There are photos of me as a six year-old tilling my garden. My parents allotted me a patch of land in the back yard to grow my own garden. My father enjoyed taking photos of me as I tilled, and I enjoyed working with a rake.
To this day, I garden. I may have some ability at tilling, but that is a secondary consideration. To be outdoors smoothing the dark earth is to be almost without stress.
My wife also enjoys gardening. This year we have a big garden out back by our garage. We’ve planted lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic and radishes. I am probably one of the few people who like radishes. And I am still assigned the task of smoothing the dirt, this year purchased from Home Depot, with a rake.
Besides gardening, my wife likes travelling on vacation. Seven years ago we went to Jamaica. On the white sands of Jamaica I read the Georgics of the Roman poet Virgil. The Georgics is one of those hard to define works. Unlike Aristotle, I think that didactic works can be poetry, provided they are written in well-crafted imaginative verse. Following the lead of his older contemporary Lucretius, whose De Rerum Natura discoursed on philosophy and science, Virgil wrote a treatise on farming in the Georgics.
There has been much conjecture on why Virgil wrote this work. Some have speculated that Virgil’s patron the emperor Augustus wanted people go out from crowded Rome to the farms. But Virgil in person was said to have been somewhat countrified and awkward. He might have been something like the characters that Jimmy Stewart so often played in film. The eloquence that was his on papyrus eluded him in person.
But Virgil had come from the country, and was intimately familiar with the rigors and rituals of farming. He wrote in classic Latin of the seasons of the year, of the different crops and the rewards of a farmer’s life.
We, as a society, have gotten away from the basics. Farming is looked down upon. The farmer’s life is still hard physically, and heartbreakingly difficult economically. The Federal Farming Administration has been reduced to the F.F.A. because of the government’s alarming perception of farming’s stigma.
But of late a home-grown agricultural movement has cropped up. It appears in unexpected places. People grow vegetables on urban rooftops. In Brooklyn, a large number of people raise chickens in order to have their own eggs.
There are a number of reasons for this trend. The first, and most obvious one, is economic. In tough times, it is cheaper to grow your own food than to buy it. The second stems from health. The processed foods of stores and restaurants have caused us to become large and unhealthy. To eat home-grown vegetables is to receive nutrition without the fats, sodium and other additives offered us by the middlemen.
We may have become too urban or suburban, too tethered to technology to wholly return to the agricultural way of life. But to return to it even in small ways is to become healthier. Agriculture connects us with the cycle of life, and with our deepest roots. As a nation, we have gotten away also from work. A return to farming would again teach us the dignity of labor, and convince us of our inherent worth.
I hope the best for this year’s garden. We had a light winter, so we need rain. With enough rain, I will be able to eat tomatoes in August and zucchini bread in September.
So I hope for the rain, and for the rain of public awareness that will come to the new agricultural movement. The ground is ripe for it.