A couple days ago I read an article touting gardening as a tool for social and political self-sufficiency. The article has some nice gardening-related links, which is why I link to it here.
However, I personally disagree with the premise that people should garden to stick it to The Man. I don’t dig and weed because of some smug fantasy about withholding profits from ConAgra. I like to garden because it gives me something to do outside, because I can see the products of my labor grow before my eyes, and because it saves me money on fresh vegetables, which frankly are quite expensive. Since the pauperization of the American public seems to be trending worse over time, I suspect the economic argument for gardening will soon become the dominant one.
There is also another subtext of the article that bothered me, namely the fantasy that the solution to a major problem (damaging industrial agriculture) is to withdraw from the national food system and become “self-sufficient.” We are not going to live in a future where we all share home-grown organic squash with each other. That is just not an option. Industrial agriculture is trillion-dollar national policy. Even if you don’t eat the products of industrial farming, you still pay for them.
For those who do fantasize that withdrawing from “the system” is possible, let me sketch out an ugly scenario. Long before enough people take up gardening and home farming to really threaten corporate profits, the main beneficiaries of our national farm policy will move to protect their interests. Imagine a few people getting sick from organic chicken at several farmers’ markets; politicians raise an outcry, and with the backing of industry they apply industrial safety rules to all food production, squeezing out small producers who cannot afford to wash their meat in ammonia. Or, imagine that seed sharing and small-scale farming become tangled in ruinous intellectual property battles. Or, imagine that concerns about safety and local ecology are abused to super-regulate seed sharing, and home gardeners are portrayed as dangerous moonshiners. Does anyone think these things would never happen?
In the context of American farm policy, the big-is-bad/small-is-good/back-to-the-land attitude has its place, but it cannot be a substitute for national food activism. The public and private domains cannot be separated when it comes to food.