Until very recently I suffered from a condition known as “black thumb,” which is the exact opposite of the condition known as having a “green thumb.” Page of poor lighting, queen of sporadic watering, keeper of the graveyard of greens! My sincerest apologies to every house plant that has ever had the displeasure of living with me.
But for the frustrated wearers of the dreaded black thumb, I have made an important discovery–all hope is not lost–there is a remedy! First you’ll need to quit your job. That way, it may actually occur to you over your morning coffee that you should probably water your plants before they shrivel up and die because you are drinking your morning coffee outside, right next to the garden. And instead of forgetting the plants in your rush to get to work on time, you can follow that thought all the way to the watering can.
The next part of the remedy, I’m sorry to tell you, is that you should probably move out of the city. Though there are plenty of creative guerrilla gardening opportunities to be had on the balconies and abandoned lots of Urbania’s concrete jungles (and hurray for the people pursuing them!), there are also a lot of pollutants in the air that plants will filter into the fruits that you are planning on eating (goodbye pesticides, hello auto exhaust!). In the country you will have (hopefully) a little less pollution and (theoretically) the space to plant everything outside. Once you move your garden outside, the wind and the rain and the sun will take care of most of the rest. Apparently, plants grow outside without human help all the time. (Somebody should probably mention this to Monsanto.) It is also helpful, though not necessary, to have access to a ten-year-old compost pile and some shovels and spades and things. And there you have it: take time, space, water, dirt, and TA-DA! Goodbye black thumb, hello tomatoes and peas and Lima beans! The results have been truly astounding:
I’ve been planting a fantasy garden in my head for several years now–imagining the charmingly decrepit house in the woods that I’d sneakily squat with my friends, the rows of greens in the backyard, the trowel in my hand, the fresh tomatoes and zucchini on my dinner plate, the jungle-stink of rotting compost. I’ve been reading about, thinking about pesticides and factory farming, about genetically modified vegetables and Round Up Ready plants, and about the steady paycheck required to check out at the front end of the grocery store. And I’ve thought to myself over and over again that having my own garden would make me just a little bit more independent. That having a garden would connect me just a little bit more to this place and this now. That knowing how to grow a few plants, having a little saved-seed stock, and knowing which local weeds are edible is likely to come in handy sooner or later.
Eating out of the dumpster might liberate me from a grocery bill, but it doesn’t liberate me from pesticides, and it leaves me just as out of touch with growing seasons and techniques as the next grocery shopper. Most of the stuff that lands in the dumpsters is factory-farmed, pesticide-sprayed, greenhouse-grown, Monsanto-sponsored and is picked by underpaid labor in countries with “free”-trade we-must-stop-the-communist-threat! puppet governments and World Bank debt situations that force farmers to give up small-time feed-yourself-and-your-neighbors farming for profitable export-bound monoculture crops.
As if that wasn’t backwards enough, once most produce has been grown and poisoned and picked, it is packed in plastic (made of oil) and flown (in oil-fueled planes) to faraway places where trucks (fueled by more oil) distribute it to the grocery stores where it is unloaded and attractively arranged by minimum-wage employees who will later dump whatever you didn’t buy that week into the dumpster out back. From there those vegetables might travel in another truck (fueled by oil) to the dump where it will retire into decomposition with the corpses of their brethren and a whole lot of other plastic and paper products that went through another thousand hands and rode in another thousand trucks before arriving at this, the dump, their final resting place. Or they might get picked out of the trash by a dirty punk and escorted home by bike for dinner.
Either way we’re fucked. Proper fucked.
Eating food that has gone through so much just to get to the dumpster behind your local grocery store seems like a more respectful, logical use, but respect here or there, it doesn’t make dumpster divers into the heroic bearers of profound social change, and there are plenty of dumpster-diver critics loudly saying so. (Which must mean that there are dumpster divers out there claiming such? How embarrassing.) So-called politically motivated divers aren’t changing a damn thing by eating out of the trash, those critics say. They are just self-delusional parasites, they say. (They are also very fond of saying things like “Get a job!” and “Take a shower!”)
According to my own limited understanding of the come-to-life monster called The Economy, they are correct on this point–dumpster diving won’t and can’t touch those raging economic currents. This, however, does not bother me because it is not my intention, and there is something I am changing: The food I get from the dumpsters freed me from a grocery bill. Freed from a grocery bill, I could lose the steady job and the paycheck. Suddenly, I had the time to think about the politics of food, to consider the fact that pesticide-free, whole foods are really good for me and decide that I wanted to eat them, the time to learn how to garden and to plant the rows of gorilla-grown vegetables that will line my plate this summer. What I am changing is my life, and I can say honestly, happily, ecstatically from experience that this is what makes all the difference, economy and critics be damned.
Tomorrow (or maybe I’d better just say “sometime this week”): Do Not Fear the Black Thumb! A Gorilla Guide to Your First DIY Garden