Fruit and vegetable gardens in the US are rising in popularity as environmental consciousness meets depression economics
Last week, while helping a friend turn over her soil, I came across a giant bean that had grown out of old compost. "Fava beans," said my friend the gardener. I opened the pod and there they were, nestling in fuzzy little pockets. How come I had never seen a fava bean pod before?
These epiphanies of mine usually follow the same pattern. The way a pinch of herb smells or the precise indentations on the body of a bean reduce me to mute wonder. This is immediately followed by a resolution to plant my own kitchen garden. Technicolour fantasies come after, featuring the same homegrown cherry tomatoes and basil that I have been fantasising about for years now. And then … nothing.
The excuses are legion. It's winter, too cold for plants to grow. I don't have enough outdoor space. It's illegal to use the fire escape for anything other than escaping from fires. And what is this strange new language of annuals, biennials, perennials, hardy through zone six, pinch back and soil pH? Will I really remember to water the plants everyday?
Yet, as we move into the holiday season, and then the new year with its promise of newer improved versions of ourselves and the world, my fava-bean-inspired resolution seems to have something it did not have in previous years: a socio-cultural momentum.
Roger Doiron, the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, reminds Barack Obama that he is the eater-in-chief. To Michael Pollan, Obama is the farmer-in-chief. Both men have asked for parts of the White House lawn to be replaced by an organic fruit and vegetable garden as a symbolic and practical measure to meet the growing food crisis. (As symbols go, this is guaranteed to be a smarter gesture than outgoing President Bush's comment about Indians and Chinese eating more and more.)
The case against lawns has been growing increasingly hard to ignore over the last two decades as we learn more about the ways in which human consumption is destroying the earth. In 2008, the artist Fritz Haeg published Edible Estates, a chronicle of the garden as art and activism. Haeg links the seemingly insignificant fruit and vegetable garden with larger issues: where our food comes from, how it is cultivated, creating communities in neighbourhoods, ownership over what we eat and whether it will rain tomorrow.
We may be approaching the tipping point of the kitchen garden movement as environmental consciousness meets depression economics. In the US, vegetables have gone from fourth place to second place in the average garden budget. Greenhouse managers report more first-time gardeners coming to their door. (In the UK, vegetables are being stolen from community gardens on an unprecedented scale.)
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