All of a sudden, everybody’s getting chickens.
It started before the recession, over the past couple of years, but it’s really taken off in the past six months. Acquaintances talk of how many square feet their new garden plot is or how many varieties of tomatoes that they’ve planted. People under the age of 65 have taken to canning.
Three decades of increasing interest in farmers markets combined with a steady drumbeat of deaths from industrial foods combined with an awareness of one’s carbon footprint and “food miles” combined with the fear of an unknown—could this recession slide into a depression?—have combined to give people a powerful urge to be self-reliant. Newspapers across the country have started interviewing the elderly, to talk about what tricks they learned in order to survive the Great Depression, and many of us are taking notes. I don’t think it’s motivated by fear. Maybe we all want to produce something tangible, to have the satisfaction of contributing to the world something more real than the mortgage-backed securities and the collateralized debt obligations, created by the bankers and the mortgage brokers, that evaporated overnight last summer. Maybe we just want to know that, if all else fails, we can rely on ourselves.
We tilled up another 250 feet of garden weekend before last. Our horse has produced a good batch of manure for us this year, and we’re doctoring the soil with that as we haul it up in the pickup. We’ve got nearly 100 tomato plants, of five different varieties. Onions and potatoes are in the ground. Lettuce, broccoli, and cucumbers are all under grow lights, waiting for the soil to warm up. There will be squash, blackberries, radishes, basil, rosemary, and a dozen other different food crops. Apple trees, peach trees, and chickens are all in the not-so-distant future. We put up about eighty cans of food last year; we’ll certainly do more this time around. We’re learning to make pasta and different varieties of bread. I made tortilla chips this evening.
Last week I attended a local food roundtable held by Rep. Tom Perriello. A few dozen people were invited, all involved in the production, distribution, and promotion of food in the northern end of the Fifth District. Everybody agreed that folks want their food to be local and everybody agreed that’s better for the economy, for our environment, and for our health. And it just doesn’t get any more local than your backyard.
I have to wonder if this is a fad, if this is another round of Y2K preparation for another disaster averted. Or maybe how we’ve been eating for the past sixty years is the fad, a fad that’s now fading.