Summer brings warmer weather and often a little more time outdoors. Many people enjoy gardening this time of year as a pastime. Whether you have a large garden or just a window with partial sun exposure, you can share not only the food you grow with those around you, but your perspective on the work of small-scale farmers. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned gardener or have never grown anything in your life, your gardening project is sure to succeed. How can that be?
It all boils down to the goals you set for this project and the seeds that you plant.
The Satisfaction of Growing Your Own Produce
When people plant a garden, whether full-scale or only in a few pots, it is generally to produce vegetables, fruit, or flowers. Lettuce, potatoes, carrots, beans, sunflowers, and other easy, reliable crops are generally encouraging, even for novices. There is something almost magical about planting a little brown seed and then witnessing green leaves spring from the dark earth. It is fascinating to see how the plants of familiar vegetables or fruit grow. It can be comical to watch some vegetables form strange shapes because they were wedged against a fence or had to grow around a rock in the ground. Watering, pruning, and tending plants that eventually produce something edible is a satisfying way to connect with nature.
And if everything goes as planned, the foods we grow ourselves take on a new dimension and great satisfaction in all the hard work and patience. Tasting the crisp juiciness of a freshly picked green bean, or the exquisite sweetness of a raspberry still warm from the sun elevates familiar foods to the heights of five-star cuisine, before you even get into the kitchen.
A Lot Can Go Wrong
But there is never any guarantee of the outcome, even when it seems you have done everything right. After all, a lot can go wrong:
- The weather is too wet or too dry;
- Animals raid your garden (usually just when things are barely ripe or big enough to pick);
- Insects destroy plants seemingly in the blink of an eye;
- Disease strikes plants overnight.
And what if, worst-case scenario, everything goes wrong? Does that mean your gardening project was all for nothing?
A Good Outcome Depends on Your Goals and Seeds
If your goal is solely to produce vegetables and fruit, there could very well be some disappointment in store. But remember, the outcome depends on your goals and the seeds that you plant, and there are many possibilities.
Of course, the obvious hard skills—when and how deep to plant seeds, when to water and fertilize, recognizing harmful and helpful insects—are all useful skills that can be applied to next year’s garden. And consider the soft skills required: patience, time commitment, problem-solving, and resilience, all essential life skills. But there’s much more!
There’s More Than Just Your Own Backyard
Your garden will be a sure success when you plant another kind of seed: seeds of empathy and of change. This is a win-win project, no matter what happens in your garden, if you use it as a tool to teach your children, or others close to you, about fair trade and small-scale farming.
When you help others make the connection between their own experience with growing things with that of small-scale farmers, this project can take on a much bigger meaning than solely what is in your own backyard. They can start to identify with the joy of producing food from the ground, the pride of work well done, and the satisfaction of sharing that food with others. Help them make the link with the constant care required to successfully grow food. Farmers can’t go on vacation during the growing and harvesting seasons. Connect the dots when things go wrong in your own garden plot with what can go wrong with crops. Farmers struggle with weather and pests just as gardeners do, but on a much grander scale.
Moreover, farmers’ livelihoods depend on producing crops successfully. Imagine what it would be like in difficult years when the weather doesn’t cooperate or insects invade. Imagine, too, if no one wants to pay you fairly for your hard work and expertise, and you can only scrape out a subsistence. Discuss the difference between fair trade and conventional trade. Even young children can understand injustice.
If things go wrong in your garden, you can compare those events with the challenges that farmers must face. If you have bountiful crops, wonderful! When all the neighbours have zucchini coming out of their ears and you can’t even give your extra away, tie this in with the reality farmers sometimes face. They’ve worked hard, done everything right, the elements have cooperated, yet the crop is worth less because there is a glut.
With this focus on understanding the foundational role farmers play in feeding the planet, your gardening project can be a smash success no matter what happens. Focus on drawing parallels with small-scale farming and fair trade. But, first and foremost, plant seeds of change so that your children and community will be part of the solutions to a fairer world.