Warehouse G

Growing Food

Home Gardening May Be A Key To Our Survival

By James Donahue

Most humans feel naturally drawn to the soil. Even if entrapped as city dwellers, we sense a need each spring to want to work the soil and plant things. This is expressed in the way we grow house plants and potted plants, even vegetables in prepared pots on our porches, in window boxes and in our yards.

For years, because food at our local grocery stores has remained cheap and plentiful, our home gardens consisted mostly of flowers and decorative vines. But things are changing now. People are beginning to find creative ways to grow a variety of vegetables on those tiny home plots. Some people are even finding ways to put entire gardens on the flat roofs of commercial city buildings.

Why is there such an interest in home gardening? Could it be that the food we buy in the stores is no longer considered healthy or even safe? That it comes from large factory farms that raise genetically modified produce laced with insecticides and herbicides and is packaged and distributed via large processing warehouses where meats and vegetables are more and more frequently infected by dangerous bacteria appears to be a growing concern.

Now, with our changing weather patterns, brought on by a global unwillingness to stop polluting our environment, world agricultural systems appear to be unable to meet the demands of our overpopulated planet. Excessive heat, drought, floods and storms are promising a poor harvest of the essential food crops like corn, wheat, soybeans and fruit. The rising cost of energy with which to operate farm machinery, prepare the produce and deliver it to market also is forcing up the price of food at a time when humanity is reeling from a financial crisis. So what do we do?

Citizens are following their instincts to go back to the soil just as their parents and grandparents once did. Instead of maintaining those fine manicured lawns and flower gardens, they are spading over the grass and planting vegetable seeds where ever they can create the space. Some creative souls are building tiered gardens and open shelves to achieve maximum use from limited yard space. They are growing fine varieties of peas, beans, beets, corn, squash, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, onions, strawberries and all of the other wonderful foods that the soil can produce.

In some neighborhoods, people are turning vacant lots into community vegetable gardens. And they are discovering that the soil where many cities exist remains rich in natural nutrients and can produce magnificent crops. The soil here has not been broken down by the destructive practices of contemporary factory farm operations.

The key to this home gardening has been the availability of natural open-pollinating non-hybrid seeds that allow for replanting the following season. This seed is still available and is being carefully guarded by organic growers. It also can be purchased from specialized seed companies that can still be found on the Internet.

The positive thing about planting this natural seed in special plots in cities is that it is more likely to be located far enough away from the factory farms to prevent cross-pollination of the natural plants with the hybrids. Some pollen are known to travel for miles in the wind and invade organic crops.

We have outlined all of the positive reasons why city gardening is an attractive alternative for people interested in eating healthy and low-cost food, and for helping assure an adequate supply of produce to keep a community fed during hard times. But there is a dark side to this issue as well.

Many communities in their zeal to build utopian styled neighborhoods in the 1960s, 70s and 80s created elaborate building and zoning ordinances, based upon master plans for community development. The master planners came on the scene because of government grant programs that insisted that the master plans were drafted before money for redevelopment, public recreation and other programs were made available. And the zoning ordinances called for large, lovely manicured yards. In many cases they prohibited vegetable gardening, especially in the front yard.

Consider the case of Josee Landry and Michal Beauchamp of Quebec, Canada. The city has ordered this couple to destroy a beautiful front yard garden filled with cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchinis, beets, onions and brussels sprouts because the garden is in violation of city zoning laws. Fines of up to $300 a day were threatened if they failed to comply.

Fortunately, the Quebec issue gained national and international attention because neighbors came to the couple’s defense. They petitioned the city for a change in the law because they argue "front yard kitchen gardens are not the problem, they are part of the solution to healthier and more sustainable communities."

Cities all over North America need to take stock during these rapidly changing times and get some of these restrictive ordinances erased from their books. Who is to judge whether a well-kept vegetable garden in the front yard is less attractive than a field of grass? The only things that can feed on the grass are farm animals, and they would be justifiably banned in any residential neighborhood.