Monday, March 10, 2008

The Renascent Victory Garden

Our garden covers approximately 500 square feet of the back yard, and will soon grow to about 700. Crops include beans, peppers, onions, tomatoes, radishes, collards and Chinese kale. This is a first pass at what should ultimately account for half of our vegetables. That's not easy, in that we have become accustomed to eating whatever we want, whenever we want, thanks to the "global trough". We probably won't be growing coconuts, but in South Houston, it’s possible to grow papayas, limes and pomegranates. Total cost was about $500, but we’ll recoup the cost easily, and in the fall it will cost about $100 for seeds and lime (to correct the pH). At the heart of the garden are two compost piles that are 5’ in diameter.
Why bother? The impetus for gardening is two-fold: improving what our family eats and the real concern that I need to ensure that we'll have sufficient food to eat. Without going into the details, consumers of food (like humans) are competing with biofuels, automobiles and bad weather to get enough to eat. We're at the front end of a prolonged food crisis that is unlike what we've seen before- and has no easy solutions.
A little history. Actually, the coming food crisis is a bit like what happened in the 1930's-but different. In the 1930's there was plenty of land, water, fertilizer and labor. What was lacking was a functioning method of exchange; few people had the cash to buy the food grown by farmers. This time we've sacrificed our farmland on pointless suburban development, pumped the water wells into depletion and our farmers can't afford the fertilizer and fuel to keep our massively inefficient agricultural system running. Farmers are competing for scarce resources with commuters, residential heating, and all of the other excesses of our society. From the consumer's point of view, the coming food crisis will differ from the time of the "Great Depression" in that food prices will continue to rise despite falling real wages, and alongside climbing prices for fuel, rent and consumer goods. Another eye opener is the nation’s migration from the farm to the city. In 1930, 21.2% of Americans lived on the farm, and perhaps another 20% lived near farms, in rural towns. By contrast, in 1990, the percentage had fallen to a mere 1.7%. We’re not very well positioned to weather a prolonged food shortage.
Enter the Victory Garden. During the Second World War the nation’s food supply changed from oversupply to high demand as vegetables were canned to feed the troops. The US, UK and Canada encouraged their citizens to support the war effort by planting household gardens. At the height of the effort in 1944, nearly 20 million Americans produced up to 40 percent of the nation’s vegetables.

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