Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Wednesday, October 19, 2005



The annual end of season harvest festival pig pickin was held the other evening, and it ended on a melancholy note. And not just for the pig.
There were no hayrides nor prize-winning cobblers. We had no scarecrows nor gourds nor quaint autumnal décor.
We had beer and pot and George Dickel. And the front line of agriculture in these parts, these days.
Nearly every farm was represented in some way or another, and the saliva on the pipe presented a DNA sample of modern sustainable agriculture.
But these are rough times, and a lot of farms are tottering on the brink. Few are self-sustaining or self-sufficient. Nearly all rely on a second income of some kind. Some people work off farm, landscaping or as delivery drivers. Some sell fish. Some rely on their parents. Some watch the big chunk of change they had when they quit their corporate jobs dwindle and dwindle. Some marry lawyers.
Our information minister would have you believe otherwise. Things are rosy and cheerful according to the press releases, and we’re likely to spend the day standing before our homes wearing dour expressions and pitchforks. The food is pure and local and sustainable and politically correct. And subsidized by larger forces in the economy.
The farms in this neck of the woods are not self-sufficient. There are no closed systems, where inputs equal outputs. On the contrary. Without a pile of money that came from somewhere else, most farms would go under. Cases of lettuce and green beans don’t pay for the equipment needed to grow cases of lettuce and green beans.
Eliot Coleman used to talk about going "beyond organic." That’s how he subsidized his farm – by going out on the lecture circuit. Organic means growing food without chemicals and in a way that feeds and improves the soil. Eliot said we need to go beyond that. Maybe you’re using an organic fertilizer, but what if it got shipped in from a thousand miles away? How organic is a farm that’s responsible for burning so much deisel fuel? For putting one more truck on the interstate? Using plastic bags? They come from a factory somewhere, and that water near it is probably kind of yucky. People starting talking about local networks. Farm inputs should be local and sustainably produced, they said. Organic should be defined not only by what happens in your fields, but the cascading effects that your farm has on the overall environment.
Wise words, and many of us take them to heart. We do the best we can to keep things natural in an industrialized world. We come up against a brick wall somewhere, and have a meeting about it. We make slow advances.
The beyond organic thing and the local and sustainable thing needs to be taken to one more level. It won’t be easy, and it may not even be possible. But it needs to be recognized and talked about. We need farmers to be able to build a farm with capitol that is local and sustainable. The world has not been done a favor if food is grown with money that comes from someone’s parents’ corporate jobs. Agriculture is no better off if truckloads of organic vegetables are produced by capitol that comes from the farmer’s previous life as an investment analyst. The food is hardly pure until it pays for itself by itself. Until then it’s a plaything, a folly for rich kids who want to be farmers, decoration for rich people who want to eat fashionably.
The pig pickin’ has jumped around the past few years. It’s hostess has farmed on land she’s rented from rock stars and bankers and other kinds of people who can afford land. She’s on the road again and it’s not quite clear where she’ll farm next year. Where-ever it is, she’ll kick ass. She always does. She farms part time on rented land and grows food that has a sort of elan to it, and looks better than anyone else’s. Perhaps someday we’ll have a pig pickin on a farm that she owns, and that got paid for by farming. Unlikely. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and the more things change, the more they stay the same.


  • At October 19, 2005 7:54 PM, Blogger macncheese said…

    Interesting. I have so many questions (imagine living in my students' worlds--they think my job is to organically produce questions). Should we all be growing our own food using means as beyond organic as we can? Should we all be striving to buy local even if it's not organic? Is the beyond organic credo for farmers who produce organic produce and/or consumers of organic products only, or is there a larger audience? Should we all go off the grid and back to the social construct known as nature? How would I know if my desire to buy organic is fashionable or a sincere social concern? Is there a difference between the two if the social concern becomes fashionable and the fashionable comes from sincere social concerns? Could I start by trying a small garden next year? Did the pot make you feel better? :.)

  • At October 19, 2005 7:57 PM, Blogger spiral said…

    Oh, yes, and one more question: Is the world done any favors if the people buying the organic produce are corporate peeps?

  • At October 19, 2005 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "Pay for a farm by farming"---That's HILARIOUS!

  • At October 22, 2005 1:26 PM, Blogger Walter Jeffries said…

    Although I disagree with some of the things he writes I do agree with Elliot Coleman on this, people need to think about the inputs and where they come from. We minimize outside inputs. Animals provide the fertilizer for our gardens and crops. Animals do the harvesting. This is not only organic but it saves money since we don't have those expenses.


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