The Seeds of Something Bigger

Why I garden, really.This article that predicts a widespread seed shortage hasn’t left my thoughts since I first read it weeks ago. It hadn’t occurred to me that the home gardening boom could go anywhere but benignly forward, until I read Sharon Astyk’s article and thought more critically about producing my own food.

I’ve been as guilty as (or guiltier than) anyone, when it comes to jumping on the green bandwagon, preferring anything with an organic classification, and following trends that, upon closer examination, are case studies of marketing savvy rather than environmental responsibility. Especially when shopping with a tenaciously impatient toddler, I gravitate towards labels with that veneer of wholesomeness.

When it comes to gardening, in particular, I like to learn by doing, and in this case, that means gardening from seeds to harvest. I remain convinced that the best way to learn about healthy food is to dive in and try making it from the earliest starting point one can muster, especially given that growing conditions seem to differ from one inch to the next, and what works in my garden might not in yours. Lately, however, I have been reconsidering what it means, exactly, to learn by doing. Enthusiasm is one thing, and commitment is something entirely different. I’m in this gardening thing for the long haul, and, given the current state of the economy and the environment, that means I have the opportunity to do something profoundly meaningful for myself and my family, here, as long as I keep my critical capacities about me.

In short, I don’t want there to be more “doing” going on than “learning.”

What this means — concretely, right now — is that I’m choosing seeds more judiciously, with the infinitesimal growing conditions I have closest at hand. I love the ease and smug freshness of salad, so I grow more greens than prettier crops that I don’t actually enjoy eating very much (hot peppers, for example, don’t currently make the cut). In my opinion, there’s a lot of bang for my buck in a bunch of red lettuce, particularly because the red lettuce I buy anywhere else, no matter how “fresh,” seems to slime up if I just look at it funny. Add to that that I love the economy, self-reliance, and (let’s face it) nurturing aspect of saving seeds, so I’m seeking out vegetable varieties that can literally last lifetimes. Try growing a lettuce variety to seed; it’s fireworks on a miniscule scale.

And, boy, would I love to figure out a better system of collecting and producing compost than taking multiple cross-town trips with a tiny, stinking can.

Enthusiasm, meet commitment.

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