Thank You, Michael Pollan


Have you noticed how most articles about eating locally never breathe a word about gardening?   How, even most locavore advocates don’t mention it?  The idea of the kitchen garden has been practically erased from our culture, and I think it’s total shame.

Michael Pollan, a hero in my house thanks to his first book Second Nature, a gardening classic, is the great exception.

Interviewed this week by Tara Parker-Pope in her New York Times health blog Well, she asks him what is apparently an off-beat question:

After reading your book, I want to plant and grow something. Do you get this a lot?

He replies…

My first book was about gardening, and I like gardening. It’s a really important part of the solution. In so many places, including urban areas, there is a yard, there is a lawn, a little patch of land where you could grow food. My garden is only 10 by 20 feet. It’s a postage stamp. I grew so much food there last summer. What food is more local than the food you grow yourself, not to mention the fact that you get all this exercise while you’re gardening.

Thank you.


  1. It is true that you can grow a lot of food in a small area, and the cumulative gain can be fantastic as shown in your posting about Russian food production. I am all in favor of gardening everywhere, including in cities, but I have to say I never see any mention about the dangers of heavy metals in urban soil. If we have to worry about contaminants in rain water as it comes off asphalt roofing into our rain barrel, and are told that it is not safe to use this water on our vegetable garden, what are the dangers of urban soils. I lived in NYC for 5 years, and was fortunate enough to have a little backyard, but we never dared grow anything edible out there.

  2. Commonweeder, this is worth investigating. Last June, I was reporting a piece about farming in Detroit. The young woman who heads a group there that does soil tests for city gardeners told me that they had done hundreds of soil tests–and had only found problems in a handful of yards.

  3. It IS a good book, too. He takes it a bit further than his last one. But, as ever, the conspiracy theorist in me says there’s not much money to be made in growing your own, so you won’t be hearing much about it!

    And Commonweeder has a point, but repeated soil tests do help on the matter of urban dirt(that, and bringing in soil from elsewhere).

  4. I think it’s great that he advocates gardening–I only wish he’d have emphasized it more in Omnivore’s Dilemma. However, he really is doing great things for the local/organic/anti-big ag industry folk. I got to see him talk at the Philly library a couple of weeks ago, and it was evident that he really is passionate about the stuff he’s writing about.

  5. Michael Pollan, what a hero!
    I’d always wondered backyard and community gardening wasn’t emphasized when eating local was discussed in the press I’ve read – I’d assumed the writers were just so delighted by the phenomenon of neighborhood Farmer’s Markets to go deeper into the issue.
    Commonweeder, I was worried about the quality of my soil when I created my edible garden – I live in a neighborhood where cars parked in backyards (sometimes frontyards) isn’t unheard of. My soil came back free of dire problems, but I built tall raised beds anyway and imported soil that I could mineralize and mix with compost myself. That eased my mind.

  6. Regarding metals such as lead in urban garden soil, the key is, what constitutes “a problem.” In fact, most urban plots probably have elevated lead levels. When community gardens in Baltimore were surveyed, the mean level of lead was grossly elevated. But there’s little consensus I’ve been able to find on what constitutes a danger as far as consuming vegetables grown in soil with high lead levels.

    The most serious hazard appears to be kids–toddler–playing in the soil and putting their hands in their mouths. This is especially true near buildings that have shed lead paint, or near heavily-trafficked roadways where lead would have driften in from automobile exhaust. The lead has since been removed from gasolines.

    Another hazard would be soil injested from root vegetables. There is also concern about some leafy greens taking up lead through the roots. But there apparently is no need to worry about fruiting plants. You can eat tomatoes to your heart’s content.

    The best plan is to have your soil tested for lead and arsenic, then consult your local authorities about what the results mean for your garden. Could be you’ll have to install raised beds.

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