People grow their own food for many reasons. They may want to control the varieties of plants they eat, beautify their land, or save money. They may want to improve their strength and get some moderate exercise. In a modern city, though, I think there’s another reason why more and more people are becoming interested in growing their own food. They’re searching for something tangible.
One doesn’t have to go back too far in memory to recall ancestors who worked hard all day. I don’t mean in an office, at a desk. I’m talking about manual labour. The act of living was a series of manual tasks: growing, preserving, and preparing your own produce; tending to livestock; physically building and renovating your own home; and helping neighbours and communities with their projects. Kids created things outside in the real world, in-between their chores. The list goes on.
But now, for many of us city folk in office jobs, our work has very few manual elements. We sit at desks and immerse ourselves in abstraction. We cannot actually touch what we do (unless we print it). Our work is in a computer somewhere–a central brain with no body. We buy food at the store, and assemble it; we eat the same food year round because we can. We hire contractors to fix our homes. Our kids play too many video games and don’t explore as much as we did when we were young, perhaps because it’s easier to be passive or pacified, or maybe because the world is not as safe a place. Either way, each new generation is becoming more dependant on infrastructure to provide for it.
The side-effects of an overly technological world include: disengagement from the community and environment, inability to perform the basic manual services we pay for, lack of compassion for those who provide these services, and depression and disillusionment. There’s an unhealthy dependence on technology and “likes” to fuel our self-worth, rather than feeling good about ourselves because we made something that we can smell, touch, or taste.
Growing one’s own organic food can reduce the negative effects of a technological world. Through it, we learn to peacefully co-exist with our environment, and to nurture the soil and our plants, as well as the pollinators that are our allies. We learn to build structures that we need to support and protect our plants, such as raised beds, trellises, and fences. We make connections to experts and novices in our communities; we inspire and are inspired. Most of all, we produce something tangible: vegetables, fruits, flowers, preserves, and more. And then there are the positive intangible aspects, like knowledge, memories, and skills.
If you’re searching for something tangible, why not plant some edibles this year? Go outside and get your hands dirty.