I am a university-trained horticulturist. As such, my feelings about our place in the universe tends to differ from most people. I am keenly aware of the miniscule number of people in this country who grow any of their own food and believe that people like Ms. Kingsolver are doing a great service by focusing attention on the subject. Merely a century ago, nearly everyone grew at least a portion of their own food and not for religious or spiritual reasons, they did it because they wanted to eat. I feel bad that we have embraced consumerism in this country to the point where few people can produce.
The science involved in horticulture is pretty comprehensive; one needs to know about plant science, soil/earth science, entomology, chemistry, among other things. There is work involved and some art. When a horticulturist becomes comfortable in the discipline, it can take over their life, consume all the free time and become a way of life. I know I look at things in the produce aisle differently now than I did when I was younger. I know how many of those fruits and vegetables are produced and where they might come from during the winter. I know that locally produced food is better for everyone than food that is produced and shipped from far away locations. But I also know that we are in a bind in this country where not only are we increasingly dependant on fewer and fewer food producers, we will soon have the added specter of those producers burning our food supply (corn-based ethanol) to deliver the food to us. It is unsustainable, but all of it is heavily subsidized by the government.
I grew up in the inner city of Boston. Until I was seven and went to the dairy festival on the Common, I must have thought that food came from machines in the basement of the grocery store. As a teen, I worked in a grocery and was amazed by the volume of food that passed through that one store each week, but never gave it much thought of the where and how. I was not unlike most Americans who ate fast food, packaged processed foods as my children grew up; it was the expedient way to go. It wasn't until I was fifty and thinking about retirement that it occurred to me that I was 50 pounds overweight, pre-hypertensive and likely to develop type II diabetes. I lost those 50 pounds on a low-carb regiment, began a daily exercise routine and re-enrolled at the university to complete my BS in horticulture. I am now 56, retired, still slim, still exercising and looking for a plot for a blueberry orchard. There is nothing pressing about my search, I have plenty to do right here.
While I can't say that I'm all-organic, I do maintain a compost and over the years I have produced enough to enrich this small patch of earth from nearly beach sand to a high degree of tilth my plants enjoy. It is a legacy that few people would understand. Photosynthesis is a truly remarkable process and is what makes life possible on this earth. Sunlight converted directly the carbohydrates we need to eat and oxygen for us to breath. We are truly stardust. I am having a real hard time with real estate speculation and the rush to grow corn by farmers pricing people like me out of the market for land for my orchard.
My wife did a needle point for me some time ago. It says "Who plants the seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in god." That pretty much sums it up; the sounds birds at first light, the majesty of a summer thunderstorm, the appearance of the epicotyl archs of beans just before they stand up, the first and last frost and all those smells are just some examples of a power greater than I that allows me to be and experience and grow. I can feel within me, it is not in any book and certainly not kept in any building.
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