Discussing
Why gardening is thriving in a convenience age

Karen Swallow Prior

Jordan Ballor
June 12, 2012

This reminds me of a passage from Wilhelm Röpke's "The Social Crisis of Our Time":

I think I never realized more clearly how concepts are opposed to each other regarding this problem than when, some years ago, I had a discussion with a leading official of the International Labor Office. I was asked to attend a meeting dealing with the problems of the agricultural laborer, a subject which was then being newly included in the program of the Office, and I made the following points in my conversation with this official: "Your Office is an expression of one of the worst diseases of our society, the name of which is 'proletariat.' You think that you can effectively combat this disease with higher wages, shorter working hours and as comprehensive a social insurance system as possible, and you consider it your task to extend the top results achieved by such a policy in one place to as many other production branches and countries as possible. At the moment you are dealing with agriculture. I do not want to say anything against your efforts, but is it not really time that you conceived your task to be greater, and investigated the question whether forms of agriculture could not be found and developed which would not permit the disease to which your Office owes its existence, i.e., the proletariat, to arise in the first place? And should it not quite generally be your final and highest goal to make yourself superfluous by promoting de-proletarization instead of continuing to move in the old rut? How about taking a greater interest than heretofore in peasant family farms, the support of artisans and small traders, the technical and organizational possibilities of loosening up large-scale enterprises, the diminution of the average size of factories, workers, settlements and similar projects?" “Why, you are a Catholic, are you?,” he replied, to which I gave the obvious answer that one did not have to be a Catholic in order to see things this way. At the same time I recalled that dogmatic old-time liberal to whom a friend of mine in Rotterdam was proudly showing a number of workers, allotments and who on seeing these happy people spending their free evenings in their gardens could think of nothing better than the cool remark that this was an irrational form of vegetable production. He could not get it into his head that it was a very rational form of "happiness production,” which surely is what matters most. The main issue is that our social reformer as well as the old-fashioned liberal both really belong to the same world, a world which to us today seems very passé. Both are completely blind to the vital and imponderable values, and in spite of their controversies they have this in common that they are unable to think in other terms than in those of money cost and profit.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
June 12, 2012

Thanks for highlighting the communal aspect of gardening, Karen, with the story about bringing home-grown beet greens to your grandmother. I'm conflicted about the investment of time/money gardening requires, even as my family started our own vegetable garden this year. Then just last night we all spent time gathered together in wonder at the monarch caterpillars that had settled in on our dill, and your piece reminded me that we're not just doing this for the veggies, but for moments like that.

Moherring
June 12, 2012

Good points here.I would venture to guess gardeners get the Biblical analogies better than the rest of us.

I wonder if the home gardening trend isn't part of a larger trend away from reliance on technology and corporate infrastructures. Independent publishing and distribution of books, blogs, film and music; more unplugged acoustic music, micro-businesses, and recycling items via Craigslist are just a few trends that seem like push back.

Coryzipperle
June 12, 2012

Do you garden? Why? No, I can't grow squat!


Is the trend of home vegetable gardens good stewardship or an indulgence?
It all depends on the heart of the person.


Is there a spiritual cost to convenience?
There can be, but like most other things, it depends on how you treat the convenience. If I had to till the fields to feed myself, I doubt that I'd be able to invest as much time at church as I do now.

Karen Swallow Prior
June 12, 2012

This is a wonderful passage, one I was not familiar with. Thank you for drawing my attention to it.

Karen Swallow Prior
June 12, 2012

I definitely think, as with all things, "the cost should be counted" in undertaking gardening. However, some things need to be counted that aren't quite calculable, as you point out, Josh.

Karen Swallow Prior
June 12, 2012

I hope so! Great examples of this larger movement toward better stewardship.

Karen Swallow Prior
June 12, 2012

Agreed on all points. Extra points for using the word "squat."

TimF
June 13, 2012

I know what you mean about roses, Karen, They are about the only thing I am confident of keeping alive. I can trim a 6 foot tall rose bush down to within 6 inches from the ground, and soon it will be back up and flourishing again. That's just how they grow around here. I kill everything else.

The idea that the microwave population is a smidgen of a minority in human history can be coupled with the fact that microwavers are also a minority of people on the planet as we speak. Remember those sci-fi stories that posited pills for food? Who ever thought that was a good idea? But I think functionally we have arrived there with microwave packaged meals. The future is now? Yikes!

Tim

Karen Swallow Prior
June 15, 2012

Good point about the microwavable meals, Tim. With "progress" always comes some loss. Marshall McLuhan had a lot to say about that.

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