NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 172 | March 7, 2009
Editor’s Note: The New York Times is one of the few (perhaps, only) national newspapers to pay attention to man & nature on the editorial page. And Verlyn Klinkenborg, an accomplished poet-essayist of the rural, is the steady voice on the page to all that is green within us. We need more writing of this nature to preserve us—and the meaningful role of good newspapers in our lives. –Norbert Blei
Sow Those Seeds!
by Verlyn Klinkenborg
In August 2004, I wrote a Rural Life editorial about the
victory garden movement during World War II, noting that a
national crisis had turned Americans — for a few years at
least— into a nation of gardeners. Now we are in the midst of
another crisis. And perhaps this is the moment for another na-
tional home gardening movement, a time when the bur-
geoning taste for local food converges with the desire to cut
costs and take new control over our battered economic lives.
There are signs that some people are already thinking
this way. A number of friends have said to me, wistfully, that if
things get worse, they’ll just go to the country and learn to
farm, as if learning to farm were like studying shorthand or
learning to weld.
This is daydreaming. But there’s every reason to think
about putting in a garden. In fact, many seed companies are
reporting higher sales — especially in Britain, which has a
rich tradition of home gardening. At grocery stores and farm
stands, the difference in cost between organic and convention-
ally grown vegetables can be substantial. In the garden, the
difference is negligible.
I can’t help noting, too, that half of “The 11 Best Foods
You Aren’t Eating” — a widely e-mailed Web article by Tara
Parker-Pope of The Times — are easily grown in a northeast-
ern garden, including beets, chard, pumpkins and blueberries.
Growing a vegetable garden isn’t going to balance the
budget or replace lost benefits or even begin to make up for
the shock of a lost job. But part of the crisis we face is a sense
of alienation and powerlessness. You don’t meet many alienat-
ed gardeners, unless it’s been a terrible woodchuck year.
It’s also tempting to assume that a garden can’t really
make much difference in your annual food budget. But you
would never convince my parents of that, who raised four kids
on the fresh and home-canned produce of a big backyard gar-
den. And I can think of few better distractions from the news
of the day than the offerings of seed catalogs and the Edenic
visions they inspire.
But over the years, something odd has happened to seed
catalogs. They’ve come to resemble grocery stores and, in
some sense, the culture at large — fuller and fuller of inedible
stuff to buy, like copper plant labels and sunlight calculators
and fan-cooled sunhats. One of the hard things for beginning
gardeners to learn is that very little of that stuff is needed.
What beginning gardeners need most, in fact, is old garden-
ers, the ones who’ve made do all along and who are starting
their seedlings in windowsills right about now.’
[from THE NEW YORK TIMES 2.15.09]
Verlyn Klinkenborg was born in Colorado in 1952 and raised in Iowa and California. He graduated from Pomona College and received a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton University. Mr. Klinkenborg joined the editorial board in 1997. He is the author of “Making Hay” (The Lyons Press, 1986), “The Last Fine Time” (University of Chicago Press, 1991) “The Rural Life” (Little Brown, 2003) and “Timothy; Or, Notes of an Abject Reptile” (Knopf, 2006).
His work has appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, Esquire, National Geographic, The New Republic, Smithsonian, Audubon, GQ, Gourmet, Martha Stewart Living, Sports Afield and The New York Times Magazine. He has taught literature and creative writing at Fordham University, St. Olaf College, Bennington College and Harvard University and is a recipient of the 1991 Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He lives in rural New York.