As the new year begins and you continue to be inundated with seed catalogues, consider that 2012 won't just be an election year, but that your gardening choices can have a political bent as well.
During WWII, here (Victory Gardens) and in Europe, governments encouraged the growing of family gardens to help with the hardship of food rationing and also as a patriotic duty to be self sufficient, and in many cases, to grow enough foods for troops. In Europe, this included growing medicinal herbs and weeds for battlefield first aid and the use of milkweed seed fluff in military vests and flotation devices. Today, many farms and backyard gardens grow extra food for food pantries and self sufficiency is still popular, but there are some other things to think about as you plan this year's garden.
Where do YOUR seeds come from? I probably get 50 seed catalogs every winter--some are beautiful with color photos or old fashioned graphics and I love looking at them, but then they are promptly discarded (in the recycling bin, of course) after finding they sell seeds that are genetically modified, not organic or have few heirloom varieties available...or use a fungicide to coat their seeds. Other seed companies also have gorgeous catalogs, but offer seeds primarily suited to a different climate. So, while the descriptions sound irresistable, I know they probably would not do well in my CNY garden. Then, there are the catalogs, some cool and some plain, but to the point, who have exactly what I am looking for....organic, non-GMO, heirloom seeds that are specific to my region....and...they take a political, moral stand about the quality, origin and purity of their seeds with the hope that any gardener can save seeds and be on the frontline of helping to maintain genetic diversity in our food crops.
If you garden, you have decided to nurture a piece of ground and grow foods/medicines/flowers for your own physical and emotional wellbeing. This is a serious endeavor and not only affects you and your family, but your neighbors and neighborhoods as well. You must decide whether to use pesticides, fertilizers, eat all your bounty or sell it or share it...with the end result to promote health on all levels.
In the past few years, seed catalogs have reported dramatic increases in sales. Part of this is undoubtedly due to higher food costs, but much of it is also coming from a growing recognition that all the rhetoric about "not being dependent on foreign oil", starts at home, in the little things as simple as eating more locally grown foods rather than those shipped hundreds/thousands of miles. It is better for the environment, local economies, our country and is more nutritious.
But if we are to feed ourselves and our communities, it is best done in a sustainable way--organic and chemical free, economically and with the ability to maintain those plant varieties that thrive in your area. Industrial seed companies have been successful in marketing varieties that are sterile or highly hybridized and so can not be saved from year to year, or be expected to grow a plant anything like the one it was produced from. This has created a dependency on big companies and has the effect of saddling poorer farmers in other countries with buying new seed yearly and in limiting the varieties we have available. In the long run, we run the risk of regular crop failures and less control over the nutrition in GMO varieties that are primarily bred for easy transport and appearance, rather than flavor or nutrients.
So, this winter, look over your catalogs carefully. Which ones offer statements as to their stand on these issues, which ones encourage you to buy for your climate instead of wasting money on unsuitable varieties? (Hint: If growing zones are not clearly listed for EACH variety, BEWARE). Which offer mostly heirloom varieties? In paying attention to seed sources, we are exercising political will as to the who has right to make decisions about where our food comes from, how nutritious it is, saving money by collecting and replanting seeds from previous year's crops and insuring a safety net against variety specific killing blights. There is strength in numbers. Be on the frontline of protecting the environment, the economy and our precious food supply.