A reader writes:
I live in a blue-collar neighborhood in a mid-sized North Carolina city. About 85% of my neighbors have vegetable gardens. Folks around here were growing and canning their own fruits and vegetables long before the NY Times Style section started writing about gardening. Like hunting and fishing, it's an outdoor hobby that also puts food on the table. I'm not sure where Ozimek gets the idea that gardening is only for the well-to-do.
Ironically, I grew up eating fresh vegetables because we were "poor".
By no means were we impoverished, but we were far from yuppies or upper middle class. We were in rural Vermont, so we had the land. My dad didn't have the distractions of urban living, so we had the time. This wasn't about being organic or some farm-to-table movement; it was about saving money. Calling fresh vegetables and gardens the domain of the upper middle class shows how priorities have changed and how far we've come from the agrarian society our country once prized.
Adam Ozimek's view is just silly. It also shows that he hasn't spent much time in working-class neighborhoods, particularly black working-class neighborhoods.
Check out any number of community gardens in Washington, DC. They may be organized by educated white or black people who know how to work a bureaucracy (is that a sufficient definition of "yuppie types?"), but you will find that many of the most successful gardeners are older folks from the south or the Caribbean or other rural areas who came to the city to work and live and still cherish their connection to the land and are damned proud of the herbs, fruits and vegetables they produce.
If Ozimek assumes that the only good coming out of a school garden is passing on the process of vegetable growth for consumption, then he may have a point that more would be gained by teaching kids how to create meals with frozen vegetables. However, future consumption is the least of the benefits conferred by such an education. Teaching kids how to work with frozen vegetables will not show them where their food comes from; it will not introduce concepts like "photosynthesis"; it will teach them patience; it will not teach them how to work together; it will not remind them that sometimes hard work ends up as a failure, and that this is okay; it will not teach them that everything they need can be found in the earth; and, among other things, it will not teach them how to bring something to life.
With adequate reading skills, anyone can read the three-part directions on a bag of Swanson Mixed Vegetables, and one can even try some of the recipes written on the packaging. But I'd like to think our schools can aim for loftier goals than "open, heat, and pour."
Ozimek defends himself here.
(Photo: Jubriel Holman, 15, Kujan Buggie, 14, and Emmanuella Jean-Pierre, 15 (L to R) look over sprouts before they plant them at the Hattie Carthan Community Garden in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn July 9, 2009 in New York City. A number of inner-city youths have been planting vegetables in the garden for an upcoming farmers market-style sale, for which community members will be able to buy the locally-produced food with cash or even with public assistance food cards. Community gardens are growing in number in urban areas around the country, as environmental concerns dovetail with inner-city rebirth to create new ways for underprivileged families to buy fresh food. By Chris Hondros/Getty Images)