Who knew vegetable gardens could be so revolutionary?

backyard vegetable garden
CC BY 2.0 gardener41

Food production has long been linked to politics, but there is a new movement underfoot. Americans are growing tired of waiting for the food industry to change. Thanks to the Internet, revealing documentaries, and outspoken food activists, there is more information available than ever before about the dark side of corporate-driven food production. So, while Monsanto continues to sell its genetically modified seeds and CAFOs continue to churn out questionable meat, Americans are protesting by picking up their shovels and hoes – and gardening.

It’s a “liberating DIY revolution,” as writer Megan Mayhew Bergman calls it. In her article “Democracy needs gardeners!” which is an inspiring call for Americans to dig up their lawns, convert empty spaces, and utilize available windowsills, Bergman urges Americans to start gardening as an act of patriotism. She’s not alone in this, nor is it a new suggestion. Gardening at home as an act of patriotism and of self-preservation has been important throughout America’s history.

Thomas Jefferson was a gardening enthusiast, but his passion for growing food went beyond his own backyard. Apparently he believed that America was incapable of true democracy unless 20 percent of its citizens were self-sufficient on small farms. This would enable them to be real dissenters, free to voice opinions and beliefs, without any obligation to food producers who might hold their survival at stake.

During World War II, Americans rallied together to grow vast acres of victory gardens that ended up supplying 40 percent of the nation’s wartime food supply – an astonishingly large quantity of produce in a relatively short period of time, when you stop to think about it.

Sadly, in 2014, we are further than ever from that self-sufficient ideal that Jefferson hoped for. By contrast, Americans now tend 35 million acres of lawn (approximately 54,000 square miles). Lawns are the biggest “crop” in the U.S., covering an area three times greater than corn, and yet they are essentially horticultural deserts, with nothing for little pollinators to find but fatal pesticides.

Mark Bittman has pointed out that if only 10 percent of Americans turned their lawns into food-producing gardens, it could supply one third of the country’s fresh produce, based on current consumption rates.

I loved Bergman’s article because her call to gardening action has potential to solve numerous societal problems:

- Gardens at home would supply homes with fresh produce, since so many areas of the U.S. are considered “food deserts,” with limited access to produce, even in grocery stores.

- Gardens would encourage families to work together, get kids outside to exercise, teach them where food comes from, and make them more inclined to eat well.

- Gardens would reduce the carbon emissions that come from importing the majority of produce consumed in the U.S. (It became a net importer of food in 2008.)

- Gardens can help build up seed diversity once again, a crucial step. Bergman points out that we’ve lost 94 percent of seed varieties since 1903, which is disastrous for agrodiversity.

Spring is almost here. Why not join the gardening revolution? Start some heirloom seedlings, dig up a corner of your lawn, and try your hand at growing something this season. A little bit of effort from a lot of people can go a long way toward changing the status quo.

Tags: Farming | Fruits & Vegetables | Gardening