Gardening as an Act of Political Dissidence
Your food supply is in clear and present danger. A recent global pandemic has brought this sobering fact to light, along with access to medical supplies and other consumer goods. Panic buying emptied store shelves of all the convenience foods and paper products first, then following waves emptied most of the others, leaving mask-wearing consumers to drift along the aisles like phantoms, searching for anything they could bring home to feed the family. It also shined a light on the effects of income equality as those with the money to do so bought all they could, at the same time many stores took to price gouging as a way to make a few bucks while authorities deal with the other aspects of the health nightmare.
Something else has become clear: There are farmers who dumped truckloads of vegetables on the side of the road in south Florida, because restaurants, mostly closed, or operating at limited capacity, wouldn’t buy them. In Wisconsin, barrels of milk were dumped into ditches, because grocery stores aren’t buying it, and state law forbids selling directly to consumers. There are stories of eggs being smashed, crops plowed back into the field, all while millions of affected Americans line up at food pantries and relief organizations for help. It would cost more, they say, to get the food distributed to these consumers than it is worth. Just so we are clear, because they won’t make a profit, food producers are letting it go to waste.
It wasn’t always like this, nor does it need to be this way in the future. Right now, the way the system is set up, a small number of food conglomerates control the industry. They control it from seed to finished product in many cases, even dictating which seeds, herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and other aspects, that farmers must either adhere to, or be left to compete on their own. Decisions that were once made by knowledgeable stewards of the land, guided by years of experience made after learning from multiple generations of teachers has been replaced by what’s best for shareholders. They tweak genetically modified organisms in research and development labs, trying to reformulate foods to make them more shelf stable, more appealing to the eye, and most of all, have the biggest return on investment.
They must calculate fuel miles, shipping, and trucking costs, storage in dry or refrigerated warehouses, and comply with any government oversight which is enforced on them. Although food packaging displays images of picturesque pastoral scenes and smiling farm animals, the truth is far more brutal, automated, and in the hands of wall street traders and factory farm owners, subject to the whims of shareholders who demand they squeeze somehow, ever more and more profit from the same product. Giant poultry companies that control the industry also control every aspect of growers, the farmers who they lord their power over, lives- from the eggs, feed, and medicine coming in, to the crews who come and catch the hundreds of thousands of chickens they then truck off to slaughterhouses.
The poultry industry is far from alone in it’s atrocious treatment of both the workers and the animals, if we could peel back the label on any of hundreds of brands, tear down the idyllic facades, we would see an entire system of systemic, barbaric cruelty that underlies it all. Greed, a lack of oversight, and a profits-over-everything culture have led the industry to where it is today, dumping out perfectly good food, while children go hungry. This is the sure sign of a society on the brink of collapse, a nation doomed to rot from the inside out while a few sociopaths toast their good fortune on mega yachts.
This is a sign, one of many that point towards our societal failures, and like any sign, we should follow it’s direction. We are likely to see a shocking recession when the dust settles from all this, and with trillions of dollars now being sent out, inflation is sure to follow. What we can buy with our dollars now doesn’t seem like much, but these days of mediocrity will be looked upon with a kind of fondness as we settle into the darkest economic times in almost a century. That dollar simply won’t go as far as it used to. That’s not being pessimistic, that’s being real.
One way to combat both the precipitous drop in money’s value, and the certain upcoming price hike thanks to inflated prices, is to grow food. People often reminisce about their grandparents great vegetable gardens and their food preservation knowledge but often forget that they lived through similar times, when the economy faltered, and war was ongoing or looming in the distance, a grim specter of death always ready to take them. Those old timers lived through world wars, worldwide economic depression, food rationing- by relying on themselves, their friends, neighbors, and families.
Recently, there has been an uptick in interest in things like urban food forests, community supported agriculture, and permaculture. Even though we are the “amber waves of grain” country, many of our nation’s underprivileged go unfed, or underfed, even without a pandemic. The groups that have gotten together and planted food forests, the people who trade work at community farms for shares, the people reaching out to the homeless and immigrant groups- they are not organizing because of mandates being handed down by the federal government, or because they think they will be saved in the afterlife- they are doing it because they care about their fellow man and have a real desire to help others.
These groups are communities banding together around common problems, and receiving indifference, at best, from their elected representatives instead of funding. It is up to us, it seems, to again bail out corporate executives, and resume our lives of mindless consumption, or we can interrupt the seemingly unstoppable march of capitalist globalism, and say “Enough!” If we can get together on our own, and organize mutual aid networks, enough of us together would have a voice in the market. A whisper, perhaps at first, but if enough of us took a stand, would escalate into a roar. In an age where unbridled, free market consumerism is deforesting the Amazon, farmers are being sued into using into strains of plants selected for their weed killer resistance, and the only god is money, we must shout “Enough!”
We can begin at home. A garden can be grown in every hardiness zone, and using the right techniques in any size space. You may focus on growing more expensive crops, saving your money for staples like potatoes and rice. Take some time to educate yourself, or befriend an experienced gardener who knows just what to do when things get out of hand. Grow varieties proven in your area for more success.
We can reach out. Somewhere in your community is the perfect space for a community supported agriculture program, a vacant piece of land where furniture gets dumped, a place abandoned. Enough like minded individuals might convince the property owner that the best use of the land would be a community garden. In these communal projects, boxes of fresh produce are exchanged for hours worked on the farm, or sold as shares to individuals who might not be able to otherwise participate.
We can make some new friends. A mutual aid network is exactly what it sounds like: friends who help each other. If one friend grows potatoes, another raises chickens, and still another just slaughtered a hog, then between them, they have a meal. Mutual aid networks help people exchange goods among themselves, free from unnecessary governmental transactions that delay the process.
We can help strangers. A food forest is an area planted by volunteers for the purpose of feeding whomever is passing through when the fruits are ripe for the picking. There is no return on investment. the person who plants the tree, given the species, may never taste a single bite of it’s fruit. It is a gift, to unknown strangers in the future, tax free, and with no spiritual promises attached. People who plant food forests are those who truly care for their fellow man, with no hope of any reward. It simply feels good to do it.
When we participate in these seemingly simple tasks, we don’t just turn some spadefuls of dirt, we tell a corporation we don’t want a tomato grown 1500 miles away. we say to them, I want control of my own food, and I don’t need you, your poisons, or your toxic greed. When we produce, among ourselves, the very fruits they dare dangle over our heads, they lose the power to control us. As the pandemic sweeps the country, remember, now is the time we can change for good. Now, while the country is paused, we can make the choice. We can choose to abandon the factory farmed gmos, boycott the companies that have turned our dinner plates into science experiments. Now is the time to look inward, and invest in ourselves, to rekindle friendships, and form communities based on the common good, not the boardroom interests.
Although we must practice social distancing now, when this biological terror has passed, we should apply what we have learned. It has become crystal clear, that this administration has little use for us than to grease the ever churning wheels of capitalism, truly we are on our own. We don’t have the knowledge of the elders to guide us, but we do have the internet. The internet is full of resources just like sandysprouts.com to help us along. Follow us on social media to keep up with the best garden ideas, what is growing for dinner in the woods and more! Stay safe everyone.