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Never A Better Time

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It was near the beginning of August and my eggplants were the size of footballs and my tomatoes were going crazy, towering over my head like skyscrapers. There I was, with my derrière praying to the heavens while I reached under the green beans to seek and destroy that last defiant weed, when I heard the gravel crunching from the mail lady driving up the driveway.

“Oh, thank you sooo much for the veggies you left in the mailbox,” she gushed. “More people should really think about gardening. It’s all about sustainability, you know, and especially a good thing now, during the pandemic.” 

Of course, I mumbled some witty retort in agreement. The sustainability thing had trended and more and more people were gardening but, she was right; after finding certain commodities in short supply due to panic buying, and with farmer’s markets closed due to lockdowns, more people than ever are trying their hand at growing their own food. If you went looking to buy seeds anywhere in town, then you know what I’m talking about. 

It is my opinion that things will be back to normal before long and some of these garden novices will give up and go back to squeezing squash at the market, but what about sustainability? The simple definition of sustainability says “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social, also known informally as profits, planet and people.”

The EPA expresses that “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”

The University of California at Davis, the agricultural Mecca of Northern California, and possibly the whole world, states, “Sustainable agriculture has been defined as producing food today in ways that protect our ability to produce food tomorrow. Agricultural practices that cause irreversible damage to the soil or to the natural systems upon which agriculture depends are considered unsustainable.” 

This is the big idea; it’s all about using our resources wisely. I call it gardening. This practice has been around a very long time. After the hunters and gatherers, there came the farmers who, by observing the winds, rain and sun, figured out that if you stick a seed in the ground, it will grow into the same kind of plant from which it came. Our ancestors saw the serendipitous sowing of wild grains to the revolution of rototillers and fertilizer. To them, planting and harvesting made it possible to put down roots, allowing them to evolve past the nomadic lifestyle. They were gardening long before the vogue of the Victory Garden or the doomsayer Silent Spring and the resulting EPA.

Statistics imply that by 2050, nine billion people are expected to populate this Earth. As I understand it, our habits of consumption are presently far beyond Earth’s capacity to support us. Now please understand that I am not presenting this with the far-reaching aspiration of changing the world. I only hope to encourage others to discover the delights of growing their own and eating sustainably, and in the process, hopefully to make a little bit of a difference, or at least feel good about their efforts. And, I’m certainly not going to advocate going obscene-green by throwing out the Raid® and bypassing the Oreos at the supermarket. But common sense also says there has to be a happy medium and, like anything else, every little bit helps.

“But how is that possible?” you complain. “How can I grow a garden to sustain myself and my family in my little dinky backyard?” Well, I’m not here to tell anyone how to grow his or her own backyard or balcony garden; there are plenty of how-to books and YouTube videos out there already. I just want people to understand that it is not only possible, but sustainable and fun, notwithstanding the trials and tribulations of weather and soil conditions, garden pests and diseases, as well as irksome neighbors and their excavating canines and cats. My mom, having spent nearly 50 years on our country farm, growing and preserving fruits and vegetables, moved into town and dug up half her backyard for tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers and planted a small forest of citrus and fruit trees. 

“But I work full time,” you whine. “I don’t have time to garden or cook, much less feel like getting out there and hoeing or planning a meal after an eight-hour work day.” Here’s where we need to be honest with ourselves about how much time we spend in front of the TV or computer, or pursuing other frivolous pastimes. Just consider it a healthy alternative and cheaper and more satisfying than the gym. The health benefits of gardening have been well researched and documented. And, one would have to be living under an iceberg in the Arctic to be ignorant of the health trend toward organic produce, right?

Yes, the virus will eventually go away, the farmer’s markets will be back in business, and the seed racks will be well stocked again. But as many of us have learned, our food supply is not always reliable. And we’d have to be living under an icecap in the South Pole to think that current food production practices will be sustainable forever. So, get out your hoes and put on your gloves. There has never been a better time to grow our own food. And don’t forget to save your seeds for true sustainability.

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