(From The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, scheduled for October 2015. This Cookbook will contain dozens of tasty vegan recipes, recipes for social change, and accurate information on anarchism.)
There are many good reasons to garden: personal, political, social, economic, and ecological. Among the personal benefits gardening provides are exercise and relaxation–there are few things more restful than working in your garden, which provides a pleasant respite from our sedentary and tense society.
Another benefit of gardening is that it can easily be a social affair; working in a cooperative garden is a good way to make new friends and deepen friendships with those you already have. Given the isolating, lonely American way of life, this benefit should not be underestimated.
On a political and economic level, gardening can make people less dependent on the corporations that control the food chain. It can also benefit individuals and communities economically, in that in areas with good soil and adequate rainfall it’s inexpensive to garden, and your harvest will far outstrip your minimal costs. Even in areas ill suited to gardening, such as Tucson, which is about as bad as it gets for gardeners (very poor soil, very hot summers, very expensive water), you should at least break even and probably come out a bit ahead growing your own fruits and vegetables.
On an ecological level, gardening is beneficial because it reduces the amount of fossil fuels used in the production of fruits and vegetables. Factory farming is energy intensive. One widely cited study from the 1980s estimated that vegetables used in Chicago were shipped on average over 1,500 miles. While there are economies of scale in factory farming, local production of high-yield fruits and vegetables does reduce, even if marginally, the amount of fossil fuels used in food transport.
However, only 11% of fuels used to power the agribusiness food chain are used in transport. The rest are used in production, particularly in the production and distribution of massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. How massive? Frederick M. Fishel, of the University of Florida, reports that in 2007 U.S. agribusiness used approximately 680 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides costing approximately $7.9 billion on to-a-large-extent monocultural crops.
In contrast, organic gardening uses no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, and (if you plant heirloom varieties) helps to preserve biodiversity. IOrganic gardening also uoften entails eating healthier, more ecologically friendly food than that in the average American diet. As an example of the benefits of eating a healthier diet, the Johns Hopkins School of Public healrth reports that “if Americans followed a solely plant-based diet one day per week, they could cut more GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions than by following an entirely local diet.”
Gardening is good for you, your family and friends, your community, and the planet. In itself, gardening will not bring about “the revolution.” But it’s a good, useful, and enjoyable thing to do, and it does bring us a few steps further toward the society we want.