Get priorities straight

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

Well, maybe it is just the time of year,

or maybe it’s the time of man,
I don’t know who l am, 
but you know life is for learning.
We are stardust.
We are golden.
And we’ve got to get ourselves
back to the garden.

– from Woodstock by Joni Mitchell

IT’S JUNE 2009 and the lyrics above express exactly the way I see things right now; it’s both the time of man and the time of year and we’ve definitely got to get ourselves back to the garden. What’s playing out around the planet is an amazing lead-up to a scenario that will force us to get our priorities straight. The good news is that, as the song implies, it simply involves us going back to the garden to learn who we really are.

It saddens my heart to think we have allowed children to forget where food comes from and that people believe that a decent living cannot be made from the land. It’s hard to fathom that many people working to feed the world cannot feed themselves because the food they grow is for processing and export. How did agriculture come to be the source of so much negative human impact on the global environment? How could we have allowed soil to degrade to the point where we only have another 50 years’ worth of food production from soils on this planet? Something has to change and getting people back to the land, growing their own food in a sustainable way, is a good way to start.

Lately, I’ve been wandering through my garden filled with joy at the sight of all the blossoms that will soon turn into sun-ripened fruit – cherries, apricots, plums, apples and pears; gratefully, the fig trees survived the harsh winter and are now leafing out. The “berry walk” is full of the promise of loganberries, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries and red and blackcurrants to come. The arbour will soon drip with colourful and delicious grapes, kiwis, thornless blackberries, nectar berries, Marionberries and Tayberries.

I’ve also been busy transplanting long rows of peas, lettuces, leeks and onions, together with kales, chards, spinach and salad greens – arugula, coriander, chicory and cresses. In the greenhouse the “Heat Lovers” tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, amaranth, squash and basil are waiting for it to warm up before being planted out into the garden. Packets of parsnips, beets, celeriac, parsley, dill and turnips and radishes have been ripped open and tidy rows have been seeded in between the lettuces. Tip: Hoe a shallow furrow and line it with a mix of 50 percent screened compost and 50 percent coarse, washed sand before broadcasting the seeds of root vegetables. This helps germination and aids growth in heavier clay soils.

My “Garden of Eden” is a beautiful masterpiece of nature’s sheer perfection. I am constantly filled with joy at its pure beauty and harmony, and I am filled with gratitude daily for the generous living I am able to make from it by teaching, saving seeds and selling edible plants to my neighbours. I am especially filled with appreciation for the fact that whenever I am hungry, I can just step outside my door to find fresh food, which is alive and healthy and keeps me connected to nature and a wondrous lifestyle.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows Seeds of Victoria at the Garden Path Centre where she teaches The Zero Mile Diet – Twelve Steps to Sustainable Homegrown Food Production and Growing an Edible Plant

The future of things to come? 
Consider this fact; it may get you growing an edible garden even faster: California’s heavily irrigated Central Valley, the site of the majority of food production in the state, is currently locked in a three-year drought, with no end in sight. Farmers have been left with dusty fields and dying trees. Food production in the Central Valley has also put so much pressure on the Delta estuary – the source of fresh water for irrigation – that there has been a collapse of the coastal ecosystem where the estuary drains out to sea.

In the US, California produces the following percentages of the country’s total: Artichokes: 99 percent. Asparagus: 50 percent. Carrots: 60 percent. Cauliflower: 86 percent. Broccoli: 93 percent. Celery: 95 percent. Lettuce: 90 percent. Spinach: 83 percent. Tomatoes: 30 percent (95 percent of those for processing). Lemons: 86 percent. Oranges: 25 percent.

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