I had a friend a couple years ago claim he “couldn’t grow a rock.” I knew the answer but I asked anyway, “Have you tried?” He hadn’t. It wasn’t the obviousness of his statement that caught my attention, but to what he was alluding that struck me as unusual. What he meant to say was that he didn’t think he could grow a plant to save his life. I told him he was wrong. “Well if I did, I’d have to grow it with chems. I’d need all the help I could get.”
The idea that growing food organically in our backyards is new, difficult, and a somehow radically fringe concept reserved for elite horticultural nerds or botanical science prodigies is flawed. For fifteen thousand years before WWI, humans grew food crops close to their homes using only what nature provided them. And much of the world still does. Seeds were saved and strains were developed for specific locales that provided communities with food year round.
The “organic” production of food is one of our most primordial ways of relating to the earth. It is in our genes. Besides being innate to the human experience, growing food is a relatively easy activity. Compared with the amount of time and money we spend buying food, it is a relatively enjoyable one as well. Now it seems it is simply “natural” to buy our food at the store. On average our food travels between 1500 and 2500 miles before it winds up on our plate. That’s like traveling round trip from Seattle, WA to Cheyenne, WY for your food! Without the advent of the automobile and refrigeration, our frail modern bodies would probably perish somewhere near Issaquah. Hardly natural! To boot, each moment that the food is in transport from it’s origin somewhere in Florida (or New Zealand…) it is slowly, imperceptibly, decomposing, losing its nutritive value along the way.
Backyard food production has a lasting synergistic effect far beyond just providing fresh food free of chemical dependency. A well-designed edible landscape can have aesthetic appeal, be a learning and growing experience for ourselves and our families, create habitat, build soil, and corrupt influence otherwise unconvinced neighbors who reap the profits of our bounty. By growing food an accessible ten feet from our door using organic methods, we not only provide ourselves with fresh nutrient rich fruits and vegetables, but we also build a legacy for our children; that of being modern humans on a natural human scale. If you can’t grow a rock, try to grow some food. It’s far easier and there are plenty of people and resources (this blog post for one) to help you along the way. The good news is that if plants elude your TLC even after you’ve received all the help you can get, the farmer’s market and the organic section of your local grocer is right around the corner. *By the way, if you can grow a rock let me know. This I have to see…