Today I want to mention a few ways that our kitchen gardens benefit our communities. This is significant, because collectively our kitchen gardens increase sustainability in a world where it's important for each of us to live lives that reduce drain on world resources.
As of 2016, the world population is close to 7.4 Billion people. We can't help it that each of us needs to eat, but if we live more sustainably, we collectively can stretch the earth's resources and maintain our blue planet as a place of beauty for all people now and for future generations. Current industrial agricultural practices don't do that.
The list of damaging industrial agricultural practices is too long to write about here! If you didn't know it already, in the USA the traditional model of the small time, family farm is dead. It was impossible, economically, for the small scale farmer to compete cost-wise, with large scale, industrial agriculture.
To make farming profitable, large scale Ag relies on planting fields of crops that are genetically homogenous, often with genetic modifications that enable them to resist herbicides so that herbicides can be applied that will kill weeds but not the genetically modified plants. Machines and / or low cost labor are used in a relatively highly mechanized way, to tend and harvest the crops, which are then sold to commercial distributors. These distributors then ship from their hubs to far flung distribution centers, where they are then purchased by third party sellers. Even the guy who stocks your local roadside stand more than likely purchases some or all of his produce from a distributor.
Our current system results in unprecedented efficiency and a steady supply of relatively safe food. However, it also has significant negative environmental impacts and relies heavily on petroleum products. Individual gardeners, acting collectively, can retain benefits of industrial agriculture (e.g. have access to strawberries even when they're out of season here), while reducing reliance on big agriculture, thereby reducing environmental impacts and also increasing sustainability.
The pesticides and herbicides used by industrial agriculture to prevent pests also get into the ecosystem and cause collateral damage to the environment. For instance, it's estimated that neonicontinoid pesticides are contributing to decimations of bee populations worldwide. We are hearing that residue from the Monsanto herbicide "Roundup" is appearing throughout the food chain. We can fight against this by purchasing organic and non-GMO foods at the store, but we also collectively can have a significant impact when we adopt environmentally friendly practices in a home garden. Individually, I am just one person, but if enough of us make small changes the impact can be significant.
In recent decades, California farms have been some of the most productive cropland in the world, supplying USA consumers with bountiful vegetables and fruits, which are shipped to every corner of the United States. Unfortunately, this appears to be coming to an end. Why? Because irrigation has been used in an unsustainable way. Groundwater that has been used for irrigation has been depleted to a point where it soon it will be no longer available. If you don't believe me, do a Google search for "drought in California." For purposes of this blog post, take my word for it!
After the plants are produced on these large scale farms, harvesting and getting the produce to market relies on machinery and shipping, which requires fossil fuels. And then there's the packaging. And sometimes there are abusive labor practices. These practices all have negative impacts.
Growing veggies in our home gardens enables us to bypass much of the negative, unsustainable side of industrial agriculture, even more so when we compost and reduce our reliance on chemical fertilizers. We increase long-term sustainability when we grow food ourselves (or when we source locally and from small suppliers), when we use heirloom varieties of plants, when we implement more sustainable agricultural practices in our own sphere, when we increase plant genetic diversity, when we provide safe habitat for bees and butterflies, and when we reduce reliance on the fossil fuels used for shipping.
Another benefit is obvious: the opportunity to share. We build up communities and each other not just by sharing food with our neighbor or our local food bank, but by sharing knowledge and seeds and mentoring and visits with friends in our gardens. Indeed, in this sense of building community, the garden itself can become a community activity, cultivating leaders as well as plants. To see a longer list of benefits of community gardening, check out this site:
In summary, in addition to being cost-effective, healthy and tasty, growing a home vegetable garden reduces the environmental impact of industrial agriculture, contributes to a more sustainable footprint, and builds local communities! So now, in these two blog posts, I have given you six pretty good reasons to think about growing your own kitchen garden (on whatever scale you wish, small or large). These six reasons are: cost, health, taste, environment, sustainability, and community. In my next blog post, I will talk about some things that are more personal to me which add enrichment to my own gardening experience.