Comments: PR Victory Gardens

Over 3 tons of fruits & veg from a garden that's basically 200 feet square? Somebody's math must have taken a holiday. Even with year round gardening, that is quite a stretch.

Posted by Elliot at April 5, 2009 06:10 PM

you want to go back to the days of paying more for food and less on interest payments and other finance charges, the only cultural path to invigorating penury?! i -- i fear for my country.

Posted by hapa at April 5, 2009 06:40 PM

I guess it's too late for George Allen to say he thought that democratic staffer in the audience was actually representing the Mid America Croplife people, and couldn't exactly remember how their acronym went.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at April 5, 2009 07:17 PM

So Aaron hates progress. Next thing you know, he'll tell us he's against credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. There's no reasoning with these cavemen.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at April 5, 2009 08:01 PM

I took a train through the Central Valley in California a few days back. That region produces something like 8% of the US's agricultural output, so we can probably take it as a pretty good representation of what our friends in Corporate America have in mind when they say stuff like this:

Farmers maintain over 1.3 million acres of grass waterways, allowing water to flow naturally from crops without eroding soil.

Agriculture in the Central Valley operates entirely on the basis of irrigation - otherwise it would be a completely destitute desert. There is nothing "natural" about the water flow there.

Furthermore the way crops are grown is a system designed to encourage awful labor practices. When you have miles and miles of cropland that are all going to ripen at once, it means your labor force must move around - show up for a week to harvest, then move on to the next monocropped estate. If, on the other hand, large estates had multiple crops with staggered harvest times - like you can find in a good ole' garden - it might actually result in something resembling a stable livelihood for the people who pick our food. Modern corporate agriculture is awfully destructive in many ways, but I think this is arguably the worst.

Elided: observations about the relationship between the way food is grown in America and why there is so much obesity.

Posted by saurabh at April 5, 2009 08:17 PM

ah, bernard, your waterford martini glass is looking low. throw it out the window, i'll bring you a full one.

Posted by hapa at April 5, 2009 08:38 PM

Elliot, I might not have believed it myself before I got the gardening bug and grew 50 pounds of tomatoes from three plants in a single summer in Pittsburgh. If you are open to being convinced, read _Square Foot Gardening_ by Mel Bartholomew.

I make no guarantee that a scientific review of the results in Pasadena would verify them. But I grew up on a farm and can attest that the agricultural system is not optimized to its true limiting inputs (fertile land and water).

Hapa, although I get that you're joking, I'm not sure that I want food to be more expensive. I think that industrial food is cheaper than organic in part because of subsidies to large agribusinesses. This could be reversed.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at April 5, 2009 09:34 PM

never seen a foodie say the labor intensity wouldn't bring a price increase. sure, stop subsidizing crap, maybe support green ag as it grows, but pollan's story is that today's food system is all for the dirt-cheap calories and you get what you pay for and i don't think i've ever read anyone respectable call him out on that.

Posted by hapa at April 5, 2009 11:06 PM

Aaron, I request a post about "Square Foot Gardening," which I'd never heard of, and your tomato experience.

Also, if I ever am successful in growing my own portobella mushrooms, I will trade you some for tomatoes.

In fact, I'm growing less interested in politics and more interested in tomatoes by the day. Perhaps this site will eventually become all tomatoes, all the time.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at April 6, 2009 02:49 AM

I'm pretty sure that real agricultural reform would mean more expensive food - especially more expensive meat. The flip side to that, of course, is that we're already paying the cost for "cheap" food in negative environmental and health effects.

Posted by strasmangelo jones at April 6, 2009 07:50 AM

A Tiny Garden

Posted by Save the Oocytes at April 6, 2009 08:35 AM

I like the proposed turn to vegetables! Other than occasionally posting cynical blog comments I've been turning my energies lately to gardening rather than politics. And brewing beer again. I was once more involved, but I've been turning inward toward the home and family.

I second the recommendation for Bartholomew's _Square Foot Gardening_. It is a quite rightly popular home-gardening book. Along with my native shrubs and grasses in my front yard I have four 4x4' vegetable beds. This is my first year in the new house, but the method has worked well for me in the past.

Now if only the cold would stop and we'd get back to the 80 and 90 degree weather we had in February and early March. My poor cacti lost their fresh new pads in the freeze and I really want to transplant my peppers.

