Occupy Your Gardens; A guest blog

Written by Doug Oster on .

Occupy Your Gardens

By Laura Matthews

A suburban gardener in the brimmed hat pushing a wheelbarrow into a vegetable patch may not seem like a political act.  But increasingly, it is. My garden trend prediction for spring?  More of us will be occupying our gardens. 

Like the occupy movement, gardeners who grow food take action to increase our influence over our well-being.  We want to know our food is safe and appealing and we want to take small action to protect the environment.

While currently more mainstream, this isn’t new. I recently noticed similarity between images of occupy encampments and images in the film - The Garden, a documentary about Los Angeles inner city farmers fighting for their land. Social media is heating up with discussion about politics and gardening. Colleen Vanderlinden suggests we Occupy Our Gardens with a fab Tree Hugger Article. On Twitter, A gardener with the handle @MrBrownThumb used the hashtag #OccupyOurGardens.

Uniquely attuned to nature’s interconnectedness, gardeners have keen ability to see connections between money, soil, politics, our food supply and our gardens. Even those of us who aren’t political see reasons to garden other than beauty. We might say we garden simply because we like the taste of a certain kind of tomato that our family has grown for years, among other homey reasons, but if we take a minute to honestly examine why we as vegetable gardeners do what we do, the reason broadens.

If we reduce gardening to the most simplistic, we venture out to plant our seedlings in hopes of harvesting the tastiest, freshest food. But what does the fact we are willing to undertake hours of labor in search of good food, say about the quality of food that is easily available to us? Increasingly, we grow food in our gardens to take a little of the control over our food supply and – ultimately - our lives back.

Again, if I want to be meaningful about my garden trend predictions, I predict more of us will be #OccupyingOurGardens.  

Numerous urban gardeners and backyard homesteaders have been growing food out of political conviction for years. I know a literal rocket scientist who dropped out of the rat race and started farming 8 years ago. I argue gardeners got the occupy bug early.

If you’ve seen that Oscar nominated documentary The Garden from 2008, you've seen a story of a precursor of occupy. The Garden follows the South Central Farmers as they fight to keep sleazy backroom politics and the City of Los Angeles in hope of preventing their eviction from their 14-acre garden that they’d farmed for 12 years. The group arguably first occupied their gardens. They did so in an effort to protect the largest urban farm built from a desire for good food - back before urban farms were chic.

While my teenage daughter tells me I’m the only wing nut that has these odd thoughts, almost everyday I find more evidence that I’m far from the only one who sees growing my own food to be a rebellious act. I nearly did back flips when I discovered is a wonderful Roger Doiron TED piece about Gardening as a Subversive Act. It seems the combination the economic downturn, the cultural realization that food has been degraded to something you consume - as fuel only - between soccer practice and violin lessons, and the societal concern about a small number of companies owning all of our big food and big Ag, has over the last 6 years created a massive shift in the collective consciousness.  

As with much social change, this shift has bubbled up from the grassroots, and is often due to people who brave the streets in protest because their way of life is threatened and, perhaps, because they have so little to lose.  

From images from The Garden to 2011 images of college kids whose loans amount to more than they could ever pay – even if they could find a job –the message is the same. People in our US streets are fighting for fairness in their lives. We have a long history of people dropping out and returning to the land as a protest and as a way to find security in their lives. Multiple crises in our history have led us to our gardens – the victory gardens of our grandparents in WW2 are a good example.  Some of our parents embraced this in the 1970’s

Unlike the 70’s - activist and occupier, Benjamin Ketchum, attributes the current green passion to people understanding the fact the earth can’t sustain gross consumption any more. “All of the things the hippies were raging about in the 70’s are coming to the forefront now,” Says Ketchum, “People are seeing real tangible consequences our irresponsible industrial food and agricultural practices and our irresponsible environmental stewardship. They are finally coming to an awareness the we can’t continue to live like this.”

Personally, as I kiss goodbye the year that the included multiple defeats for solid agricultural policy – including dubbing pizza a vegetable - I still have a couple of bushels of real vegetables I grew– some potatoes, more squash - in a cool spot in my basement. I’m firing up my oven to make a gallon or two of soup. In the process, I take back just a little tiny bit of control of my life. That soup will have no connection to the five companies that currently control our food supply.

When I recently re-watched the trailer of The Garden, I was struck by how much the tents the farmers slept in while awaiting the city’s bulldozers resembled occupy encampments.  

During the documentary, Mr. Tezozomoc, as one of the elected representatives of the South Central Farmers, says to City Hall officials in reference to taking the farm away from 350 families, “You are taking away our way of life.” Occupiers are fighting for a way of life. In a small way, we gardeners can fight for our way of life – at least more food sovereignty - by occupying our gardens.

lauraMathewsLaura Mathews is a soil addicted gardener, writer and photographer.  She’s a gardening activist who believes that vegetable gardeners can save the world.  While she spends far too much time reading about agricultural policy and food security, she still makes time to shop for great shoes.  She got a weekly paycheck from newspapers for 20 years before she became a freelance garden/food writer and photographer.

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