The seed-saving workshop opened with that fundamental question, Why Save Seeds? But this is an extension of the even more fundamental question that drove me to undertake my “food garden” project in the first place: why grow your own food at all? Why not rely entirely on supermarkets and restaurants to produce food that you can then purchase at your convenience?
Clearly there are many different answers for different people. Gardening and seed-saving can be a cultural or family tradition that you’ve inherited, a sacred practice of connecting directly to the earth, a political act to protest fossil-fueled agribusiness, a passion project for botany enthusiasts, a hobby for those who enjoy working outdoors. But among these various lines of thought, all of which are threads in my own reasoning, I keep coming back to the idea of sheer survival.
Consider the line from Roxanne Swentzell’s book that we quoted last month:
If our economy dried up tomorrow, if the stores closed, what could you make to eat with the resources you have now? (The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook p xiv)
We’ve already established that as a species, humanity’s survival depends on the health of the land.
Atop that reality, there’s the fact that as an individual, my survival depends on the practices of my fellow humans.
The more I’ve read and learned about how our food systems have evolved over the last hundred years in the U.S. and continue to evolve across the globe, the more conscious I’ve felt of the fact that I am incapable of feeding myself. I am entirely dependent on others to produce food for me. Or as Wendell Berry puts it, although less than 2% of Americans are directly engaged in agriculture these days (down from some 20% a century ago), eating is itself an agricultural act: since we all eat, we “are all farming by proxy. They can eat only if land is farmed on their behalf by somebody somewhere in some fashion.” (Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food p 69)
Since I don’t live on or even near farms, I neither know who’s serving as my proxy farmers, nor witness how they’re going about farming on my behalf.
In other words, I’m surviving day by day at the mercy of unseen strangers engaging in unknown practices.