I admit it. I tend to have a “go big or go home” thought process. So perhaps I’ve given the wrong impression when it comes to backyard veggie gardening.
Here’s a paraphrase of a conversation I had recently:
Well, I’d like to have a garden but I live in the city. I have one-tenth of an acre and a pretty intense job so I won’t be able to grow all of my food. Since I’d have to buy food anyway, it just seems kind of stupid to do all that work and still have to go to the grocery store every week.
Ignoring for now how much potential growing space there is on a one-tenth acre lot, this conversation betrays an all-or-nothing attitude about gardening and urban homesteading that concerns me.
Just imagine applying this all-or-nothing mentality to other things in your life:
Well, I can’t run a marathon, so I’ll drive my car 15 feet across the street to get the mail.
Well, I will never understand string theory, so I’m not going to learn how to add or subtract.
Well, I can’t make a savory goat cheese and fresh herb souffle from scratch, so I eat McDonalds for every meal.
Well, I’ll never be a millionaire, so I don’t bother saving anything for retirement and, in fact, I just say ‘screw it’ and buy $700 shoes on credit.
The total insanity of this is self-evident, right?
You don’t have to live an off-grid and totally self-sufficient farmer-life to reap the benefits of gardening. Doing a little, even a teeny tiny little bit, is fine! Let’s say all you grow is a single tomato plant.
Five Reason Why Growing One Tomato Plant Is Better Than Nothing
The Sun Golds you grow in a big pot on your patio will taste better than any tomatoes you can buy, ever the so-called “heirlooms” sold for $7.99 a pound at the Yuppie Hippie Market.
I don’t need to preach to you guys. Everyone reading this knows that it takes a lot more than seeds, soil and water to get a tomato to a Seattle supermarket. It takes oil, and lots of it: oil to make the fertilizer, oil to run the tractor, oil to fuel the truck that drives the tomato from Florida or California or Mexico. Being responsible for the use of a bit less oil: universally a good idea. One homegrown tomato plant might not save the world, but it’s not going to hurt, either.
Just try it. Put food on the table that you have grown, nurtured, tended, harvested and cooked and tell me if your heart doesn’t sing a bit at your accomplishment. I believe there is a deep, species-protecting instinct that makes personal food production very satisfying for most people. For dedicated gardeners like me, sometimes those little veggie plants are the only thing keeping me out of therapy.
A Little Can Give A Lot
One cherry tomato plant may leave you a bit shocked. You can get an awful lot of little tomatoes off one plant, even in tomato-unfriendly areas like Seattle. Eat your fill in salads and pastas and as fresh bruschetta topping and then dry a bunch or cook up a little Sun Gold Tomato Sauce for use in the winter.
Learning New Skills Is Good!
Look, you don’t have to grow your own food, but you should have a general idea of how food is grown. And a single tomato plant is a good, practical way to learn.
In fact, I’m going to go a bit further and make what, in our society of successful specialization, might be a radical suggestion: you should be capable of growing some of your own food.
Yes, you should be capable of using a computer, texting your kids (way to go, dad!), navigating freeways, figuring out the swipey credit card reader at the checkout counter and all that other important modern stuff. But you should also be capable of growing, foraging, fishing or hunting for food, and then applying heat in appropriate ways to create a meal from that food.
Now, I’m not suggesting everyone should be able to fully provide for 100% of their own sustenance, or that people who aren’t into gardening should suck it up and do it anyway. Nah, I actually think a system that frees and rewards people to focus on their own individual passion is a good thing.
But feeding oneself is perhaps the most basic of the, “I’m A Grown-up And I Can Take Care of Myself” skills, and you should be able to do it. Perhaps one tomato plant will show you how it’s done.
The All or Nothing Trap
As a confirmed perfectionist, I understand this all-or-nothing trap. I do.
But all of us are trying to balance multiple demands on our time, money and ethical compass. Finding one’s individual balance point is far harder than single-issue fanaticism. This is not an all-or-nothing world. Trying to make it so is, it seems to me, a kind of cop-out.
Saying, “I can’t do it all so I won’t do anything” is an ugly combination of apathy and narcissism. The world will not be saved because you do everything all by yourself, but it will be diminished if you do nothing at all.
It’s ok to just do a little. In fact, often that’s all we can do. But isn’t that better than the alternative?