The first week of my summer internship with the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence has come and gone. During this period, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time tending to the garden and feel that it is appropriate to reflect on this space for my first blog; to begin to answer the question posed in the title.
My own personal love of gardening stems from a benign, meditative boredom conducive to hours of uninterrupted thought; however, my appreciation for tending to a garden in the context of the Gandhi House has transcended the experience which initially drew me towards this activity.
Food production in the United States has become increasingly consolidated to large-scale, mechanized farms. According to the US Census, between 1945 and 2000 the number of Americans employed in agriculture fell from 16% to 2%. During this period total agricultural output has more than doubled; however, there is little to suggest that meaningful improvement has occurred: more than one-third of Americans are obese, as many as 27% of are coping with diabetes, and over 15 million children lack access to adequate nutrition. Furthermore, knowledge of farming practices, especially among urban communities, is becoming increasingly scarce.
Mahatma Gandhi saw a similar problem at work in the manufacture of cloth in India, writing “It is difficult to measure the harm that Manchester has done to us. It is due to Manchester that Indian handicraft has all but disappeared. But I make a mistake. How can Manchester be blamed? We wore Manchester cloth, and that is why Manchester wove it.” For this reason, he celebrated when the people of Bengal boycotted British cloth and returned to hand-making textiles on traditional looms.
Farming and weaving textiles are both time-consuming, unglamorous, and labor-intensive processes that offer little allure when compared with the seemingly convenient alternative of purchasing these necessities made elsewhere. Even for those interested in producing their own food and cloth, knowledge can be a barrier. This is why it is important that we at the Gandhi House garden. What we grow is free from problematic agroecosystems that depend on machines, chemical inputs, exploited labor, and dubious distribution networks. We draw on the help of volunteers and staff to practice traditions of growing that are ethical for people and the land. We believe that eating for sustenance is equally important to how we grow these things.
Yet there is more to gardening at the Gandhi House than cultivating sustainable produce; the garden serves as an educational space. It’s a place where the democratization of food production can take form. It educates community members on how they can be cognizant and active in their sustenance. It valorizes the production of something that’s easy to take for granted.
Every dollar spent is a vote and not everyone in the Rochester community has the awareness or ability to cast monetary ballots on conscious food. We garden to share the knowledge necessary to give the community agency. We garden because no one is too small to make a difference to a seemingly insurmountable problem.
Why garden? Well, there’s a few reasons….