Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Looming Food Crisis Might Send You Straight To Garden

President Barack Obama leads Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (center), and Vice President Joe Biden on a tour of the White House Kitchen Garden following their meeting in the Oval Office last Thursday (,July 1). (White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Looming Food Crisis Might Send You Straight To Garden
During the great depression you had literally millions of Americans across the country out of work for years. With the industrial base of the nation located in a few major metropolitan centers, those who lived in the Midwest and the South – hit with droughts and archaic land usage laws that dated back to slavery – were hard pressed to make a living for themselves; let alone hire others.

With the nation in financial ruin for years in the 1930’s, many Americans still had the skills to turn back to good ole’ mother earth for subsistence, and it might be time to re-learn those old skills. There is a quiet drumbeat out there suggesting that we might be headed for a food crisis on top of the financial crisis in America, and taking the time to start up your own “recession garden” might be your best chance to combat what is coming ahead.

Right now, to most Americans gardening is a hobby, a way for grandma to pass the time. Or perhaps it’s something that the husband or wife who enjoys HGTV and the Food Network does in the spare time. It may even be part of an overall community project that is more social than need based. However, an increasing number of people in this country have started to grow their own “recession gardens” as a way to combat the recession and potentially stave off some serious food-related concerns that might be looming around the corner. This new trend is not just for the suburban family with some spare time on their hands, it’s increasingly important to young singles, and yes, even urban apartment dwellers.

Still, many wonder, “What is this food crisis and where does it come from?”

Food prices globally peaked in 2007-08 causing food riots in various nations in Africa and South America. Many predict that these issues will make their way into America in the coming year. There are several reasons for this prediction noted in a recent U.N. report. The first is the global financial collapse. As governments tighten their belts, farm subsidies – the main reason that most crops are affordable to the average person – have been cut across the United States.

The second reason is the rise of fuel costs and the expense of transportation. Quietly, uncovered by most of the mainstream press, Arrow Trucking Company, the largest trucking company in America, abruptly ended operations last December stranding thousands of workers across the country and slowly increasing food and fuel prices as smaller trucking companies had to take up the slack of food transportation. Add to this the increase in the use of sugar, corn and wheat for biofuels and you have crops in America and abroad being spread amongst consumers, fuels and feed for increasingly expensive cattle. It is estimated by a recent United Nations report and French Food Security Agency that we could see 40 percent increases in staples such as cooking oil, cereals and definitely meats in the next decade, if trends continue. If you’re not prepared to pay $12 for a Big Mac, what are you going to do to protect yourself and your family?

Increasingly Americans are turning to the depression era practice of starting their own gardens and growing their own food. The National Gardening Association, which has been tracking the increase in home farming since the beginning of this recession, estimates that a $70 dollar investment in soil, seed and pots can yield about $600 in crops for the average home gardener. This is on top of the savings generated by not driving to the grocery store, shopping and other incidentals.

It is not easy to start a “Recession Garden” at first. Most Americans are two or three generations removed from knowing anything about subsistence gardening, so you should do research before going out to Home Depot and buying up the home gardening section. However, the savings, health advantages and potential crisis aversion of starting your own garden are evident for analysts and economic observers alike.

It is no coincidence that Michelle Obama has made such a big deal of the White House organic garden during the economic crisis. The last first lady to be such a strong advocate for gardening was Eleanor Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Whether it is a full-on food crisis, or just a rapid increase in prices, it might be time for Americans of all stripes to “put down their plowshares” and start growing their own economic security.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor of political science and communications at Hiram College in Ohio, where he teaches courses in campaigns and elections, pop culture, and the politics of sports. He can be reached at johnsonja@hiram.edu.)

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