Damn, I wish I’d written this! John Michael Greer takes up the Victory Garden, and puts it in its proper place – economically, politically, socially – and for zombie slaying. What’s not to love? And I think he has it pretty much exactly right here – that while growing your own is never the solution to all problems, it often does mediate our potential suffering – which is why as long as there has been modernity it has been a solution to its difficulties. (Before the Victory Garden movement, there was the British cottage garden movement, a direct response to the disruptions of early industrialization that had essentially the same goals – produce those things you can no longer buy that have the highest value).
This is where victory gardens come in, because the value you get from a backyard garden differs from the value you get from your job or your savings in a crucial way: money doesn’t mediate between your labor and the results. If you save your own seeds, use your own muscles, and fertilize the soil with compost you make from kitchen and garden waste – and many gardeners do these things, of course – the only money your gardening requires of you is whatever you spend on beer after a hard day’s work. The vegetables that help feed your family are produced by the primary economy of sun and soil and the secondary economy of sweat; the tertiary economy has been cut out of the loop.
Now it will doubtless be objected that nobody can grow all the food for a family in an ordinary back yard, so the rest of the food remains hostage to the tertiary economy. This is more or less true, but it’s less important than it looks. Even in a really thumping depression, very few people have no access to money at all; the problem is much more often one of not having enough money to get everything you need by way of the tertiary economy. An effective response usually involves putting those things that can be done without money outside the reach of the tertiary economy, and prioritizing whatever money can be had for those uses that require it.
You’re not likely to be able to grow field crops in your back yard, for example, but grains, dried beans, and the like can be bought in bulk very cheaply. What can’t be bought cheaply, and in a time of financial chaos may not be for sale at all, are exactly the things you can most effectively grow in a backyard garden, the vegetables, vine and shrub fruits, eggs, chicken and rabbit meat, and the like that provide the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you can’t get from fifty pound sacks of rice and beans. Those are the sorts of things people a century and a half ago produced in their kitchen gardens, along with medicinal herbs to treat illnesses and maybe a few dye plants for homespun fabric; those are the sorts of things that make sense to grow at home in a world where the economy won’t support the kind of abundance most people in the industrial world take for granted today.
It will also doubtless be objected that even if you reduce the amount of money you need for food, you still need money for other things, and so a victory garden isn’t an answer. This is true enough, if your definition of an answer requires that it simultaneously solves every aspect of the mess in which the predicament of industrial society has landed us. Still, one of the key points I’ve tried to make in this blog is that waiting for the one perfect answer to come around is a refined version of doing nothing while the water rises. Muddling requires many small adjustments rather than one grand plan: planting a victory garden in the back yard is one adjustment to the impact of a dysfunctional money economy on the far from minor issue of getting food on the table; other impacts will require other adjustments.
A third objection I expect to hear that not everybody can plant a victory garden in the back yard. A good many people don’t have back yards these days, and some of those who do are forbidden by restrictive covenants from using their yards as anything but props for their home’s largely imaginary resale value. (Will someone please explain to me why so many Americans, who claim to value freedom, willingly submit to the petty tyranny of planned developments and neighborhood associations? Brezhnev’s Russia placed fewer restrictions on people’s choices than many neighborhood covenants do.) The crucial point here is that a victory garden is simply an example of the way that people have muddled through hard times in the past, and might well muddle through the impending round of hard times in the future. If you can’t grow a garden in your backyard, see if there’s a neighborhood P-Patch program that will let garden somewhere else, or look for something else that will let you meet some of your own needs with your own labor without letting money get in the way.
That latter, of course, is the central point of this example. At a time when the tertiary economy is undergoing the first stages of an uncontrolled and challenging simplification, if you can disconnect something you need from the tertiary economy, you’ve insulated a part of your life from at least some of the impacts of the chaotic resolution of the mismatch between limitless paper wealth and the limited real wealth available to our species on this very finite planet. What garlic is to vampires and a well-fueled chainsaw is to zombies, being able to do things yourself, with the skills and resources you have on hand, is to the undead money lurching en masse through today’s economy; next week, we’ll replace the garlic with a mallet and a stake.
Read the whole thing – it has zombies and victory gardens – what more can I say? I should also note that a google image search for “zombie victory garden” produced almost nothing. It makes me ashamed of the internet !