A bright trend for dark times: kitchen gardening
Last week, we ran a guest post about a topic dear to my heart: serious home vegetable gardening. In that piece, Bill Duesing argued that the USDA should take home food production seriously, by providing research and extension services to gardeners.
Now Anne Raver, the veteran New York Times garden writer, has come out with a great column on what’s looking like a nascent revival in home veggie gardening.
The venerable Raver describes the pleasure of tending one’s little patch:
It’s hard to describe the flavor of something so alive, hardly 10 seconds out of the earth. I want to say that it tastes green, but a grass blade does not taste like bok choy. It’s something you have to experience yourself, after doing something as simple as planting basil in a window box, or salad greens in one big pot and a no-fail cherry tomato plant in another.
According to Raver, backyard food production is undergoing a renaissance:
Though overall garden sales are slightly down, according to the latest National Gardening Association survey, from 2007, vegetable gardening sales are up by 22 percent and herb gardening sales are up by 52 percent.
Raver’s piece gives the trend historical perspective. Before the rise of industrial agriculture, basically everyone who could kept a home kitchen garden — even presidents.
John Adams planted a vegetable garden at the White House to feed his family, “because back then, presidents had to fund their own household,” said Rose Hayden-Smith, a historian and garden educator based at the University of California in Davis.
I didn’t know that the Victory Garden phenomenon started not in World War II but rather in World War I under Woodrow Wilson, who “to save fuel and labor … had sheep grazing on the White House lawn.” Here’s Raver:
[Wilson’s] wife, Edith, planted vegetables to inspire the Liberty Garden campaign, in which thousands of students, called “Soldiers of the Soil,” grew their own food in their schools and communities, she said. As the Allied powers began to win, the name Liberty Garden was changed to Victory Garden.
Later, while World War II raged, home gardens were providing 40 percent of U.S. fruits and veggies, and even “Eleanor Roosevelt grew peas and carrots on the White House lawn.”
Raver’s article makes good reading on a warm spring afternoon — giving one hope at a time of global food riots and mindless, relentless intensification of industrial agriculture.
She provides important resources for anyone ready to plunge his or her hands into the soil. She highlights a group called Kitchen Gardeners International (“promoting the localist food of all, globally”), as well as the great Barbara Damrosch, who writes the Cook’s Garden column for the Washington Post.
When you get the blues — in the sense meant by the likes of Lightening Hopkins, not the ridiculous marketing guy who’s been roiling Gristmill — I can’t think of a better remedy than getting your hands dirty in service of growing some delicious food.