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Sowing the Seeds of Our Future. What is the future of gardening?

Reprinted with permission from Garden & Greenhouse Magazine               Back to article list >>

First of all, I believe this should be a statement rather than a question. It should read: Gardening; our future. Gardening is the key to a happy planet and a happy society. While that may seem like a bold claim to make, it needs to go one step further. Greenhouse gardening is not just a luxury or a segment of gardening, it is pivotal for a better world.

If you read the news, you know the population is growing at an alarming rate. The planet is heating up, and we are consuming more energy than we can generate. While this is alarming, I think we can literally grow our way out of many of these problems. Thomas Friedman, the author of ďHope for a Hot, Flat and Crowded World: Why We Need a Green Revolution-and How It Can Renew AmericaĒ, believes our biggest challenges are energy, natural resources, petro-dictatorships, climate change, biodiversity loss and energy poverty. Greenhouse growing may not be the only solution to these issues, but it can be a major part of the solution.

Do you remember the time before computers? The growing gardening and green revolution can impact our lives just as dramatically. Greenhouse growing means gardeners can produce more food in a small space in Fall and Winter. If you listen carefully, you can hear the steady hum of progress that will catapult the human race forward at a rate weíve never seen. Growing in a greenhouse is the way to practice gardening and reap the benefits more of the year. Itís a path to sustainable living and perhaps even a solution to our energy crisis. Before heading forward too far, letís take a look at where weíve been for the past 10 years.

Only a few years ago gardening was in danger of becoming a lost art. Family structures changed, people migrated to the cities, and the holy grail of a green lawn became the epitome of home gardening. Gardening skipped an entire generation. Mothers entered and prospered in the workforce. Microwaves became mandatory appliances in nearly every home, and convenience food became the norm rather than an occasional indulgence.

Many children grew up thinking the grocery store was the only source of fresh produce. I know because this is my generation. Many of my peers report their only first hand gardening experience was with their grandparents. Luckily, those fond memories serve to reinforce our collective memory of our connection to the land. As gardening curriculums become popular in schools, many parents are finding their way to gardening through their children. Not having experience themselves, there is a new batch of gardeners needing help and education along the way.

In 1999, just before the Millennium, people didnít know what the world would be like as soon as the clocks hit midnight on the New Year. It seems strange now to think of the entire world wondering what we would find when we woke up the next day. Would we find some minor annoyances like escalators not working, or would it be worse? Would we be able to drive our cars, pump gas, or use our credit cards? Would we be able to turn on our computers, pay our bills or buy food? There was an excitement and an uncertainty in the air as we embarked on uncharted territory. We began to examine our reliance on computers and technology and realized the extent of their hold on our society and our lives. We realized our dependence on these conveniences could put us at risk.

One surprising result of the collective uncertainly is people turned to vegetable gardening as a means of providing fresh food to their families. In some cases the decision was driven by fear. Often, it was more from the realization of how we have moved from an agrarian society to a global high-tech society. Not that one is better than another, but many of us are disconnected from our food and from the land. This sudden shift in security made people aware of their vulnerabilities and created a desire to control their environment. We saw a dramatic rise in greenhouse gardening because greenhouses offer exactly what people were seeking: the ability to control the environment.

A large shift happened again in 2001 after the tragic terrorist attack on our country. People started saying home rather than traveling. Many people turned their efforts and energy into improving their homes and their yards. This was a time people focused on creating beauty in their lives. Our customers told us they were primarily growing ornamental plants rather than food.

Now that we are again experiencing uncertain times, people are growing their own food. Prices at the grocery store increased significantly once prices at the pump hit $4.00 per gallon. Suddenly, shipping lettuce across the country in a refrigerated container didnít seem to make so much sense. Community gardens are springing up across the country as people come together to create and plant previously unused spaces. Urban gardens are flourishing as people creatively make use of every available opportunity. Fire escapes and barren patches are now beautiful green spaces providing food for the community.

I think this trend will explode in the next decade as more people turn to greenhouse growing. Growing in greenhouses removes many of the obstacles gardeners face specific to their zone. In a greenhouse, the growing season will be substantially longer and gardeners can take advantage of the vertical space.

Not only will growing our own food reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we will realize many nutritional benefits. Food eaten close to the time of picking contains significantly more nutrients. Eating better is one of the most significant contributors to overall health. While Mr. Friedman didnít mention our health crisis, we cannot ignore the tremendous societal cost associated with obesity and poor diet. Itís not genetically altered for maximum yield. Growing new and old varieties contributes to biodiversity, which is a concern of Friedmanís. Itís not much of a surprise that home grown food tastes better too.

In addition to thinking about our food, significantly more people are adopting sustainable living strategies. Hopefully we will not be talking of a looming economic crisis 10 years from now. Instead I predict we will be taking a much more active role in reducing our footprint and increasing our self reliance. No matter what is happening in the next decade, itís certain we will be able to produce more with less time and fewer resources.

You will find many articles on hydroponics in this magazine, and for good reason. Hydroponics is not only the key to feeding the planet, it is the key for gardeners to grow easily and effectively. Many garden books focus on regional conditions. When you own a greenhouse, those conditions are controllable. Lower watering requirements and a higher yield make growing hydroponically something every home owner can do with success. In the near future, gardeners will be able to purchase entire growing systems that allow them to grow what they want relatively effortlessly.

In addition to people growing their own food, small local farmers will grow more to support the needs of the community. Larger agricultural producers will give way to the micro farmers who will supply a significant amount of our food in a healthy and sustainable manner. Vertical growing will be used by commercial growers as well as home growers.

Equally exciting is the possibility we will someday be able to grow our own fuel. Quite a few companies are currently at work developing alternative energy sources. Biofuel is getting a lot of attention as competing companies race to be the first to market. One company, Valcent Products Inc. claims algae is the solution to our nationís fuel needs. They are currently testing their Algae Bioreactor on a large scale in Texas. Algae grow quickly and can be pressed into oil that can further be refined into biodiesel and even jet fuel. Valcent Products Inc. claims they can produce biodiesel with a 78.5% reduction in carbon emissions, which would truly make algae a green fuel. While the technology is still a way off, can you picture a day when you can grow your own fuel in your greenhouse?

Technological advances will shape the way we garden. The way we garden will shape the way we live. There are few segments in todayís society that understand the benefits of delayed gratification as well as gardeners do. There are also few segments of society that share a gardenerís optimism and intellectual curiosity. Gardeners still believe in miracles. People who plant seeds and see an entire plant spring from a tiny package from soil, light, water and heat understand the miracle of life as they patiently watch a tiny plant push its way into the world. Instilling the wonder and beauty of our world on the next generation may solve even more of our problems than we can imagine. Cultivating our own appreciation and connection to the natural world will make us happier and healthier people today, tomorrow, and for years to come.

By Michelle Moore, owner of Solexx Greenhouses and Grow4it                Back to article list >>

Michelle Moore is a member of Garden Writers Association. Michelle studied business and communications at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. After graduation, she completed a Fulbright Scholarship then earned an International MBA from Thunderbird, The Gavin School of International Management. With nearly 20 years of experience working with greenhouses, Michelle recently became an Oregon State University Master Gardener. Michelle and her husband find that even under gray skies you can find hints of summer all year when you have a greenhouse!

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