Liz Reitzig is best known as a founder of the Raw Milk Freedom Riders and the Farm Food Freedom Alliance. She has written previously here and on other sites about food rights. In this article, she explores larger connections associated with planting a vegetable garden.

By Liz Reitzig

Over the years, staring out my back window at my muddy, grassless yard with tree roots snaking their way across the naked ground, I felt that barren hopelessness of not meeting my own, quite limited, expectations of gardening.  A few years ago, my children and I finally planted herbs, tomatoes and other vegetables and my gardening adventures had begun.  Each year, the children and I added to what we had the previous one.  First it was planting a whole bed of potatoes, then many tomato plants, kale, chard and an array of beautiful culinary herbs.  Thanks to a loving friend, a birthday gift provided the front garden with a mosaic of blooms to attract and keep butterflies. 

While our garden was still quite small, nothing could compare to the excitement and fun we had that summer and fall proudly harvesting our vegetables. There were tender lettuces to enjoy in the spring.  Potatoes, hidden underground until late summer and autumn added to our adventure as we dug each one out of the ground, treating it like the treasure it was, excited to see each unique shape.  Even the seeming “failures” taught us something.  The cilantro really didn’t do too well, and the following year, I managed to kill my favorite herb, the sprawling lavender plant that I loved!  But, consolingly, the mint took over, as mint does, and we had mint tea, mint bouquets and mint…everything.  The summer my fifth baby was born, the garden was completely neglected and all we saw was the perennial herbs and a few volunteer squashes that never amounted to much.  I cried over the blueberry bush given as a baby shower gift that I failed to transplant for too long causing its death.  But every year that the children and I have put anything into the ground has been a year of cultivation, learning and adventure!  The beauty of gardening is that we have each grown along with our garden and its fruitfulness.

In planning my garden this year, I am reminded of the stories from World War I and II era about “Victory gardens”—the gardens that Americans were encouraged to grow to promote the war effort and to secure “victory.”  The government advertised the multiple benefits of a victory garden including how people growing their own food would help ease the burden caused by rationing during the war.  These gardens were about countering food shortages brought on by a world at war.

In some eco-agricultural circles that I witness, I’ve heard a resurgence of this talk of “Victory” gardens.  While I fully understand that my peace-loving friends mean “victory” garden as an allusion to a time when many people grew their own calories, I am at once shocked and disappointed that anyone refers to “Victory” at a time when we are engaged in multiple preemptive wars in several countries.

Today’s multiple wars haven’t reduced food availability in the least, thus leading our politicians—even our culture—to believe wars can be fought with little cost to the population at large. 

I suggest, as we go about planning our spring planting, we reconsider the need for victory, and consider that what the world really needs is peace.  We have the opportunity to transform our language and begin the talk of a new “Peace Garden” movement to promote peace and harmony over strife.  As we plant seeds in the soil, we can begin to plant the seeds of ideas in the minds of our friends, families, and neighbors.

Cultivating the land, restoring our own soils and growing our own food will do more to restore freedoms than any war!  Picking up a shovel and some seeds and getting our hands dirty may do more than any protest to restore peace both overseas and here at home!  With peace gardens, imagine the revival of urban landscapes as bare lots transform into community food hubs and food deserts repopulate with homegrown goodness.

Imagine the neighbors greeting each other with armfuls of extra vegetables and the inevitable bartering economy that will naturally spring from such abundance.  Imagine the landscape in the world of suburban lawns where suddenly growing food becomes more important than growing grass and neighbors compare gardens instead of gadgets.  Imagine the national landscape we could cultivate in a single growing season.  Imagine the revitalization of rural economies, as those who have cultivated the earth for generations become the new “experts” that the beginners turn to for seeds, soil, and sage advice. 

With the estimate that the average meal travels 1500 miles from farm to table, the choices we make in where and how we procure our food can help bring about harmony.  It is more important than ever that we each engage in any level of food production we are capable of.  Clearly, our current system of food production promotes the use of and dependence on foreign oil, domestic roads and excessive travel.  In contrast, cultivating food in our own yards or communities increases our interdependence on each other, our community vitality, individual self-worth and local bartering economies.

According to a 2012 government budget report, agriculture subsidies range from about $10 billion to a high of $30 billion per year depending on grain costs and disaster payouts.  This is a staggeringly high cost in an already hemorrhaging economy.  Additionally, highly toxic farming methods used on commodity agriculture destroy the environment and human health.  In contrast to the economic and environmental destruction caused by commodity agriculture, growing a peace garden this season could easily be the single best antidote to the increasing toxicity in our land, plants, animals and our own bodies.

Each of us is capable of regaining our independence from such an agricultural system.  While I am the first to admit that it can be overwhelmingly daunting to start a garden, we can start small.  Millions of resources are here to guide and encourage us along our garden path.

Cultivating gardens, even one plant in a pot, means less food coming from industry.  It brings us each something that we’ve grown and it teaches us how to do more.  Even for the most experienced gardener or farmer, producing food is more than just food; it is always a journey, always an opportunity to learn.  So wherever you are, I encourage you to begin it.  Whether you grow one basil plant, or a yard full of vegetables, you are invited to the “Growing” revolution.  Like the potatoes silently plumping just below the surface all summer, the multitude of treasures are hidden but abundant!  This spring, join millions of other peace activists in planting seeds, growing community and harvesting peace…in your very own peace garden.