Posted by pulaski at April 6, 2009 08:50 AM

@Hapa - My 9:34 pm post was written unclearly. I meant that the subsidies could be reversed, which would bring down the price differential between organic and conventionally grown food.

It's a fun thing to tease apart, though. My experience traveling in the third world and buying in-season from farms in the US indicates that organic sustainably-grown food is not inherently more expensive than conventional agriculture. Price has as much to do with culture (why do we eat fresh tomatoes in December?), distribution, marketing, and policy. These things are not part of nature and can be changed.

Perhaps this will be a future blog post, but here's a teaser. How much of the perception that organic is more expensive is due to, say, organic plums grown in Argentina bought in Whole Foods in March? Of course that approach is very expensive. It's also dumb.

Instead, let's talk about an organic, local, and sustainable system (what we both need and would like to have) when we discuss costs. In this case, the cost comparison between industrial conventional and sustainable organic agriculture is not clearcut in my opinion.

(Although I do agree that organic sustainably raised meat is likely to be much more expensive. Whether this is bad is also interesting to think about.)

Posted by Aaron Datesman at April 6, 2009 11:05 AM

It is possible to have a food system, that in the words of Carlo Petrini is "Good, Clean, and Fair".

There's something to the idea that we're being bought off with Cheap food. Only elitists want food to be expensive...... None of that is true. Just another clever bit of rhetoric from apologists for the crap we have now.

If you start with the premise that food is a human right--hey, just like medical care!--the system can produce other outcomes.

This from DeAnander at Feral Scholar -

"For a penny a day per person — a whopping $3.65 per year each — a world-class city took meaningful, measurably successful steps towards the redefinition of food as a human right, the elimination of hunger among its poorest people, the promotion and availability of fresh and healthy food for everyone, and the revitalisation and ongoing support of local, small-scale agriculture. Rather than escalating the destructive practises of gargantuan-scale industrial farming and then distributing its inferior, malnutritious products as charity or welfare, Belo Horizonte made a courageous attempt to create a food economy that would meet the standards suggested by Carlo Petrini of the Slow Food Movement: good, clean, and fair."

Posted by Bruce F at April 6, 2009 11:31 AM

Elliot, I might not have believed it myself before I got the gardening bug and grew 50 pounds of tomatoes from three plants in a single summer in Pittsburgh.

Not technically "gardening," but we used to get an actual ton of fruit off of a two Royal Anne cherry trees each year (which we picked and sold to the local fruit distributor). We also had a Bing and a Black Republican on the side of the house. I don't think the four trees together made up a tenth of an acre.

Posted by darrelplant at April 6, 2009 12:26 PM

Look into permaculture and really get your mind blown....

Posted by Solar Hero at April 6, 2009 03:40 PM

Forgot to add that the Dervaes family are far from "hippies", conventionally defined.

A L.A. area journalist who interviewed me about my rooftop growing project responded to my use of the Dervaes' as an example for other nominally lefty types to follow by describing the head of the family as a the founder of a church a la Jim Jones.

That's not to discount the remarkable results that they've achieved.

Posted by Bruce F at April 6, 2009 05:25 PM

Thanks BruceF for the cross-link, I've returned the compliment and added a link to the comments trail on "Not Rocket Science"... I particularly appreciate the insight of saurabh, above, about the seasonal "temping" (was this the original model for temp agencies?) that results inevitably from vast acreages of monocrop, depriving farmworkers of a stable location and livelihood. Hadn't made that connection explicitly before in my own mind, so thanks for the Aha moment. This is well worth exploring in greater depth.

I'll note that there's a programme in Central CA dedicated to making small acreages available to farmworkers to cultivate sustainably, so that farmworker families can settle and prosper on their own land. More on this at FS when I have some more online time; right now I'm rather busy getting a semi-permaculture garden jumpstarted on a relatively barren suburban lot :-)

Tomatoes are far more interesting than politics; politics, it seems to me more and more of late, is mostly about elaborate justifications for stealing other people's tomatoes.

Posted by DeAnander at April 6, 2009 07:51 PM

Ahh, that's interesting (also, horrifying) about the Dervaes family. It's one of the interesting things about reading Mother Earth News: sometimes the environmental left and the homeschooled right meet in its pages. Plus, I guess, some even more extreme.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at April 6, 2009 10:55 PM