Sunday, April 13, 2008


Spring is here. There are daffodils blooming all around the garden and they cheer me. Most of the daffodils come from spreading about bulbs from a patch that's about the same size in the picture, in fact you can see that very patch in the distance in this photo. The daffodils are all around, but I'm disappointed that I can never seem to take pictures that capture the yellow riot of color. There are an incredible number of daffodil varieties. I've planted several which extend the blooming season considerably. I've not a clue as to this variety's name, but they are early and clearly naturalize well. I bet all of them have spread from just a few bulbs planted fifty years ago or more.

I like gardening very much, but I'm an incompetent gardener. I don't really mean to be self deprecating when I say that. My garden is a source of exercise, curiosity and delight, so I value the garden and gardening highly. I say incompetent more in defiance of formula, and in favor of and attitude of "go ahead and take a stab at it."

My mother was fond of naming what she spent a great deal of time doing as "to putter." The AH dictionary--the tattered First Edition by desk--notes that to putter in the way my mother used it is chiefly British: "To occupy oneself in an aimless or desultory manner." I'm more apt to say "putz." That word isn't in my book copy of the dictionary, but means much the same as putter. Putz is Yiddish. Not clear at all how it became part of my lexicon, nor whether it has a similar etymology to putter. Nevertheless, putz is vulgar slang for penis and I've never heard putter to mean that, although I suppose it may somewhere. Putzing in the garden is perhaps as masturbation is to copulation, and so like the distinction between an incompetent gardener and a real gardener. In any case, my approach to gardening is most certainly desultory: "Moving or jumping from one thing to another; disconnected; rambling."

In spring, I often also have the pleasure of working in other people's gardens. One friend gets my style and when working in her garden even encourages my rambling. Coordinating between vehicle availability and weather, she picked me up with her car so we had a chance to chat. The conversation turned to politics and I mentioned the current world food crisis triggered by rapidly rising commodity prices. As we approached our destination, she asked something to the effect: "Can we get out of this mess?" Or more to the point: "Tell me we're not doomed!"

Phil Jones points to two articles warning that food price increases will cause mass hunger. And he asks:
What are *you* doing to help produce more food and avert this?
I'm not doing enough, but at least the issue of famine is on my radar screen. Phil's question gets to the point, all of us ought take this challenge seriously and wonder what we can do.

Mostly what I do is to rearrange flowering plants in my garden. I've been gardening long enough to be happy I'm not dependent on my efforts for my food, it's not easy to raise crops.

My friend Nathan's CBO, the BSLA, in the Iganga is working with people in people in villages to form farmer groups. The particular emphasis is with widows caring for dependent children orphaned by AIDS. Education is a key component of the program, not just about HIV and AIDS but education especially about food production and post harvest handling. The BSLA provides help with inputs like fertilizer and seeds. They also conduct training in husbandry and other subjects at their offices in Iganga. This sort of community action is worthwhile, but difficult to find support for. I've got to give Nathan credit for sticking to the work even when the going gets really tough as far as finances go. Slum Doctor Programme a small non-profit in Washington State is providing generous assistance.

The current food crisis is precipitated by world economic events. But by in large the solutions to famine must be local developments. In 2005 I wrote a post titled But Let Us Cultivate Our Garden taken from the last sentence of Voltaire's Candide. I searched for the post as an easy way to find a quote from a wonderful Adam Gropnik review of Ian Davidson's Voltaire in Exile:
By “garden” Voltaire meant a garden, not a field—not the land and task to which we are chained by nature but the better place we build by love. The force of that last great injunction, “We must cultivate our garden,” is that our responsibility is local, and concentrated on immediate action.
The modest help I'm able to lend to Nathan's BSLA program is important to me because I think it's helping. Yet I'm frustrated I don't do more in my locale. I do cultivate my garden. By doing more, I think I mean to encourage others nearby to cultivate their gardens too. Our gardens are indeed a proper answer to Phil's question about what we can do.

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