Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Edward C. Smith: Celebrating Earth Day

Mixed young lettuces in early morning sunlight. Photo by Sylvia Smith.

Earth Day: a day to take stock, time to pause and for a few moments contemplate the earth, time to consider how we as a species have affected the earth and made it more able or less able to sustain us and other life, time to consider how we can do better, how we can stop damaging the earth and instead nurture it and make it better able to support life.

Among the many ways humankind has damaged the earth is the way we have grown our food. In only a few centuries, we have used up topsoil that took eons to create. We have systematically killed all sorts of soil-dwelling creatures whose mission had been to enrich soil and help plants grow there. And we’ve finally reached a point where the earth can barely feed us and then only with the aid of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and huge soil-compacting machines fueled by nonrenewable fossil energy.

Earth Day, a time to consider how we might change how we treat the earth — change, for instance, how we grow our food, so that we no longer damage the earth and instead act in a way that repairs the damage and, in the long run, actually make the earth a better place for humans and other living things. I can think of nothing that could better accomplish that than starting an organic garden.

Organic gardening is often thought of in terms of what organic gardeners don’t do — we don’t, for instance, use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. But what we do do is even more important and leads us to the core of how organic gardening can help restore the earth. What organic gardeners do is pay attention to and nurture the creatures that live in soil and work together to help plants grow. That’s what we’re doing when we apply compost and grow “green manure” cover crops. Organic gardening is first and foremost about giving; its first axiom is “Feed the soil.” Then let the soil feed the plants.

So celebrate Earth Day by creating a garden. Take a plot of earth and bring it to life. Make one small part of the earth better able than it was before to sustain all forms of life.

Edward C. Smith is the best-selling author of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, and Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers. He tends a garden of over 1,500 square feet filled with raspberries, blueberries, flowers, herbs, and nearly 100 varieties of vegetables, including some heirlooms, in his home state of Vermont.

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