Why is growing our own food so important?

Someone once said that you could solve 95% of the world’s problems if you addressed the issues surrounding food.  As I thought about this statement, I began to see all of the aspects of our life that food touches.  I thought about greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation and pollution, waste issues, obesity, stress, degenerative diseases, poverty and loss of access to land and water in developing countries, genetically modified organisms, corporate control  – the list just kept on getting bigger.  The ways in which we set up our systems of food production governs much of the way that our society, and the societies that we trade with, function.  So, it would follow that if we changed our relationship with food, we could begin to reshape our society and address the problems that we face.

A century ago, almost everyone knew how to grow something, growing food and harvesting and storing it were very much part of day to day life and therefore part of a person’s education.  Often the academic year was arranged around the growing season, to allow children to help with the work on the farm.  Food was relatively simple, unprocessed and unpackaged.  But food production has become big business and today fewer and fewer people are actually involved in the whole process.  This has led to several generations of people who have very little understanding of their relationship to food or to the land that grows it.  I also believe it has led to a host of very poor environmental decisions that are beginning to have real consequences.

As an organic market gardener, one of my first real lessons in understanding consequences came when I was faced with an outbreak of cucumber beetles.  These tiny beetles are very fast and hard to catch, and they can easily destroy young cucumber plants.  I remember going to the local farm co-op store and looking at the remedies – this was before they had organic insecticides.  I read the labels, looked at the price (very high), and actually bought a container of something and brought it home.  Then I went out into the garden and as I worked I thought about the chemical, about the whole physical action of putting it on my cucumber plants, and then finally about harvesting those cucumbers and feeding them to my family.  I realized that the chemical insecticide was just not an option.  I think we lost most of that cucumber crop, but there were lots of other things to eat, and the next year we paid far more attention to the growing conditions for cucumbers.

Growing one’s own food also brings up many questions concerning value.  Science, technology, and industry have replaced so much of what was once an inherent part of human existence with artificial alternatives.  Why would anyone grow a head of lettuce when it can be bought for 60 cents at the grocery store?  Having grown my own food for 25 years now, I would ask why anyone would want to forego the experience of harvesting and eating something they have grown themselves for something that has no connection to their own life.  Taste and quality are definitely superior, but more than that, it is the satisfaction and the richness that gardening brings to my life that cannot be replaced.  In harvesting my own food year after year, I feel the sun, the wind, the soil.  I also feel deeply grateful for all that the earth has provided.  Somewhere along the way I have made a big shift from thinking that I grew my own food to realizing that what I am doing is caring for this miracle that is the soil and in doing so, am blessed with abundance.  For me, this is a way of knowing and of being in the world that comes only through thoughtful and mindful work in nature.  I also believe that it is the foundation for the kind of earth centered philosophy that we need so badly if we are to preserve this planet for future generations.

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