It's winter in Australia, so here's a photo of my Aunt's garden in Missouri
The latest trend in local eating is getting the food straight from your own backyard. Who knew that so many folks in flyover country were on the cutting edge all this time, summer after summer. Oh. But wait. For it to really be trendy, you’ve got to hire somebody else come in and do all the dirty work for you, according to this article and this blog from the NY Times.
Of course, a lot of people were quick to attack this as elitist (which it kind of is) or to say that it’s nothing new since people have been eating fresh produce off their own land since the beginning of agriculture. What really kills me is the arguments that others have offered in rebuttal to these criticisms. The most absurd argument I’ve seen is that outsourcing a veggie patch to someone else saves fuel because it cuts down on trips to the farmer’s market. I’m guessing that the gardener has to use fuel for his weekly trips to clients’ homes, so really it’s a wash in terms of fuel consumption. It just shifts the burden of the gas bill to the gardener.
The main thing that rankles me about this new “trend” is the continued disconnect from how our food gets from the ground to our plates. First, there’s the disconnect from the earth because someone else is doing the “dirty work”. When you plant seeds or put in bedding plants and get dirt underneath your fingernails you physically connect with the earth. From that moment, not only have you planted seeds for food that will eventually spring forth, you’ve planted the seeds of anticipation. It’s exhililarating to see the first tender sprouts pushing their way through the topsoil. I’ll usually check on my seedlings morning and night just for the wonder of watching them grow. When it’s time to harvest, I do so with mixed emotions. There’s some regret, because I know when I snap off the leaves or pluck the fruit, that it’s the end of the amazing cycle of life I’ve spent weeks witnessing. At the same time, there’s pure joy in knowing that I get to carry the food into my kitchen and eat something that I grew, in partnership with the earth and sun, and consume it at its freshest.
Another disconnect in this trend is the loss of human interaction with those who grow our food. Sure, there’s a gardener who comes to the house and tend the garden, harvest its bounty then leave the box at the backdoor, but this presumably happens when the clients are away at work. Some clients may only see the grower when they first meet to discuss the exchange of service for money.
At The Food Section blog, Josh Friedland wonders what the fuss is about and contends there’s little difference between these outsourced backyard gardens and CSA boxes or farmer’s markets. I think there’s a huge difference. With a CSA and the farmer’s market, there are typically built-in connections between growers and consumers. At a farmer’s market, you often have face to face interaction with the person who did the growing. Likewise, CSA members meet the farmer who grew their weekly box of goodies when they go to pick it up, and many CSA members put in sweat equity at the farm where they have their membership.
Of course, consuming produce grown in your own backyard is certainly better than buying it at your local supermarket even if someone else is doing all the work. Unfortunately, the trend in hiring someone to do the gardening is fueled by people who feel they are too busy to do it themselves, which sort of flies in the face of the Slow Food movement. Slow Food isn’t just about fighting back against fast food. It’s about fighting back against our ever-quickening way of life. It’s about unplugging from laptops and mobile phones and Ipods and Blackberrys and taking some of the time we normally spend with technology and use it to grow and make our own food and enjoy it with others. In other words, we need to spend less time connected to the digital world, and more time connected to the diggable one.