By Billy Polansky
With Independence Day just around the corner, I want to discuss how gardening has played a role our country’s history and how today you and I can show our patriotism through gardening. Patriotism often gets tied to political ideologies. However, patriotism transcends politics and gardening transcends politics. Gardening can be a common ground to bring different groups together.
Webster defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country”. To me patriotism is simply caring about your country and your neighbors. You can be patriotic even if you think our society has injustices, disagree with your neighbors, or don’t trust the government. I find myself being simultaneously proud and upset about different facets of this county. The fact is though, this is my home, and I care what happens here. There are many ways to show your patriotism, one of the ways I show my patriotism is through gardening. I want to make the case that growing food in your yard is a way to improve and show love for your country.
Let’s start by looking way back in 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the delegates were deadlocked. The months-long negotiations during the summer of 1787 were hot, loud, and smelly. However, after a three-hour walk through the nearby Bartram’s Garden the delegates from North Carolina softened their opposition to the Connecticut Compromise. This walk through the garden led to the votes needed to adopt the first Constitution of the United States. Escaping the hustle and bustle of work for a walk through the garden can take away your stress and allow you to clear your head. I often take a walk through our Urban Farm when I’m feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or stuck. Gardening – even just being in a garden – clears the mind and helps us make good decisions. Making good decisions is patriotic.
During World Wars I and II, “Victory Gardens” were promoted as a way to avoid food shortages and bring people together on the home front. In 1942, Missouri’s own George Washington Carver even published a bulletin “Nature’s Garden for Victory and Peace”, encouraging families to eat wild-foraged and home-cultivated fruits and vegetables. I just love how these Victory Gardens combine our individualism and self-reliance with the collective spirit of working together for the good of everyone. Gardens today can play the same role. My home garden and the shelves of canned goods in my pantry increase my independence. At the same time, the bounty from our backyard is something that my wife and I share with our neighbors and friends. A life with a garden is a life of abundance, so when we’ve eaten our fair share of kale, collard, and turnip greens this spring, it is nice to give the excess to our friends, neighbors, or the food pantry.
A garden is a source of pride. It shows what we can make with our own hands. It connects us to the land. In the United States, Missouri especially, we are fortunate to live in a place where the soil and climate make it relatively easy to grow our own food. Gardening is a way to take advantage of that privilege to make a productive and beautiful space. In Columbia’s central city I see gardens, both ornamental and edible, that brighten up streets which may otherwise be drab. Beautifying your space is a way to show love to your country. My garden at home is an oasis beaming with life and color. Every successful gardener I know is proud of their space and what they have made. Families in our programs at CCUA tell us why they like gardening at home, and there are many reasons. I looked through some of our participant surveys responses and found a few that touched on the freedom it provides “I like the freedom to plant things my family likes to eat”, “I like the freedom of just having it here, and not having to get to the store to purchase stuff”, and “Independence”. Gardening gives us freedom.
Gardening empowers us to take more control of our lives and become more independent; it makes us stronger. Gardening gives us the freedom to eat fruits and vegetables which we may not otherwise be able to afford. Gardening helps create equal access to fresh fruits and vegetables and ultimately equal opportunity to a healthier life. Gardening is inclusive and strengthens the bonds we have with our neighbors and our community. Gardening helps me express my love and devotion to this country’s people and land. So, as you get ready to fire up the grill on the Fourth of July, I encourage you to take a moment to think about how your (current or future) backyard garden can be a way to show your love and make the United States a place with liberty and justice for all.