it. Fear not: it will be a peaceful neighborhood revolution based on what I call "Sun Gold Diplomacy". My thinking is that once they get a taste of my candy-sweet "Sun Gold" cherry tomatoes and see me harvesting fresh organic greens (the same ones they're paying $5-$7 a pound for at the store), they'll start looking at their yards in a fresh way.

I'm old enough to know that I won't win them all over, but I'll settle for one or two this year and a couple more next year. To the extent that you are willing to carry out similar campaigns in your neighborhoods and communities, the planet and I would greatly appreciate it.

Collectively, we've got our work cut out for us. According to the latest data from the US Department of Agriculture, the level of home food production is at its lowest point in US history. Currently, the value of foods produced at home for home consumption represents less than 1% of the total value of food purchased by Americans, down from 35% in 1870 when the figures were first kept.

The USDA calculates this data on the basis of an annual survey it sends out to US farmers. As "Geography of Nowhere" author James Kunstler points out, you know it's bad when those who grow food for a living don't even grow their own food:

Having turned farming into just another industrial enterprise, Americans have lost the culture of agriculture. Where I live there are still dozens of dairy farms in operation. On hardly any of them will you find a household vegetable garden. The farmers have vinyl swimming pools in their side yards, recreational vehicles parked next to the house, motorcycles, TV satellite dishes, but no gardens. Like the rest of us, they get their food at the supermarket. Perhaps they are ashamed to put in a garden ­ afraid the neighbors might take it as a sign that they are too poor to go to the supermarket. Perhaps they have lost the knowledge and skill to garden. Perhaps they are lazy. In any case, their behavior is a symptom of a degraded agriculture.

If you take into account the historically low level of home food production and historically long distance the average mouthful of food travels from field to fork in the US (i.e. 1500-2000 miles), I think it is accurate to say that Americans have never been farther removed from the origins of their food than we are today. It has reached a point where most eaters don¹t have a clue about where food comes from, who produces it, how and when. Watermelon in January? Yes, please! Strawberries in the early spring? Why not?

Well here's one reason why not: it takes 400 calories of fossil fuels to transport a single 5 calorie strawberry from California to East Coast supermarkets. With cheap oil running out and global temperatures reaching historic highs, we can't afford our long-distance love affair with food much longer, at least not without serious consequences. Never mind that our -395 calorie strawberry is most likely a water-gorged, flavorless specimen that was produced with methyl bromide (an ozone-depleting pesticide) and picked by people who are not paid a living wage.

Given all this, there's only one thing for the world's subversive plotters to do: unite in a delicious, home-grown and seasonal rebellion. Our hands will certainly get dirty, but our consciences will be clean and our children will thank us for our efforts. I don¹t know about you, but I've waited several months for a proper strawberry and can wait a while longer.

Roger Doiron is a local foods advocate who lives in Maine and is founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, a global nonprofit network of people who dig great food.