Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Arugulence

Dahlings, haven't you heard? All this digging in the dirt... er, soil, mixing in manur... er, quality organic plant enhancements, and growing vegetab... er, hoity-toity organic produce, is so terribly faddish these days that it's only for Hollywood celebs and something us ordinary mortals can safely ignore?

Yeah, I didn't get that memo, either.

Maureen Dowd, however, in an editorial about Alice Waters, comments on a growing backlash coming from certain segments of our society against the rising popularity of backyard vegetable gardens. They're fads, you see. People falling for this silly organic stuff. The realm of both chic, elitist yuppies in search of fashionable greens and aging hippies who can't forget the 60's still piddling around in their among the weeds and the weed in their back yards.

Mere arugulence, y'see.

Strange. I grew up in a family where gardens were for saving money and for growing fresh, healthy produce that produced healthy (and sometimes fresh) kids. My parents were born during the Depression, and my grandparents gardened their way through those hard years as a means of getting by.

To dismiss gardening as a mere elitist fad, as arugulence, is a slap in the face of every frugal family that managed to feed itself by getting a little dirt under their nails.

What ever happened to the American kitchen garden? It was crushed under the oncoming steamroller of Consumerism of the 50s, which was driven by a distaste for the scrimping, saving, and doing without of the Depression and the war years. Back alleys disappeared in the new suburbs, front yards were given over to driveways and a tidy facade, and the back yard became not a service entrance and a place for the kitchen garden, but the new outdoor living area.

In recent years, several forces have contributed to the rise in vegetable gardening. One is a growing movement against lawns for ecological reasons: lawns are expensive to maintain both economically and ecologically. Another is a slight but increasing recognition that suburbs can only grow so much and farmlands shrink so much, as suburbs sprawl out over rich farmland, before there isn't enough farmland to feed all the people in those houses. It only makes sense to let some of the farmland that is now suburb give back. Another factor is the recession that we've been falling into for the last couple of years, the full brunt of which we're finally feeling.

As we hunker down for the worst, people are more and more interested in learning survival skills: gardening, spinning, knitting, and the like. Whether we need these skills for survival now isn't the issue. It's about knowing you could grow your food, raise some hens, and knit your own sweater from wool you've spun if you had to that brings a little comfort. And for some people clutching their pink slips and wondering how they'll get through until the next job turns up, that backyard veggie garden may be the means of feeding the kids and giving them something interesting to do all summer.

Arugulence? I think not.

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