An individual garden will never be the solution to systemic problems with how we get our food as a nation here in the U.S. Growing a few vegetables, particularly on a rented plot of land, won’t suddenly safeguard anyone’s food security.
But what if we scale that up to a hundred individual gardens? A thousand? Even millions?
Amid the rationing of World War II, average Americans created 18 million “victory gardens,” including 12 million in urban settings. Think what that means: millions of ordinary people otherwise surrounded by concrete, actively reconnecting with the dirt underfoot, carving out spaces within cities to cultivate their sustenance from scratch. A backyard here, a curbside patch there, a row of potted plants lining window ledges—lots of little pieces adding up. At their peak these home gardens grew some 30% to 40% of the nation’s produce. As farmer and author David Buchanan puts it, “This shows what’s possible, at least when someone is shooting at us” (Taste, Memory p 133).
What’s to stop us from recreating these productive home gardens today with as much enthusiasm and pride as the country’s “Greatest Generation” had back in the 1940s? Do we really need the catastrophe of war to drive us to take responsibility for our own food?
Consider the significance of individuals cutting their reliance on commercial agriculture from 100% down to 70%, 60%, or beyond. People who grow a significant portion of the food they eat no longer count solely on monetary income and the vagaries of the markets to feed themselves. They no longer rely on the soil quality, water stability, and weather systems of farmland fifty, five hundred, or even five thousand miles away. They’re no longer dependent on distant infrastructure and distribution systems that are themselves vulnerable to violence and political forces.
Instead they rely on themselves, their neighbors, and the manageable conditions of the block where they live. As they become that much more self-sufficient, you might even say they’re that much freer and more sovereign in life.