When asked to think about what has been the most interesting or surprising thing about working with Growing Places Indy this summer, as I was recently asked by one of the founders of the non-profit, Laura Henderson, my first thought was about how many people are interested in growing food, especially myself. Raised in a rural area but “in town” nonetheless, I was always around farms (big, mechanized ones mainly) and was also simultaneously led away from that lifestyle and encouraged to pursue education in literature, science, music, what have you. By many of the kids who lived in town, farming was considered a “poor people” thing. My goal, whether I could tell you about it or not, was to have a job where I could stay out of the sun and out of the dangers of farming. Physical labor, though the majority of the adults I grew up around did it, was not the prized position of employment. I’m sure most people my age, and probably especially those twenty years older or so, can understand this.
However, I’ve heard Matthew Jose (Laura’s partner in crime) say it many times and I have to agree: There is something in us all that wants to do this and understands how to do this without needing too much explanation. By “this” I mean farming. And by farming I basically just mean making plants grow. Now, the business side to the whole thing, that seems much less intuitive to me personally and from what I hear through my internship, much more difficult for growers to manage than the plants themselves. But that, I think, is a different topic all together. The fact is, people are interested in growing food. Every day I work on the garden at the White River State Park I answer multiple questions from multiple people about the types of food we grow and how we do it. Many people have their own gardens at home and want to compare notes. More than I had imagined, for sure. Again, though we had the land to do it in my small town in Indiana, my impression of gardening was that it was some sort of peasant work or that those who didn’t have anything better to do would do it. People who couldn’t afford to buy food at the grocery store. That type of thing. Clearly, though, growing food means something more than cheap vegetables to people, as I’m positive the suit-wearing business men and women who stop and talk to us could buy tomatoes if they wanted to.
So what does this interest mean and why is it interesting to me? Well, for one thing, I think it is hopeful. I find it hopeful and encouraging that so many people are starting their own gardens, not because I just want to “stick it to the man” or something vague and anti-establishment but because the actual situation is that small farms have been swallowed by large, mass-producing farms because of exactly the attitude I mentioned earlier. Who wants to work long hours for little income? Especially hours of hot, manual labor. Not to mention the way the larger farms are subsidized, receiving extra help from the government to secure our food stability. Sounds good — big farms — lots of food. But how is it that three farm hands on the Butler Urban Farm, a plot of only 1/2 acre (forgive me if that’s off a little) are constantly busy with that small area and yet the same number of people on a crew has been known to run farms on a much larger scale? The food from the larger farms is still food and we are lucky to not be starving, but it is also food that is produced without as much intention and without as much care. Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are sprayed on the plants which, like it or not, we then consume. Inorganic chemicals, bytheway, can stick around in our fat tissues for a long, long time. No one knows what the long-term affects will be. We have to wait and see or else do what we can to opt out of the experiment.
I don’t really blame big farmers. Everyone is trying to make money. No one wants to starve. The government isn’t out to poison people, it is out to make sure people don’t starve. I get it. However, what if we make sure we don’t starve? What if we take it into our own lives? Imagine what work life would be like if everyone had their own garden and had to tend to it? I think working hours would change. I think our communities would change as we got to know one another by which products we could exchange and buy. I think our health would change. It’s exercise to work in a garden and some contact with the sun is good for moods. As the bus driver for OAR, a band that was to play in the park, told me, “This work is good for the soul.”
Ultimately, I’m impressed by how many people are into what we’re doing and how easy I find the work to be. There are challenges, of course. For me, they are mainly motivation and fatigue. But all disciplines are learned. Another phrase I’ve heard Matthew use a lot is: Plants just want to grow. With access to the internet and books, anyone can do this in their yard or window box. Get some dirt, get some water, get some seeds, get some sun. It doesn’t have to be fancy and some failure should be expected. But being directly connected to what we eat is satisfying in a way that people like me, raised on Wal*Mart produce, could never have known we would need.
Until next time,
PS Check out the White River Farm stand at the park on Wednesdays from 11-1. Also, this coming week we will be at the farmer’s market on Market St., downtown, from 9-1.