Homeyer: Depending On The Garden

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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and educator who
takes issue with a recent magazine article that defends commercial
farming, along with its pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Homeyer
grows much of his own food, and makes the case for organic gardening on a
small scale.

(Homeyer) I recently read an article in "The
Intelligent Optimist", a magazine that’s usually full of ideas that I
like. But the article entitled, "The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency"
offered the opinion that "growing your own food really isn’t all that
great for the environment." The author put forth the idea that modern,
intensive farming – complete with chemical fertilizer and pesticides –
really is necessary to produce all the food needed to feed the world;
that hobby gardening is just that: a pleasant pastime – and one that
uses valuable space.

I disagree. I do produce a significant
amount of my own food, even though I have less than half an acre in
production. I grow vegetables, fruits and berries. I freeze, dry, store
and can the harvest.

I don’t use any chemical fertilizer to make
my beans bigger or my lettuce produce faster. I don’t use pesticides to
kill insects, herbicides to get rid of weeds, or fungicides to prevent
blight. I like the fact that I can grow and eat food that I know has no
pesticide residues. It’s better for me, my pets, the fish in my stream
and the beneficial insects that help to control aphids and tomato

It’s true that I would survive just fine if
everything in my garden were suddenly killed by frost or flood. This
year late blight showed up on my tomatoes in mid-September, and I had to
destroy my tomato plants. I cut down the plants and covered them with
black plastic to keep the blight spores from drifting in the wind to
other locations. Luckily, I had harvested and frozen many tomatoes
before that happened, and if I needed to, I could buy tomatoes from a
farmer. Or I could buy tomato products like sauce and paste at the
grocery store.

Eons ago there were hunters and there were
gatherers. Some of the gatherers became farmers when they decided that
growing close to home made sense. They saved seeds and selected better
and better varieties.

Swiss chard and beets, for example, are
the same species, but some were selected over time for big leaves,
others for big roots. Last year when cleaning up my garden I looked at
the roots of my chard, and saw they looked quite beet-like, so I boiled
some for dinner. They were splendid.

I firmly believe that my
genes are derived from those first gardeners. I feel great satisfaction
at seeing my garden grow. When I look at the 10 quarts of bread and
butter pickles I made this summer, I feel content. When I open the door
to one of my freezers and look at the Ziplock bags of whole tomatoes or
beans or kale, I know I will enjoy them this winter.

I’ll admit
that I probably couldn’t survive on food from my garden alone. But I
believe that gardening without chemicals is better for the environment
than conventional farming, and the more gardeners there are, the better.
And I hope I’ll still be gardening to the day I die.

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