Wouldn’t you know it–just as I vow to rein in my sprawling gardens this season, even more gorgeous and enticing seed catalogs arrive from suppliers, some of which I haven’t even heard of before. The Natural Gardening Company of California, for instance, which touts its position as the “oldest certified organic nursery in the United States.” Whilst I admire the simple looks of their catalog, why would someone gardening or farming in Vermont order seeds and plants from California? Okay, I would, it’s true, if they carried an heirloom variety of something I’ve been searching for unavailable from seed companies close to home. But with several excellent sources of organic or ecological seed in the Northeast (a couple in Vermont itself), no matter how tempting those Western catalogs are, it is the exception when I buy from them. Unless we’re talking Seed Saver’s Exchange in Iowa–not exactly in my neighborhood, but what they have been doing since 1975 to save and restore heirloom varieties makes me not only order from them but join their group. A nonprofit, they are trying to change the way we live, not just sell seeds.
In the old days I would receive Johnny’s catalog from Maine, John Scheepers from Connecticut and Burpee from Pennsylvania. Period. Thus far this garden-dreaming season over a dozen have landed in my mailbox. And I’m sure more are headed my way. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing. Much as I hate any other sort of paper catalog, I love seed catalogs and want to pore over them, rabbit-ear them, write on them, compare them, spread them out on the table and admire them before I go online and place my orders.
Since I’m not planning on ordering many seeds at all this year, what really interests me about this flood of catalogs is what it indicates about the state of gardening in general. It’s palpable evidence of the rising interest in growing our own food, and that’s great news. This shift isn’t just among the twenty-year-olds coming to Vermont to become ecological farmers, though that bodes well indeed for the future. It’s involving people who have never gardened before, who might have a balcony for pots or a tiny yard or who have applied for a plot in a community garden, such as folks I’ve interacted with during my garden blogging for Eating Well Magazine, and within several online communities devoted to cooking and eating. Take Food52, the very popular foodie blog–just yesterday they announced the addition of a garden blogger known for helping people grow food no matter where they live–apartment or homestead. Local resources now abound for home gardeners, from state ag extension services to new wikis set up within towns and cities filled with tips and how-tos and places to converse about growing food. Bookstores devote whole sections to gardening; newspapers, such as my own county-wide bi-weekly, have added gardening columns. What could be a better trend than people getting outside, hands in the dirt, growing something that will require patience and close attention (i.e. slowing down), and then nourishment of the highest order?
I hope this interest in growing some of our own food will have effects on not only what we eat but what we consume in general. Will we give up gas guzzlers and oil furnaces? Will we choose more modest, green housing and clothes made out of natural materials? Will we walk and bike more if and when we can? Will we see ourselves as participants in complex ecosystems? If I look at the political landscape, I see only more collapse of the climate and trouble for the planet ahead; if I look at the array of seed catalogs on my kitchen counter, I see something else, which, by the way, is the name of another excellent seed company, the seeds of change.