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Homeyer: Depending On The Garden

09/19/12 5:55PM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and educator who takes issue with a recent magazine article that defends commercial farming, along with its pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Homeyer grows much of his own food, and makes the case for organic gardening on a small scale.

(Homeyer) I recently read an article in "The Intelligent Optimist", a magazine that's usually full of ideas that I like. But the article entitled, "The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency" offered the opinion that "growing your own food really isn't all that great for the environment." The author put forth the idea that modern, intensive farming - complete with chemical fertilizer and pesticides - really is necessary to produce all the food needed to feed the world; that hobby gardening is just that: a pleasant pastime - and one that uses valuable space.

I disagree. I do produce a significant amount of my own food, even though I have less than half an acre in production. I grow vegetables, fruits and berries. I freeze, dry, store and can the harvest.

I don't use any chemical fertilizer to make my beans bigger or my lettuce produce faster. I don't use pesticides to kill insects, herbicides to get rid of weeds, or fungicides to prevent blight. I like the fact that I can grow and eat food that I know has no pesticide residues. It's better for me, my pets, the fish in my stream and the beneficial insects that help to control aphids and tomato hornworms.

It's true that I would survive just fine if everything in my garden were suddenly killed by frost or flood. This year late blight showed up on my tomatoes in mid-September, and I had to destroy my tomato plants. I cut down the plants and covered them with black plastic to keep the blight spores from drifting in the wind to other locations. Luckily, I had harvested and frozen many tomatoes before that happened, and if I needed to, I could buy tomatoes from a farmer. Or I could buy tomato products like sauce and paste at the grocery store.

Eons ago there were hunters and there were gatherers. Some of the gatherers became farmers when they decided that growing close to home made sense. They saved seeds and selected better and better varieties.

Swiss chard and beets, for example, are the same species, but some were selected over time for big leaves, others for big roots. Last year when cleaning up my garden I looked at the roots of my chard, and saw they looked quite beet-like, so I boiled some for dinner. They were splendid.

I firmly believe that my genes are derived from those first gardeners. I feel great satisfaction at seeing my garden grow. When I look at the 10 quarts of bread and butter pickles I made this summer, I feel content. When I open the door to one of my freezers and look at the Ziplock bags of whole tomatoes or beans or kale, I know I will enjoy them this winter.

I'll admit that I probably couldn't survive on food from my garden alone. But I believe that gardening without chemicals is better for the environment than conventional farming, and the more gardeners there are, the better. And I hope I'll still be gardening to the day I die.
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