Covet Your Neighbor’s Dirt?

Small vegetable garden links gardens and gardeners.

These days everyone’s talking about sustainable living. The buzz is all about urban gardening, solar heating, alternative energy, hybrid cars. What next? If you still have that Chevy Subdivision parked in your driveway, you’re probably GREEN WITH ENVY over that Prius across the street. But does it really make sense to spend $30K to cut carbon emissions and save a little cash at the pump? Maybe you can wait until the economy turns around before you dig that deep in your pocket in your quest to keep up with the Mother Joneses.

But meanwhile, in spite of what the Bible says about coveting your neighbor’s hot spouse, ox, and ass, it’s totally OK to fall in love with that sunny spot in your neighbor’s front yard. I know you’ve been looking. Don’t deny it. And if you haven’t been looking, you may be missing out on a great opportunity to grow and understand the true meaning of sustainability and community.

URBAN GARDEN SHARE is not a dating service, but it works like one for neighbors who want to hook up and really get down and dirty. It works like this: Homeowners with garden space go online to find gardeners with experience. And gardeners with experience log in to find the dirt. It’s the perfect solution for cultivating both food production and community. A totally down-to-earth match made in heaven, according to organizers. Correction: make that a PATCH made in heaven.

My favorite living writer, Wendell Berry, often refers to “door yard gardens.” as a means of creating sustainable food supplies that can take the pressure off now-depleted industrial farmlands that fill stomachs around the world,  but no longer produce the nutrition we need.

In the following excerpt from A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural, Berry invites us to turn away from always thinking bigger is better. He urges us to “think little.”

Wendell Berry has been promoting dooryard gardens for decades.

If you think I’m wandering off the subject, let me remind you that most of the vegetables necessary for a family of four can be grown on a plot of forty by sixty feet. I think we might see in this an economic potential of considerable importance, since we now appear to be facing the possibility of widespread famine. How much food could be grown in the dooryards of cities and suburbs? How much could be grown along the extravagant right-of-ways of the interstate system? Or how much could be grown, by the intensive practices and economics of the small farm, on so-called marginal lands? Louis Bromfield liked to point out that the people of France survived crisis after crisis because they were a nation of gardeners, who in times of want turned with great skill to their own small plots of ground. And F. H. King, an agriculture professor who traveled extensively in the Orient in 1907, talked to a Chinese farmer who supported a family of twelve, “one donkey, one cow… and two pigs on 2.5 acres of cultivated land” – and who did this, moreover, by agricultural methods that were sound enough organically to have maintained his land in prime fertility through several thousand years of such use. These are possibilities that are readily apparent and attractive to minds that are prepared to Think Little. To Big Thinkers – the bureaucrats and businessmen of agriculture they are quite simply invisible. But intensive, organic agriculture kept the farms of the Orient thriving for thousands of years, whereas extensive-which is to say, exploitive or extractive-agriculture has critically reduced the fertility of American farmlands in a few centuries or even a few decades.

A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices that will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has set his mind decisively against what is wrong with us. He is helping himself in a way that dignifies him and that is rich in meaning and pleasure. But he is doing something else that is more important: he is making vital contact with the soil and the weather on which his life depends. He will no longer look upon rain as an impediment of traffic, or upon the sun as a holiday decoration. And his sense of man’s dependence on the world will have grown precise enough, one would hope, to be politically clarifying and useful.

While we’re on the topic of bigger not necessarily being better, here’s something else to consider:

That old SUV and the new Toyota Prius have exactly the same carbon footprint – until you turn the ignition key. If you must keep the big truck, try to use it for short trips. Ride a bike. Walk. Carpool.  Or take a bus. A bicycle gets fuel economy equivalent to 3,000 mpg. on oatmeal and broccoli. Ask your Prius-owning neighbors to match that.

Grace. Peace. Bicycle Grease.

PS: Remember, every lane is a bike lane. Share the road.

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Enjoy the ride home.
© Copyright, Kirk M. Kandle, MMXI
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