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Is Gardening Only for Fun?

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cliff-side corn in Italy

Photo by Rick Gush

Italians take their gardening seriously. So seriously, they'll even grow corn on a cliff, as shown above.

As usual, I’ll start this week by mentioning one of the things I really like about Italians. They take their urban farming and urban gardening really seriously here in Italy. I worked as a farm and garden consultant of sorts for 40 years in the U.S., and my feeling was that most Americans considered vegetable gardening a recreational pastime, something to connect them emotionally with the agrarian heritage from which we have sprung.

As such, the number of half-hearted, poorly executed vegetable gardens I saw was legendary. I was amazed at how many people would actually pay me to come over and look at a bug in their garden and I would finally tell them to just fertilize more. The few competent gardeners I saw were a shadow of a minority.

Here in Italy, vegetable gardening is not a pastime, it is a deadly serious task; one gets the idea that people here are not only concerned about whatever they will produce for the current season, but also very serious about maintaining vegetable gardening as an art upon which they may again have to rely on for survival. This is, of course, because the Italians have, many times in their modern history, actually had to survive on whatever they could produce in their gardens and gather in the forests.

Modern Americans can afford to be casual about their gardening, but I think we can already see that the Camelot that was the U.S. is fading away, and Americans will soon have to face the seriousness of vegetable gardening. In this context, I regard all U.S. gardeners as a part of a new civil protection militia, except that this militia is armed with shovels, waiting and training for the moment when their efforts will be required to ensure the survival of the society.

This seems an appropriate place to mention one of my favorite people: Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Amid all the idiocy of USDA and other destructive, exploitative agriculture, there rises a beacon of clear thinking and highly appropriate culture methodologies. This guy is possibly the wisest farmer on the planet, and we could do worse than elect him president.

My new favorite agricultural advocacy group these days is Backpack Farms, in Africa. This organization is teaching people who really need food how to cultivate crops, and do so in a cost-efficient manner. It’s not even a charity; it’s a for-profit organization and is more effective than most of the much more costly charitable agencies that teach the same thing. My hat is off to them.

I think we in the U.S. should be doing the same thing. We should be training as many people as possible to produce significant quantities of their own food. I know it’s not going to happen, but if I were president, I’d add agricultural education to all elementary and high-school curriculums.

To conclude, please remember that your gardening is a most patriotic act and is preparing the country to survive in the changing times ahead. Whether you write in my name or Joel Salatin’s on the next presidential ballot doesn’t really matter.

Read more of Rick's Favorite Crops »

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Interesting
Annie, Houston, TX
Posted: 7/26/2013 6:44:30 AM
Rick, I couldn't agree with you more fully. It has been my experience that we in the US are so well-fed(read 'overfed')that we cannot conceive of not being able to just 'run down to the store' for some overlooked trifle. Here in Las Vegas, you remember, it is not uncommon to run down to the supermarket at any time day or night.

The very concepts of self-reliance (which is infinitely different from self-sufficient) and planning are not only ignored in public education, they are actually shunned in society. No wonder we are in the financial mess we have.

Even with all of the high schools and magnet schools and specialty high schools, there is not agriculture curriculum taught here, and I fear that this is not an isolated situation.
Bruce, Las Vegas, NV
Posted: 7/5/2011 9:46:20 AM
Rick, the urban gardening does seem to be more of a ornamental thing than a functional thing here in the states. Even though I live in the heart of the midwest, my generation which are the city kids of the farmer parents have distanced themselves from the gardening experience other than to have a tomato or two to pretend to save the planet by growing their own food. I guess that's better than nothing but serious gardening is not the plan. I have been seriously gardening for about 4 years which has become an example for the neighborhood. I've had some success with tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes, and cucumbers but I would not say that I am an expert by any means. I try to provide what nature needs to grow the plants and have been quite fortunate that the weather this year has not blown away the garden. It must be nice to live in a place where serious gardening is the normal even in the cities.

Have a great day in the garden.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 7/5/2011 6:30:13 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has been a staunch organic gardener since his high school days.  He attended the University of California at Davis for biological sciences, working at local tomato and sugar beet farms while a student. He continued in the California agricultural and horticultural industries for many years, though a career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games. No matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions, providing a precious opportunity to get out from behind the computer keyboard.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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