It’s frustrating, I know.
Gardening is personal. First of all, it’s manual labor, and any work done with our hands is somehow more special to us. But gardening is more. It is care taking. You choose which seeds to bring to life, prepared their bed, arranged the conditions for their birth. You feed, water, tend. It’s personal.
Then it happens. Drought, blight, bugs. Heat wave, cold snap. And it’s over; your garden fails.
If you’ve gardened long, you’ve experienced it. For you non-gardeners, you should. Everyone should. Gardening teaches many valuable life lessons; A failed garden teaches a couple as well.
Namely, that food is precious and hard as hell to grow.
Until quite recently, food scarcity was real in America. There are those among us whose living memory includes food rationing and gardening not-as-a-hobby (Victory Gardens, for example). Food was cherished because people knew how hard it was to come by.
Not anymore, at least not in America. Somehow, we’ve created a situation where we have so much food at hand that we literally throw a third of it away and have a raging obesity epidemic, simultaneously.
That’s unique in human history. There have never been a people who, in their entire lifespan, will never go to bed wondering if there will be breakfast. Until us.
That’s not just noteworthy; it’s near miraculous. But how did it happen?
By tinkering with our food.
Modern farming practices and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture represent the largest leap forward in the practice of feeding humans since we figured out how to crossbreed corn 10,000 years ago.
For those readers familiar with the GMO debate, you know how polarized and polarizing it is. And you may be surprised that, as a home gardening and husbandry advocate, I would commend GMOs.
But I do. In short, I think this technology has the potential to save humanity.
I’m not an alarmist. I don’t think we are on the brink of extinction by any means. But our global population is growing while our farmable land isn’t. Our human family will simply have more mouths to feed with the same resources.
GMOs like Golden Rice, Bt Corn, and cassava that is resistant to brown streak represent life-saving advances to people everywhere. GMOs are reducing the need for pesticides and irrigation, and making certain staple crops more resistant to weather extremes. Add this to the fact that there is no evidence that GMOs are harmful to humans and I gladly sow them in my garden.
I understand the apprehension about GMOs. We’re toying with nature, and we don’t always do that well. There are risks and unknowns and issues raised by very smart people (Michael Pollan is my favorite).
But we also get it right a lot. In fact, most of the food in your pantry right now is the result of human intervention in crop development, even if your cabinets only hold organic and non-GMO food.
I think the bottom line for those of us in blessedly developed countries is that we can afford to be choosy. We can shop in the organic section of our supermarket and then throw 30 percent of the food away, even though organic farming requires more land than conventional. We have more options because we don’t have to feed our families solely out of our gardens.
If we did, I think we would feel the same as Lilian Ziro, a Kenyan woman who does have to feed her family from her land, when she was quoted in a Business Daily article about GMO cassava.
“I don’t know much about GMOs or what it really means, but if it will save my cassava, then I will happily plant it.”
I will probably always garden, but (thank goodness) not for survival. When mine fails, it’s frustrating but not crucial. I just kick the dirt and go to the grocery. But I think my, and your, garden should periodically fail to remind us that not everyone can do that.
Food is precious and hard as hell to grow.
P.S. – I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s books and documentaries Cooked and In Defense of Food.
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