Thursday, January 27, 2011
Every Backyard a Garden
Tonight I was working on the book I am writing and simultaneously listening to music on the Internet when I came across a song I hadn't listened to in years: Somos Hijos Del Maiz (We Are Children of Corn) by Carlos Mejia Godoy, one of the most popular singer/songwriters in Nicaragua around the time of the Sandinista revolution. I got to feeling nostalgic about the months I spent in Nicaragua in the 1980s. It was during the war when the U.S.-backed contras were attacking and terrorizing the population in the north and the country was struggling valiantly under the weight of the U.S.-imposed trade embargo. The supermarket shelves were empty; there were no commercials on T.V. because there was nothing to buy; the water and electricity supplies were precarious; the few vehicles there were, were carrying so many people they spilled out the windows and clung to the roofs and tailgates; there were long lines for basics like milk or cooking oil, not because of government inefficiency but because there was neither enough of these things nor enough transportation to make them available; newspaper took the place of toilet paper; there was no toothpaste because they could make the paste in the country but not the tube; if you went to a doctor they would prescribe three or four medicines in the hopes you would be able to get your hands on one of them (people went back to using herbal remedies). People bore all this and more cheerfully, asking only that the war be over so they could get on with rebuilding their country.
This song was inspired by that trade embargo. One of the things Nicaragua used to get from the United States was wheat, which doesn't grow in Nicaragua's tropical climate. When the supply was cut off, there was no bread. No matter, these resilient people would find another way, and that is what this song is about. I remember listening to it on a scratchy radio in a friend's dirt-floored kitchen in Esteli, northern Nicaragua, one night with several neighbourhood children, one of whom commented, "This song is from a few years ago when the Americans cut off our wheat," to which her young friend replied, "No, it's hundreds of years old." I think they are both right. It is as old as human resilience and refusal to be subservient to slave masters. I mentally translate the references to blood of heroes in the song into the spirit of determination and defiance.
We could learn from Nicaragua's lesson today. I keep reading about how later this year we are going to have manufactured food shortages and food riots, how the cost of wheat, corn, soybeans and so on is going to soar. The other day I was listening to Stewart Swerdlow talk about this and his comment was that those things aren't good for you anyway (the Monsanto versions anyway!) and we should be growing our own. I couldn't agree more. Prices are going up? Okay, what can we do for ourselves? The control system is depending on us to depend on it. We don't need to. Everyone who has even a little land can grow a garden, or if you don't want to, let your neighbours put it to good use. Attract bees and hummingbirds. Get out in the dirt and the sun and work up a sweat. The food tastes better afterwards, too; I always think growing your own feeds your soul as much as your body. Then learn to preserve it; canning and drying are better than freezing (what if there is no electricity?) Of course the controllers are passing all sorts of laws trying to keep us from growing our own food, so we'd darn well better get started now and show them we won't be stopped! Above is a basket of kidney beans I grew in 2009, just to show they really will grow in a cold climate. They were sweet and delicious, too. Yes, I realize it's January, but my garden genes get active around this time of year.
Okay, here is the song:
It's a great song. What grows where you live? Can you learn to grow it, prepare it, develop a relationship with it? Now, before you are desperate? My encouragement goes out to anyone doing this, it's the spirit we need to thrive in the time ahead.