Rose Hayden-Smith • thevictorygrower.com

Lincoln

Heirlooms and Civic Agriculture

Heirlooms and civic agriculture.

What does this even mean?

“Heirloom” is an interesting term, and like the word “sustainability”, it means different things to different people.  A couple of years ago, I read The Heirloom Life Gardener, a book written by Jere and Emilee Gettle.  The Gettles are the co-founders of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, which publishes a lush and incredibly informative seed catalog and has spun off a variety of gardening-related enterprises across the nation.  The Gettles’ define heirloom seeds as being “non-hybrid and open-pollinated” and as usually having been in circulation for more than fifty years.  Some heirloom seed types currently in use could have been found in Thomas Jefferson garden at Monticello.  Some appear more recently, during the Great Depression, including the Mortgage Lifter tomato (who couldn’t use one of these in today’s economy?).

While reading the Gettles’ book, I began thinking once again about the relationship between land and the American character.  I was inspired to pull some of my favorite books off the shelf and revisit them, to consider the notion of “civic agriculture.”

The term “civic agriculture” – coined by the former Thomas Lyson of Cornell – is used by some to refer to the movement towards locally based agricultural models that tightly link community, social and economic development.  Models of civic agriculture include CSAs, farmer’s markets, roadside stands, urban agriculture, community gardens, and farm-to-school/farm-to-institution programs.  I also argue that civic agriculture includes school and home gardens…any place where people seek to connect land to the development of community or as an expression of engagement or citizenship. You can read more about all of this in my book, “Sowing the Seeds of Victory.”

The civic aspect of agriculture is much older than […]

Lincoln: The ability to produce food = freedom

When he was stumping for the office of president in 1859, Abraham Lincoln equated the ability of Americans to produce food with freedom.

Lincoln said this:

“And thorough work, again, renders sufficient, the smallest quantity of ground to each man. And this again, conforms to what must occur in a world less inclined to wars, and more devoted to the arts of peace, than heretofore. Population must increase rapidly — more rapidly than in former times — and ere long the most valuable of all arts, will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of oppression of any of its forms. Such community will be alike independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings.”

This is pretty heady stuff, radical even, a strongly pluralistic message about land. While Lincoln’s feeling that the nation might be more devoted to peace hasn’t exactly panned out, I think the rest still resonates. I read it to mean that as long as every American knows how to cultivate land, we will be free from oppression. Oppression from all sorts of kings, but perhaps also free from the oppression presented by hunger, obesity, and lack of community engagement. Knowing how to cultivate land is an essential ingredient of independence (on all sorts of levels). It is an art. It is a science. It is essential to survival. When I read these words more than 150 years after they were spoken, the clarity and strength and truth of them compels me to state again:

“A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden.”

And if you haven’t snagged a copy, please do go to the McFarland website, order […]