The Rewards of Growing | Civil Eats

The Rewards of Growing


A few days ago, I listened to a story on NPR about how lobstermen in the Northeast have come up with a business strategy, selling directly to the consumers, cutting out the middlemen. Of course these “middlemen,” the folks that are distributors, that find buyers, or ship to restaurants and supermarkets, are now upset at the loss of business. In their defense, the lobstermen say that unless they can sell directly to the consumer—at real world prices—they cannot make any money and will have to go out of business. Furthermore, the consumers are happier as they like to know whom they’re purchasing from.

This sounds very much like the new ethos sweeping the land…many people are choosing, with their dollars, to buy what they eat, locally. Restaurants are popping up on the same model and readily tell customers where the ingredients came from.

For some of us, “locally grown” means the backyard. After several decades of Americans becoming more and more divorced from the land, we’re starting to see a shift back to growing. In just a few decades we have gone from 50% of Americans living on a farm to around 2% today. It wasn’t all that long ago that MOST of society was needed to grow ALL of society’s food. Now it takes only a very small portion of the population to grow all the food. But for many, myself among them, there a terrific feeling I get from growing much of what my family consumes. When we’re eating at home—and that’s most days of the week—just about all the meat and vegetables consumed were grown right here. Make no mistake, it’s a tremendous amount of work. Besides the planting and weeding (my hands are nicely stained this time of the year), there’s harvesting (with some crops, this can take a long time e.g. green beans, peas, etc.) and then much of it will be frozen, dried, or canned.

I get satisfaction knowing that absolutely no preservatives or pesticides ever come near my veggies; no prophylactic antibiotics fed to my chickens; no hormones given to my sheep. But more than just a sense of assuredness that my family is eating healthy, I have a good feeling about the “work” itself. A recently published, and quite popular, book by Matthew B. Crawford titled Shop Class as Soulcraft: an inquiry into the value of work sets out to explain this very feeling. The author is an avid motorcycle repairman (in addition to having a PhD from the University of Chicago) and he draws on this experience to make many points throughout the book. Crawford laments that much of our appliances these days (just about anything except automobiles) are built to be throw away if any component fails.

No longer can things be repaired, even by those with skills. This book opens one’s eyes to where our society is heading and what sorts of work are now valued and compensated. And which jobs are considered of less value. But the author does provide hope, showing that for a growing number of citizens, their “work” is valued personally, regardless of society’s attitudes. For the author, that means disassembling and reassembling machines.

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Britt Bunyard, PhD, operates a small sustainable farm in Wisconsin and is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Fungi, a journal dedicated to all aspects of mushrooms and other fungi. Read more >

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  1. I think you'll find that people all over are starting to return to making things instead of buying them. We've gotten away from that in our economy. Instead of having a job where you build or create something with your hands, many people stare at a computer screen all day. Instead of going home tired, but feeling satisfied that one has actually accomplished something tangible, many service industry workers go home feeling restless and unfulfilled.

    The home production of food is an interesting version of this. Instead of making objects to be used over and over again, growing and preparing food means making something that will be consumed once and never again. And yet, it's so satisfying to feed people, to stock up your pantry with good things, to know that your time and hard work were well spent.

    Americans can produce more than half of our needed vegetables in our backyards. We did it during WWII with our victory gardens. Here's hoping we'll get that close again sometime soon.

    Maybe the middlemen should get back into producing instead of moving stuff around and getting paid for doing nothing. Then they wouldn't have to worry!

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