The place is small and cramped, I walk to the back but have no idea what i'm doing so I decide it's probably best to go into the "store," which is really just an old shack about the size of a bathroom.
The man behind the counter is not what you expect to find working at a nursery. He is in his mid to late 50's medium-length gray hair and is wearing a blue baseball cap and dark sunglasses. He's got a war-vet turned biker look with a stern appearance and at first I'm a little hesitant about approaching him for help. Although his steely demeanor is unchanged, once I engage him with questions he turns out to be quite knowledgeable and eager to help. I explain my blog to him and ask for suggestions. First, he tells me, I'll need some potting soil, which he points to but has no intention of helping me carry to the register for check out. I decide I'll just leave it there and I tell him I'll grab it on my way out to my car.
Next, he tells me I need seeds (duh, even I knew this much). He gets up and walks around to my side of the counter. His gait is indicative of someone with a bad leg or knee injury (perhaps why he made no effort to help me with the soil?). I ask him what he recommend I start with. He points to the wall, and a disappointingly limited variety of seeds, and tells me that they are all good choices for beginners. We discuss the number and sizes of pots I have to work with and together we decide on Swiss Chard, Squash, Spinach and Snow Peas to get me started. I want some herbs as well, but he says he expects a big shipment of seeds in the next few days and suggests I come back when he has a better selection of herb seeds. Fair enough. I chat with him a few more minutes and he gives me some planting tips. At this point, I am tempted to ask if I can take his picture for my blog. I take a look around the place once more and decide I probably won't be coming back here so I nix the photo idea. He rings up my first gardening purchase: $27.86. Hmm, seems high for a sack of potting soil and four packets of seeds. Figuring I could have purchased a week's worth of produce at Ralphs with this money, I immediately start to question whether my new hobby is fiscally sound. For a split second, I consider calling this whole thing off but then I tell myself that these are probably just start-up costs, you know, like starting a business. I hand over my credit card. He wishes me luck and I tell him I'll see him soon (I know I won't). I take my purchases and head to my car.
On the drive home I gave the cost of my first purchase some further thought and decide it was definitely too expensive. After all, I was just buying seeds and soil, both of which are freely found in nature. I realize there are costs associated with packaging and distributing these goods, but this seemed excessive. This then got me thinking about food production in general. The average person is so disconnected from food production that we take it for granted. When we walk down to our local supermarket, we simply expect the products we need to be sitting there, waiting for us to purchase them. The convenience of supermarkets is a luxury made possible by the industrial revolution and globalization, but in my opinion, this also resulted in an unfortunate consequence: it has left most of us clueless with regards to the the most basic and universal need for human survival: the ability and knowledge to grow food. With the pace of modern life, our demanding jobs and our obligations to friends and family most people living in cities simply don’t have the time nor desire to consider something as archaic as growing their own food, and I am certainly not suggesting that everyone should grow their own food. However, what I do suggest is that the know-how and ability to grow food (if we choose to do so), should not be completely absent in urban populations. There is an inherent importance and power that comes from self-subsistence that most people don't stop to consider, I certainly didn't until I started this blog. I hope my readers (if any remain after this rant) will come to share this view as they follow me through this learning process. Going back to my initial thought as to whether my first purchase was expensive, I guess that will depend on the success of my garden. If I miraculously manage to teach myself to grow food on my balcony then I think that knowledge alone is worth the $27.86 I spent.