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Growing the Second Green Revolution

Growing the Second Green Revolution

In the emerging era of urban agriculture, growers are boosting food security, cultivating community, and trying to change the world.

The anti-war poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon reports that toward the end of World War I, Winston Churchill told him that war is the normal occupation of man. Challenged, Churchill amended this to “war — and gardening.” Are the two opposites? Some agriculture is a form of war, whether it’s clear-cutting rain forest, stealing land from the poor, contaminating the vicinity, or exploiting farmworkers, and some of our modern pesticides descend from the chemical warfare breakthroughs of World War I. But gardening represents a much wider spectrum of human activity than war.

Could it be the antithesis of war, or a cure for social ills, or an act of healing the divisions of the world? When you tend your tomatoes, are you producing more than tomatoes? We are in an era when gardens are front and center for hopes and dreams of a better world, or just a better neighborhood — or the fertile space where the two become one. There are farm advocates and food activists, progressive farmers and gardeners, and, maybe most particular to this moment, there’s a lot of urban agriculture. These city projects hope to overcome the alienation of food, of labor, of embodiment, of land; the conflicts between production and consumption, between pleasure and work; the destructiveness of industrial agriculture; the growing problems of global food scarcity and seed loss. The list of ideals being planted, tended and sometimes harvested is endless, but the questions are simple: What crops are you tending? What do you want to grow? Community? Health? Pleasure? Hope? Justice? Gardens represent the idealism of this moment and its principal pitfall, I think. A garden can be, after all, either the ground you stand on to take on the world or how you retreat from it, and the difference is not always obvious.