Home gardening is now in style. Seed companies are reporting record sales, with sales increasing by an average of 20-40% over last year. It is estimated that 43 million Americans will grow home gardens this year, up 19% over last year, and veteran gardeners are increasing the size of their gardens. Even the first family has announced that there will be a White House vegetable garden this year–the first since the Roosevelt administration.
This may be a perfect example of a silver lining in the economic black cloud. Most of the new gardening is a product of the economic meltdown, and the need to save on food costs. For many others, the increasing national interest in healthy food is the cause. But regardless of the reason, in 2009 millions of Americans will get to experience the frustrations and joys of growing their own food, for the first time.
Of course those of us who advocate community-based economies and sustainable agriculture have been calling for something like this a long time. Contrary to the popular misconception among urban and suburban Americans, it takes very little room and no sophicated machinery to produce a huge bounty of delicious healthy vegetables.
I’ve often cited the precedent of WWII victory gardens. During WWII, a full 40% of the nation’s vegetable production was in backyard gardens. And with sugar and refined flour rationed, the American people were as healthy as they have ever been.
When the war ended, so did most of the victory gardens. With the advent of the national obsession with modernization, which exploded with the advent of the so-called “Space Age,” came the popularity of breakfast cereals, wonder bread, frozen dinners, and mountains of processed stuff that would have been unrecognizable as food just a few years earlier. And we never looked back. Today even the vast majority of rural Americans travel to the supermarket to buy their food–most of which is processed and often imported. The ingredient labels read like something out of a science fiction story. And our nation grows ever fatter, and ever sicker.
So let’s cheer the new victory gardens, and hope they survive the recession.