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Why garden?

(post, Judith Klinger)

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Why Garden? 

Everyone loves a garden, right? My father had a huge garden and after dinner we would walk out en masse for ‘adoration’ of all things leafy green and edible. Alice Waters started an entire dining revolution by gardening. The English have garden competitions. Italians are not ‘real’ Italians without some sort of garden or orto. I know I’m looking forward to getting into our orto and working.  E-mails are flying as our orto-mates and I salivate over the possibilities of all that fresh produce. As our orto is dead center in the middle of our little Italian village, I’m sure everyone else is town is looking forward to giving the Americans advice on what to plant, and how it should be eaten. 

But, lets back up for a moment. How many man (and woman) hours will it take to yield those tomatoes?  How much water is consumed by our not very efficient watering system? What will it take to preserve all that cannot be eaten fresh? If you took a rational, dollars and cents approach to gardening, I’m guessing that unless you are sprouting your own seeds from last years crops, have an auto-drip watering system from the cistern and think your time is worth nothing; its probably cheaper to buy those tomatoes. Harsh words, but as far as carbon footprints go, industrialized farming will have you beat every time, unless you bicycle for all your gardening related errands. 

However, if you took an emotional and even a spiritual look at the garden I think there are intangible benefits. Separating yourself from the food chain, believing that meat just comes in little plastic packages, that lettuce springs up spontaneously into plastic clam shells already triple washed and trimmed, that those red orbs in the stores in February are truly tomatoes, all this leads to a disconnect and a disrespect for the ingredient. There is truly nothing better than eating a sun warmed _ (fill in the blank) tomato, fig, strawberry, or apricot that you’ve watched grow and ripen. And you have the thrill of outsmarting the birds who know exactly when something is at peak ripeness. To be a child and to see what sprouts from those tiny seeds is magic. To stand back and admire the freshly planted rows and anticipate the goodness that will come if you are patient, diligent and water frequently is as exciting as wrapped presents under the Christmas tree.

I’m not a psychologist, but the spiritual rewards for tending the earth, for growing things and eating with respect must surely count for something.  And in these very unsettled times, the reassurance of seeing fresh growth cannot be underestimated. Perhaps that was an unintended benefit of the Victory Gardens during WW II, the garden became a little symbol of hope and a refuge for normalcy.

Sometimes its not just about dollars and sense (pun intended) it’s about the sum of all the parts.