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The following article was written for TheEcoDivas by a guest blogger and my friend, Mike “Green”wood.

The holidays are over. Snow blankets the ground and the frigid mid-January air is more ruthless chomp than nip. Just as I have for the last several years, I am spending much of my free time working on my garden.

Well, I’m not in my garden – not much anyway. I am sitting in my living room making calculations, drawing up plans, ordering seeds and supplies on-line and taking time to visit the local horticulture supply or hardware store. Having a garden changes your relationship to time and the seasons. Some believe that it brings us into a closer relationship with the natural world. Compared to a typical urban or sub-urban life, I have to agree. But the horticultural revolution that happened thousands of years ago presaged something far different – it was the first step on humanities’ long path to subjugating nature. Well, attempting to subjugate nature.

The hunter-gatherer moves from place to place, using the resources available and then moving on. The gardener takes a piece of the natural world and separates it, declaring it his own kingdom even building fences to keep others out or domesticate predators like wolves and cats to patrol his realm. I doubt our hunter-gatherer ancestors had ranges which they claimed as their own. It was the gardener who first built permanent settlements and walls. The gardener laid the foundation for civilization.

Many of us yearn to bridge that very divide. While few wish to return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, we sense that something has been lost. We romanticize nature. We think dualistically about it: Nature is everything pure and innocent, while we are everything corrupt and debased. Alternatively, we view the natural world as brutal and unpredictable, and see our world as both reliable and just. We are alienated, not only from the natural world, but from a part of ourselves. In our psychosis we both glorify and vilify nature.

In the garden we confront the divide between humanity and nature at its foundation, a divide that extends even into our own being as “mind-body dualism.”  Gardening is a kind of time travel. We walk to the edge of that great divide and find that while it exists in our culture and psyches, nature does not recognize it. We can come to the beginning, when man was at the mercy of nature, seeming capricious and cruel yet beneficial and kind. But we bring to this place a power our ancestors lacked; we are in many ways only at natures’ mercy to the extent that we hold back this power. We can bring in great machines, chemicals, even enclosures of plastic, glass and steel while taking little notice of the seasons. We bring with us our modern mentality. Many of us do not often fear nature – and perhaps this is a good thing; but we often hold nature in contempt, an attitude I believe to be unjustified and even dangerous. Above all we survey nature and we believe we can do better.

Can we? Across the wide spectrum of gardening philosophy and practices there is a universal assumption that we can do better, from accelerating and augmenting natural processes to replacing those processes entirely with synthetic chemicals and machines. To assume we cannot improve on nature, at least for our own selfish benefit, is to abandon gardening entirely and become foragers. Even planting food bearing crops in the wilderness and then leaving them to themselves is an attempt at an “improvement.” Can we make such “improvements” respectfully, without contempt? Perhaps more important for our survival, can we make such improvements without being idiots?

How each of us negotiates the relationship between our world of artifice and the natural world determines how we garden – and gardening is an incredible opportunity for constant re-negotiation of that relationship. We encounter nature directly, which incurs choice between antagonism and partnership.

From year to year my gardening values don’t change much. On one hand, I want to grow the most productive, nutritious and flavorful crops as sustainably as possible, while being as cheap and lazy as I can get away with. On a more subtle level, I seek an honest communion with the natural world without the need or desire to pretend that it’s any more or less than what it is.

In a few weeks, I will be starting my habaneros, followed by peppers, tomatoes, then on to sprouting sweet potatoes . . . The frenzy of spring feels as if it’s almost upon me.  I couldn’t be happier!

The above photos are of Mike’s lovely garden.

I’m really struggling with all of the information that my brain is processing after watching the documentary Food, Inc. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Food, Inc., let me give you a brief description of the movie taken from the official website.

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.

To be honest, I can’t express to you the importance of being informed on all aspects of life.  We need three things to survive….Air, Water and Food.  Food, being one of those three, means we should be very concerned on what is in it and where it comes from.

I already eat pretty healthy, but I never realized that if you’re not buying certified organic, farm raised, grass fed, hormone-free, local and free-range you are eating horrible things.   The short list contains such delicacies as feces, steroids, hormones, methane, various cancer causing chemicals and (oh yeah) Ecoli.  If you didn’t already know, they are even selling genetically engineered meats in supermarkets which means cloned animals are ending up on your plate.  I say…..YUCK!

Please Do Not Take My Word For It…. Watch it for yourself! I’m loaning my copy to friends and family but you can get it from your local library or buy it online or at your local store.  I always say, “Education is the key to change.”

I was talking with a friend this week about Family Farms, Co-op and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) offerings located in our area.  I gave her a few local references to look into for the coming season and other options for healthy organic farming.  We talked a while about the positive aspects of being a part of a CSA and my own experiences.

I believe that purchasing organic foods, grass/grain feed meats and locally grown/farmed foods is key to a healthy sustainable lifestyle.  I was surprised to learn from my friend that there is a movement sweeping the nation to revitalize this “homegrown” style of agriculture that I had not yet heard of.  So began my introduction to The WHO Farm (The White House Organic Farm Project).

This non-partisan, petition based initiative is being led by two young men,  Daniel Bowman Simon and Casey Gustowarow.  Their vision is clear with a five part recipe for success.   They would like to have The White House as a model for healthy, economical and sustainable living.  They are designing the project as an educational tool and economic aid for our nation’s capital.  Check it out!

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