Fighting Exploitation Through Veganic Gardening
When I bought my condo, one of the selling points for me was the patio. “I can garden,” I thought with glee.
It’s been 4 years, and the garden has been both a success and a failure – this is the nature of learning, and I am happy to try things just to see if they’ll work. My space, like all growing spaces, has its challenges. My motivation isn’t always up to speed. Despite the challenges, the failures, and the effort, I grow more and more convinced of the vast importance of gardening (when feasible). From social justice to environmentalism to animal rights to frugality, gardening directly addresses many issues.
If you follow the Food Empowerment Project (facebook, twitter, or their blog), you know that there are a lot of issues with farm workers. Even if you are unfamiliar with FEP, it is hard to miss the news in recent years about tomato growers in Florida or strawberry pickers in California. Exploitation of farm workers is rampant, and there is no guarantee that the produce you are buying at the grocery store avoided farm worker exploitation. Not even if it is organic. At farmers’ markets or if you purchase a share in a CSA it’s better, since you can ask those questions of the farmers directly, and hopefully trust the answers.
Community gardens and farmers markets can address some of the issues of food deserts. Community gardens in places lacking options for fresh produce, and which are only available for the people living in that neighborhood, directly address issues of food availability.
Community gardens have a fascinating history, rising up within the social movements of the 60’s and 70’s in places like Berkeley, NYC and Vancouver, they are an equal mixture of revolution and practicality. “Guerrilla Gardening: A Manifesto” is a fascinating book to read on this topic, and it’s a book that will get you thinking differently about the space around you, and the possibilities within it.
I, like most people, accepted those endless grass lawns as how-things-are for most of my life. My mindset changed to a degree when I lived in Phoenix, the land of space enough and time, but very little water. I began seeing grass lawns as evil, things that made no sense, but this view was driven by the desert ecology. It didn’t occur to me until I read “Food Not Lawns” that there was something fundamentally wrong with those endless grass lawns even in places with abundant water.
French aristocrats popularized the idea of the green, grassy lawns in the eighteenth century when they planted the agricultural fields around their estates to grass to send the message that they had more land than they needed and could therefore afford to waste some. Meanwhile French peasants starved or lack of available farmland, and the resulting frustration might well have had something to do with the French Revolution in 1789. (p. 12)
Those endless grass lawns are a social statement of a very negative kind, and they’re not only ubiquitous, they’re often required according to various homeowner association rules, or city/county ordinances. One more example of normalized cruelty.
The negative environmental impact of these lawns is staggering. Not only are they a monoculture, the water and pesticide usage is mind-boggling; there is simply nothing good about it, unless you are running a sanctuary and have cows and goats and sheep who make good use of the grass as a food crop.
According to Food Not Lawns, just in the U.S., lawns cover 23 million acres, consume 270 billion gallons of water a week all summer long, use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland, and pollute via a gas-powered lawnmower run for one hour the same amount as a car driven 350 miles! And that is just the residential lawns, which does not take into account the 700,000 athletic lawns and 14,500 golf courses.
Whether we purchase organic produce or conventional at our local grocery stores, we rarely know what those farms are using to grow their food, or how they treat their workers. We have a better chance of gaining that knowledge if we shop at farmers markets or purchase a CSA share, but it is a rare farm that is completely free of animal exploitation, whether in the fertilizers they use or perhaps in raising animals for food in addition to growing crops.
When we garden – either in a community garden, on a balcony, or in our backyard – we know exactly what went into it. We have control over the soil, the compost, the seeds or seedlings, and we also avoid the labor issues. We create an oasis of biodiversity, and potentially eliminate small segments of those dreaded lawns.
There is a term for organic gardening that avoids animal exploitation – veganic gardening.
I know there are a lot of gardeners out there and I’m hoping that the experienced gardeners will chime in with their veganic gardening techniques, resources, advice, and stories!