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SF Chronicle: Worldly Lessons Taught in Community Garden

  • Subject: [cg] SF Chronicle: Worldly Lessons Taught in Community Garden
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2006 12:53:53 -0500

I love this San Francisco Chronicle  piece by John Hershey,  comparing CIA Director Porter Goss, a backyard gardener's outlook on the world  with that of community gardeners.  John Hershey is a community gardener. 
Adam Honigman
Hell's Kitchen, NYC
Worldly lessons taught in community garden 
- John Hershey, Special to The Chronicle
Saturday, March 25, 2006 

In a recent interview with Time magazine, CIA Director Porter Goss was asked a very important question. After dispensing with topics like catching Osama bin Laden and dealing with the insurgency in Iraq, the reporter got down to business: "You're into organic gardening. How did that happen?" 
Goss replied that gardening is relaxing and rewarding for him. He even composts. But he complained that animals always steal his crops. 
I find it reassuring that our top intelligence official seeks solace in the garden -- although it makes me a little nervous that the man responsible for eradicating terrorist cells in our country can't keep squirrels out of his garden. 
I was also surprised. I tend to think of powerful people spending their leisure time hunting rather than gardening. I can readily imagine Type A go-getters out on a big-game hunt. But somehow it's hard to picture Theodore Roosevelt misting orchids or Ernest Hemingway weeding around his peas. 
Perhaps this is an unfair stereotype. After all, hunting and gardening are popular for the same basic reason: They take us back to the primeval days when people lived in nature and had to provide for themselves. It was a simpler yet rougher time, without the complexities or soft comforts of modern life. Hunting and gardening make us feel truly alive by appealing to these primitive instincts in ways that some other hobbies, like collecting refrigerator magnets, may not. 
But I wonder why some people gravitate to gardening, while hunting appeals to other personality types. For example, I prefer gardening. Time spent in the garden is fun and serene, and there are relatively few fatal gardening accidents. It seems to suit my character. I have nothing against hunting for food, but let's face it: Hunting can be rather adversarial. The hunter and the deer are not out there seeking to resolve their differences amicably. It's a bit of a zero-sum game, when you think about it. Does this mean the aggressive, driven people who become leaders in their field are more likely to be hunter-gatherers than settle down and cultivate the land? If so, does hunting reinforce confrontational attitudes that carry over into our leaders' jobs, making them more inclined to deal with a crisis by reaching for their metaphorical .30-06? 
Of course, there's a time and place for strong action. But I think gardening, especially community gardening, could teach our leaders important lessons about foreign policy too. 
Outsiders, perhaps laboring under some stereotypes of their own, may think of a community garden as an urban idyll of perfect harmony. But those of us who garden there know that the community garden is a microcosm of the world. We each have our own territory, with footpaths forming borders with our neighbors. And we have to deal with conflicts and threats just as world leaders do. 
For example, has your community garden space ever been invaded by an aggressive pumpkin vine? When a plot's territorial integrity is threatened, the gardeners don't respond unilaterally with clippers. We use diplomacy to discourage expansionism without resorting to force. 
You can't always blame the gardener when plants attack. Last season, I planted a special type of marigold on the perimeter of my plot because I had heard that they would deter nematodes from attacking the roots of my tomato plants. This natural pest-control technique was effective, in a sense. My tomato plants survived, although they didn't get very big or produce many tomatoes. They were crowded out and shaded by the marigolds! Each little seedling grew into a big clump of dense foliage with hundreds of orange blooms. These yard-high shrubs encroached the pathways, blockading several nearby plots. I tried to be a good citizen by trimming the bushes back, but that just seemed to encourage more growth. This year, I'm looking for some special type of nematode to deter my marigolds. 
The point is, we all try to get along in the garden. But as in the community of nations, conflicts can occur. Perhaps we will discover a rogue nonorganic gardener in our midst who is stockpiling chemical fertilizers or even trying to develop pesticides of mass destruction. If so, we'll build alliances to uphold our rules and handle the problem. 
Like the countries of the world, we community gardeners must learn to share scarce resources. We share the water and try not to drag the hose over our neighbors' spinach plants. We don't take more than our fair share of compost from the pile. And we happily share the extra food we grow. 
OK, that's a bad example. Zucchini is not a scarce resource. It's more like a common enemy. 
But community gardeners learn to work together to deal with threats to our collective security. Whether it's a zucchini infestation, an attack by invasive weeds or the occasional nighttime theft of broccoli or tomatoes by mean yet health-conscious neighborhood toughs, we know we are all in this together. That's an experience that might benefit the people who run our government. 
Would the world be a safer place if our leaders were community gardeners? I don't know. But I do know one thing: I'd rather garden with Porter Goss than hunt with Dick Cheney. 
E-mail freelance writer (and community gardener) John Hershey at home@sfchronicle.com. 
Page F - 9 

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