How to Stick it to the Man (With a Trowel)

On Friday afternoon I went to see The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. The jist was, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union the US embargo, Cuba woke up one morning and couldn’t get any oil. At the time, they were doing things the way the rest of us are now: monoculture farming using tractors, pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and importing tonnes of food. So they had a major food crises, as all of us who have subscribed to the “green revolution” will be when the oil taps inevitably turn off. Cuba, though, over the course of about three or four years, was able to avoid total calamity by converting almost entirely to organic methods, crop rotation, urban agriculture and local production.

This has struck a giant gong in my anarchic heart: The most subversive thing you will ever do is to pop in a vegetable garden.

By growing your own food you can simultaneously give the finger to Big Oil, GMO producers, giant supermarket chains, resource warmongers and the forces of economic globalisation. No sign-wielding, bandana-wearing, hoodie-clad angry protesters could ever accomplish the amount of significant social change as a bunch of North American suburbanites trading in their lawns for gardens.

I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. All these years of frustration with a string of governments in the thrall of corporate interests, and it turns out the answer to all my anarchist yearnings has always been, literally, right under my nose. My octogenarian grandmother with her little vegetable patch is more effectively subversive in one half hour of bashing slugs with a rock than I have been in a lifetime of jaywalking and not bothering to fill out my tax returns.

As one of the Cubans in the documentary commented, “If you want political freedom, first you have to have economic freedom.” At the most fundamental level, that primarily means being able to feed ourselves without the help of Monsanto, Halliburton, Loblaws, Shell and Caterpillar. As long as we are utterly dependent on multinational corporations and international trading for our food, our governments will invariably act in the interest of multinational corporations and work toward lowering international trade barriers – instead of protecting vital ecosystems, promoting strong local economies and establishing viable energy alternatives (almost all of which, apart from nuclear power and hydrogen fuel cells, place the power quite literally in the hands of the people.)

Monsanto does not want people collecting seeds and eating organic food. Halliburton does not want to see an end to petroleum resource wars. Loblaws does not want to see produce kiosks selling locally grown food springing up in every community. Shell and Caterpillar do not want to see you out in your backyard with a hoe. These corporations ARE the food supply. They have tremendous political power as a result, and no mainstream political party in Canada, the US or the UK is likely to do anything that might cause discomfort to any of them, so it’s futile to wait for our governments to act. Oil demand is rising and oil production has leveled off and will soon begin to fall. This means the price of oil – and food – will continue to rise.

Obviously we need to get off this oil train, and the sooner the better, as it’s plain to see there is a bridge out up ahead. Matt Simmons has predicted that with a significant oil shortage, Americans will run out of food in about a week.

So if you have so much as a window box, now is the time to start growing potatoes.