In early March I planted broccoli rabe starts indoors. I watched for their distinctive baby cabbage-family leaves, then waited for them to further distinguish themselves from the ‚Äúweed‚Äù kale that, delightfully, has spread across our community garden and hence our potting soil, I‚Äôve moved seedlings from window to window daily so they‚Äôd get enough light, soaked the little pots in a wash tub, fed them some compost tea, gave them ‚Äúfield trips‚Äù to our fire escape on warm days.
As I tend these babies, I think about the plants I‚Äôll tuck into the contested, endangered part of the Campus Road community garden in Flatbush, Brooklyn– the part that‚Äôs slated for bulldozing and paving as early as July or as late as next spring (or never. Never!). I think about the seedlings I‚Äôll give away to other gardeners and hope the homes I find for them will be good ones.
Meanwhile, two days ago, in a Whole Foods dumpster I found bundles of broccoli rabe, each representing a dozen mature plants grown 3,000 miles away. A day later, in the maw of a bulldozer parked on the Brooklyn College campus, I found a load of ‚Äúornamental‚Äù kale plants, pulled up by the roots to be replaced with something more seasonally decorative‚Äîeach plant sporting broccoli rabe-like flower heads at their peak of juicy ripeness. My partner and I ate some, lightly saut?©ed in (dumpstered) olive oil, the best homage we could think of for these feisty, pretty plants treated with such disregard.
So, knowing that retailers and other institutions are creating such waste, more than dumpster divers can possibly rescue, why bother gardening? Isn‚Äôt the input of labor out of proportion with the greater good of removing everyothing we can from the dumpster/landfill/incinerator fate? Why even disturb the ground?
The much-touted benefit is the deliciousness and much higher vitamin content of just-picked produce. But that is just the first of many benefits. Here are more.
– You come to understand at a visceral level just what those mountains of discarded food and ‚Äúornamentals‚Äù represent in terms of time, human labor and resources of the earth.
– You develop skills that will help you and your loved ones to thrive completely independent of the globalized food system.
– You get to grow what you want‚Äînot the uniform varieties ubiquitous in supermarkets‚Äîand, if you‚Äôre growing ‚Äúheirlooms‚Äù, save seeds and never have to buy them again.
– You learn which of our domestic plants is suited to the environment, doesn‚Äôt attract too many ‚Äúpests‚Äù, lives healthily fed by compost, and what might be too much of a luxury in a sustainable world
– You also learn what ‚Äúornamentals‚Äù are valuable to humans, insects, birds and other creatures as sources of food and shelter.
– As you get to recognize more plants, your inner forager will kick in, recognizing plants that have escaped cultivation (‚Äúweeds‚Äù), spread their seeds and that thrive in ‚Äúdisturbed‚Äù areas like gardens, parks and lawns‚Äîan abundance of dandelion and purslane, chickweed and wild arugula, burdock and amaranth. If the global food system collapsed, dumpsters dried up and there wasn‚Äôt time to plant, you‚Äôd know what you could eat.
– Finally, you‚Äôll learn first hand why permaculture and wild foraging are so important to our future‚Äîmuch easier on us, easier on the earth, and more sustainable arrangement for every creature that lives.