The internet is a place where I can’t show you a picture of my garden because I sometimes get threats from nuts, racists, and trolls and wouldn’t want to give them any clues about how to identify my home. It’s all so very 2019, I know. Nevertheless, I can tell you that my vegetable patch produces pounds upon pounds of fresh produce that is enjoyed by my friends and family, as well as neighbors and people I barely know at my gym when it gets to that point in the season when food is sprouting faster than me and my gang can eat it.
Those who know me are often surprised to learn that I garden. I may be politically progressive and edit one of the most radical publications in Mass, but otherwise I’m not exactly a character straight out of liberal central casting—I don’t shop organic, drive a hybrid, or sport woke-ass T-shirts. At the same time, I enjoy proselytizing about growing your own grub, mostly because for so many years I was one of those stupid macho dipshits who thought planting vegetables was outside of my natural wheelhouse, but who now cannot imagine passing up the opportunity to put seeds in the ground every year.
I have been thinking quite a bit about how to make the best of the awful situation that is the United States right now. At the same time, I’m always trying to come up with ideas for columns that aren’t explicitly about the sorry state of political discourse and the past week in horrendous headlines, and that pack in some larger meaning. While plucking a fresh squash the other morning, I realized this topic fit the bill; I started gardening in part because I wanted to eat healthier and didn’t have the money to shop better, but have come to cherish it for so much more—from the aesthetic beauty of the tangled vines, to the smell of the tomato plants, to the lessons that the process teaches my kid.
I won’t go so far as to tell you how to live your life, though I will say gardening is a lot easier than I ever thought it was before I gave it a try myself. And I’ll also recommend the 2013 book by Daniel Smith, The Spade as Mighty as the Sword: The Story of World War Two’s ‘Dig for Victory’ Campaign. It’s about how you can turn a bad scenario into something more positive, and it’s the kind of story that a lot of us can use right now. From the publisher’s description:
After food rationing was introduced in 1940, and German U-boats began threatening merchant shipping bringing in essential foodstuffs, the Ministry of Agriculture decided something had to be done to make the kitchens of Britain more self-sufficient. The result was one of Britain’s most successful propaganda campaigns—Dig for Victory—encouraging every man and woman to turn their garden, or even the grass verge in their street, over to cultivating vegetables.
By 1942 half the population were taking part, and even the Royal Family had sacrificed their rose beds for growing onions. Daniel Smith tells the full story of this remarkable wartime episode when spades, forks and bean canes became weapons the ordinary citizen could take up against the enemy. It had tangible benefits for the war effort in that shipping could be reallocated for munitions instead of food imports, as well as for the health of the nation in encouraging a diet of fresh fruit and veg.
The campaign threw up unexpected celebrities like C.H. Middleton, whose wartime BBC radio talks on gardening reached a vast audience, and it even sowed the seeds for the modern allotment movement. Ultimately it is a war story without fighting or killing, one that shows how even The Little Man with the Spade, in the words of the Minister for Agriculture at the time, did his bit for Victory.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.