The Washington Post

Growing your own food: It’s not elitest or impossible


The peaches looked perfect. They were big, round and unblemished. A slight softness hinted at ripeness, confirmed by a peachy fragrance. And they were in season, piled in a bin at a “farm market.” My sister and I rejoiced, imagining a dessert of peach Melba for our extended family of 17, vacationing at the shore. The reality? Inedible fruit that had gone straight to mealy without passing delicious. Next stop: rot.

Not much else at the market turned out to be either tasty or local, with the exception of some fine corn. The produce we’d brought from our own gardens had run out, and soon we were eating from the supermarket.

Barbara Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.” View Archive

I’d forgotten what it was like to depend on food not grown at home. We made do with bland tomatoes, peppers and cukes. The spongy figs were nothing like the ones I once coaxed to honey-dripping ripeness in a plastic-covered home greenhouse. All the vegetables and fruit looked fine, but the flavors seemed diluted, with only a tantalizing hint of the way they were supposed to taste.

Some people find it snobbish, elitist or even unkind to suggest that people are better off when they grow their own food, as if it were an activity like photography or golf that only the affluent can enjoy. When you point out that it’s something everyone once did and that the poorest person can grow food if given a patch of yard or a community garden plot, you are told that this is patronizing and that food security is the ability to earn money to buy plenty of cheap, government-subsidized supermarket fare. But it’s not.

I don’t care how much you earn, how fine a car you drive or what college your child attends. If you eat flavorless food, low in nutrients, grown in lifeless soil, you are poor. If you don’t know the difference, if you don’t know what real food tastes like, you are poorer still, because there is nothing to which you can aspire.

With the existence of community gardens, even urban dwellers can grow their own food. (bigstockphoto)

“But look, little foodie,” they will tell you. “You can’t turn the whole system upside down. Nobody wants to grow their own food. No one has time, because they are working long hours, and you can’t teach or motivate them to do this overnight.”

Yes, you can. It has happened before. During both world wars, Americans quickly learned to plant victory gardens (called war gardens in World War I) and soon were producing half of the food the country consumed. One of the small but lasting gifts from those years is daylight saving time, which began in the United States in 1918, that one extra hour of light, after work or school, when a family can tend its garden. And that is all it takes: one hour each day. One hour not spent mowing the useless lawn or following the grim economic news on TV. It seems like a very small price.

Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of The Garden Primer.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
What can babies teach students?
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Is fencing the answer to brain health?
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
How a hacker group came to Washington
The woman behind the Nats’ presidents ‘Star Wars’ makeover
How hackers can control your car from miles away
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.