Last week I was in the garden watering my plants when I heard a voice from a couple houses up. "Hey Farmer Joe!" I looked over and saw the man's wife exiting the back of the house with some water for her husband, who was obviously doing some very hard work in his back yard. They chatted for a bit and she went back inside. When I was done watering, I headed over there to introduce myself to this neighbor and see what he was up to. It turns out that Joe and his wife and kids have lived in that house for fifteen years, but this year, Joe decided to cut a vegetable garden out of the sod. We had a discussion about his plans for the space, what he wants to grow, what to add to our neighborhood soil to make it work, etc. Since I know personally what it's like to be accused of having manly hair-brained schemes from time to time, I asked him if this was one of those, or something the whole family was going to be involved in. "Well," he said, "I like the idea of eating food I grew myself. I told the family I'm going to do this project, and if they're interested in helping out, that would be great."
So here we have a guy who has lived in Canton for 15 years, and has just now decided to put a garden in. Why is that? I think it's because gardening is "trendy" again. I'm way too young to remember, but I think the last time gardening was trendy was during and after WW2 with the whole Victory Garden movement. After that, some people kept growing their own food, but for the most part, we found "better" uses for our time and let the farmers and supermarkets take care of vegetable production for us. Today though, if you go to a neighborhood garden center, it's crawling with beginners, there are classes available, tons of blogs out there to read from, and YouTube to help you figure stuff out. Something is clearly different all of a sudden that is getting people interested in it though. I think it's a combination of Organic foods in the supermarket, and the recession.
I think I was still in college when I started hearing about people only buying Organic vegetables. All I knew was that they are smaller and more expensive than their chemically produced cousins. Being a poor college student, I swore off the expensive veggies and the "crazies" who insist on buying them. Times have changed and though we haven't gone completely Organic for veggie purchases, there are some in the fridge. In the summer, we've been eating organic produce for years and never really knew it; it was just the stuff we grew ourselves. I think this is one source of the resurgence in home gardening - you can get Organic produce by growing your own food and not putting chemicals on it. Yes it's a challenge - there are bean beetles on my young pole bean plants, eating the leaves, and I know I could sprinkle a little Sevin on them and the problem would go away, but instead, I seek out the little buggers and smoosh them. So I think people are seeing that it's easy and fun to grow Organic, therefore they should give it a try.
The real catalyst for the resurgence in backyard gardening, I think, has been economic. It might be the recession, with people losing their jobs and maybe being forced to grow their own food to have something on the table, or it might be that gas prices are taking a dent out of the monthly food budget and they are buying cheaper, less healthy food and still want some fresh produce. The fact of the matter is, for a relatively small investment, you can construct a small raised bed garden in your yard, and grow an abundance of lettuce, beans, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and basil without having to spend all your free time tending to it. Over the course of a summer you could save hundreds of dollars just in your small veggie plot. It's a compelling argument for the modern American to exit the house and grab a shovel.
I used to be the only guy at work who brought in zucchini and tomatoes that we couldn't use up ourselves. People asked me about my garden and found it a little strange that I had pictures to show them (okay I guess it's a lottle weird that I have more recent garden pictures than kid pictures. I guess I know what I'm doing tonight). Last year there were a few more veggies on the table in the lunch room from others. I think this year there will be even more (especially zucchini!). That makes me happy! I'm glad to see others "taking to the dirt," and I like to think I had something to do with it. We need more regular Joes to get off the couch, drag the family outside, hand them shovels and get gardening. It might be the trendy thing to do, and I'm fine with that!