Americans are finally, finally driving fewer miles. Have we come to our senses about cooking the planet? Have we stopped being annoyed by Al Gore’s tone and started listening to his message? Have we realized at long last that driving is the most stressful, dispiriting, middle-aged spread-causing-activity of modern life?
Absolutely not! We just don’t like spending $4.19 a gallon for regular.
In a similar vein, Americans are now increasingly interested in growing food at home. Burpee reported a 40% rise in sales of herb and vegetable plants and seeds in 2008. Local farmers right and left sold out of vegetable seedlings this spring. The media are suddenly all over the story: Imagine, there are actually people who know how to grow a zucchini!
Who’s to thank for this domestic revolution? Fritz Haeg of Edible Estates, who’s turned vegetable gardens into an art statement? Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International, who’s waging a campaign to replace the White House lawn with a vegetable garden? Barbara Kingsolver, who turned home gardening into a particularly insufferable form of saintliness in her bestseller Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? Or me, who blogs constantly about my love for my vegetable garden, one of the transcendent joys of my life?
Definitely not! It’s the two-dollar green pepper and the four-dollar box of blueberries that are doing the job. The fact that nobody can escape Whole Foods anymore without spending $300. The fact that the affluent young mother who lives behind me told me about going to the Saratoga Farmer’s Market last Saturday and simply balking at the prices: “I just said, ‘I’m not paying that!'” The fact that a $1.60 package of seeds, on the other hand, will yield hundreds of pounds of green beans, or cucumbers, or basil, or tomatoes, or arugula, or pumpkins.
I’ve been trying to get my kids interested in gardening for years. Every year, I set aside a piece of my vegetable garden for each of them, a bed about a yard wide and 18 feet long. Every year, they are tremendously excited to pick out seedlings at the nursery–and then instantly lose interest as soon as the stuff is planted.
Until this year, when they are suddenly gripped by the entire process of weeding, harvesting, planning for next year, questions of crops, varieties, growth rates, productivity, flowers versus food. Have they suddenly realized how ineffably beautiful the cycle of life is?
Nope. They’ve figured out that by setting up a farmstand in front of our house in Saratoga Springs, they can make hundreds of dollars over the course of the season selling the stuff they’ve grown. My youngest has her eye on a $90 American Girl doll, something her sport- and book-oriented parents would not buy her in a million years. I think the doll’s in the bag.
Who are we, we human beings? Have we no soul? Is it all just about the money and the stuff? Is the fabric of our society so weak that we will do nothing for the common good, nothing for beauty’s sake, nothing to blaze a higher trail, only for our own pocketbooks?
The evidence points to yes. It would bother me, if I didn’t generally find worldly, hard-bitten, pragmatic types so much more congenial than virtuous ones.