If you ever get frustrated trying to garden, it is because of economics. Really. Your garden is trying to teach you some important lessons, lessons that can help you vote better, make better decisions in spending, and aid you in teaching your children money and time management. Your garden is trying to expose to you the fallacies of romanticized
self-sufficient living subsistence farming. Your garden is attempting to impress upon you the benefits of specialization and transportation of products. Your garden is even trying to show you why central planning is detrimental to everyone’s livelihood.
Don’t let the word “economics” make your eyes glaze over. Everyone who is alive is somehow involved in what is called “economics” because it is so fundamental. Whatever your philosophical perspective on it or lack of awareness about its impact on your life, it is happening regularly to you and by you. That is, everyone is involved somehow in the production or consumption of goods and services. You cannot not be economic about life. It is not some dry, esoteric subject that has no bearing on reality. Quite the opposite. Every decision you make about how to spend your time and resources is an economic decision. In light of this, it seems wise to know what the factors and dynamics of economics really are. Fortunately, it is not anywhere near as complicated as the government schools or politicians would like you to think it is.
For all of the glory that home gardening gets, it is a waste of your time in many respects. At least any home gardening that purports to be economically efficient or important to your survival. From an economic point of view, you would be much better off spending your time doing something that allows you to specialize, then using the money (not at all implying that the government controlled system of money is the best money system) from that to buy basic ingredients to cook from. Less time than is spent on the act of gardening, could be used to find acceptable sources of food that allow you to prepare meals from scratch. As long as you are buying basic ingredients, minimally processed for storage or usability, you will have great potential for getting food as healthy as what is grown in your very own garden.
It takes quite a bit of planning and supervision to monitor a garden with the variety of vegetables that appeal to the modern gardener. Especially if the gardener is trying to grow enough to put by for non-growing seasons. Timing all the plantings, learning about all the pests and diseases, keeping track of all the things involved in harvest is inherently less efficient than using all the space to grow one or two types of plants. Who among us has not missed harvesting one thing because we were busy taking care of another? The juggling that needs to go on with a home garden is often overwhelming and presents the gardener with many conflicts. In reality, the only reason these conflicts continue to be allowed to exist is because we are stubborn, deluded, or just enjoy it. Someone who really has to make a living or survive off of what they grow would be much more careful about use of resources.
Think of all the times when you had an abundance of a particular produce. If you had been concentrating on just a couple of crops, with selling them in mind, there is a better chance that not so much would be wasted. You could have time and motive to find retailers to sell to, who are good at providing a location for people to buy many things, instead of running around to each farm or garden. But with a home garden, there is often no incentive to find other people to sell to. It is just too complicated for such a small amount.
The idea of the government deciding to monitor backyard gardens, doing such things as deciding who should grow what or greatly limiting availability of seed has already been suggested in general. It is really just a small interference considering all the other things those in power already feel the need to meddle in. If they have departments to come regularly check building codes and weed infestations, how far fetched is it that they would do the same to regulate our landscape further? Why wouldn’t they be looking for ways to charge us to pay for us to be monitored? Gardeners who are otherwise in favor of governmental policing, tend to be aghast that this might happen. The mantra tends to be, “Please, only regulate what we want regulated.” That isn’t going to happen. Those who gain power typically live to regulate whatever they can get away with.
Just asking yourself a few simple questions (in this case, about gardening) can result in self-teaching:
- Why do I want this?
- How much money/resources am I willing to allocate to it?
- What will I have to give up to get it?
- Am I free legally to choose what I want?
- Do I want to be free to make such decisions myself?
- How much will I want to educate myself about this before I get it?
The trick in answering such questions is to be specific and avoid vague, cliche answers. Get down to details. For instance, for me, I want to garden because
- I greatly enjoy growing things
- There is satisfaction in having fresh produce in my yard without driving anywhere to get it
- I have responsibilities at home that make it reasonably convenient for me to make gardening part of my daily routine
- I am the person in the family most responsible for the yard, so I try to make it fun
- I like learning about plants
As for what I am willing to allocate to the effort
- I realize this is not just a private decision, but affects the rest of the family
- The physical effort is beneficial for exercise and fresh air
- For many years, it doubled as a teaching tool for helping my kids learn
- I try to grow more things from seed (than as plants) because that is less money outright, but it does take time to care for them
- Tending my garden is usually more relaxing for me than watching a movie
I am willing to give up
- some of my discretionary time, moderated by how other family members would like to spend time together
- some of my discretionary spending money
- flexibility with my schedule so that I can give priority, sometimes, to the garden process
There are legal limits on (which does not indicate morality on the subject, just one group’s preferences)
- some crops that the farmers have lobbied to have controlled
- what methods I am allowed to used for pests and management
- some plants are illegal outright because the government doesn’t approve of how some people use them, even if these uses are not currently popular
- some propagation is prohibited by law
As for someone else making my decisions
- there is no evidence that even experts make better decisions in the long run than those who have their own best interest in mind
- those with their own best interests in mind tend to become experts in ways that benefit everyone they have contact with, if trade is free
Which ties into the idea of educating myself
- it takes a lot of hands-on experience to really learn how to grow a garden
- but conditions are different each year, so even this doesn’t always help
- new options are frequently being presented due to discovery and technology
- no one ever learns it all, so I might as well keep trying
- if I have trouble just managing my own yard, why would a central planner know more about what is good?
Some people say that lawn is a pathetic use of yard and a drain on the environment, but they might be forgetting some things. Lawn is straight forward to take care of. With a few steps to keep it happy, it chokes out weeds and just needs a weekly haircut to keep it looking good. It can process carbon dioxide as well as the next plant. It is the only thing I know of that grows nearly as well as weeds! It is great for open spaces to play and relax in. In essence, it can be a very time and costs effective way to make a yard look nice, leaving the yard owner time to do other things. Living on an acre with plenty of lawn and flower beds to compare, it is very obvious to me that lawn takes much less time overall.
There may be benefits to growing a home garden, but they have to be scrutinized for real economic impact. Even when it comes to nutrition and environmental desires of the most radical kinds, having everyone grow their own food may not be as great as the propaganda leads us to believe. As long as you understand that, you can go ahead and enjoy your garden. You might even find release in knowing that you don’t have to be saving the earth. You can just have fun.