This summer, my garden produced far more than I knew what to do with at times. This isn’t an uncommon phenomena for home gardeners – there’s a reason jokes about people leaving baskets of zucchini on their neighbor’s doorsteps exist. We dealt with it well for a while. We made tomato jam and brought it to church; we made tomato sauce and froze it. We gave away tomatoes by the pound. As long as we were consistent about picking the goods, we could make use of them.
Unfortunately, we weren’t always so diligent. In particular, the entire plan fell apart the nine days we went on vacation. While we were gone, our tomato plants kept producing, regardless of whether we picked the fruit or not. We returned to plants dripping with overripe, rotting fruit. I knew we would miss a few, but seeing the extent of the damage was deeply disappointing.
Like most wasted things, whether it be produce or time, our neglected tomatoes only generated more waste. The rotting vegetables attracted insects and fungus, which then invaded the healthy fruit, destroying them before they ripened fully. It was a destructive cycle, only broken by us being vigilant about picking tomatoes just as they were barely ripe. Even then, we lost many more than we had all summer previously.
For me, the most devastating part of this wasn’t that we didn’t get the tomatoes, but that so much abundance was being wasted when many in our area have so little fresh food. I know all about food deserts, as well as the efforts being made to address them. Having all of this goodness go to waste made me feel like I was contributing to the problem, even if it was too late to do anything. It was rather like the kid who is told by their parents to finish their dinner because “there’s kids starving in [fill in name of African country],” despite the fact that they can’t ship the food there.
Even though my waste came from a mere week of neglect, I see a parallel here to many of the problems in our economic system. A privileged part of the population took abundance for granted, so they became complacent, assuming the market would take care of itself. When over-abundance – or an illusion of it via credit – occurred, parts of the economy became poisoned. As those parts weakened, people lost faith, scammers came in, and the poison spread to previously healthy areas. The entire system began to falter. Just like in ecology, everything is connected together. You have one bad tomato and soon you have a garden full of them.
I see a similar solution to preventing both problems – be generous with your abundance. Instead of leaving the garden by itself while we were gone, I should have invited neighbors over to pick the tomatoes and keep them. Or even better, communicated to the neighbors beforehand that they will always be welcome to pick tomatoes from our garden whenever they liked. (This works better when everyone gardens, but I could be a trendsetter.) Similarly, if our economy’s resources were more evenly distributed and less top-heavy, it would be more stable. In both cases, having groups of people willing to share a variety of resources with others helps everyone get what they need.
As the season is winding down, I’ve been thinking of ways to prevent this issue next year. I didn’t sign up for Grow a Row through the Capital Area Food Bank because you have to guarantee you can give a certain amount of produce to a specific charity and I had no idea how much we’d have. As I’m now more confident in my abilities, I may sign up next year. I also recently realized that I could drop my excess produce off at the booth Manna Food Center runs at our local farmers’ market. I purchase extra food for them all the time, but it never occurred to me to bring my own tomatoes. With these options at hand, we should have very little produce wasted next year. Of course, continuing to build those relationships with my neighbors will help as well.
As for solving the economic crisis, I think there are a few people who have something to say about that…