Digging Up the Past

In the space of just a couple of generations, our society has lost what was once the common everyday knowledge required to feed itself. If that is advancement, I will happily move forward by moving backward.
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The other day I visited my great-grandparents on their farm. Technically it was a dream, but the sights, sounds and smells were as real as if they were happening right now, and the conversation was even more realistic.

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I guess the truth is that the more advanced we become as a society the more I wish I could have lived in the heyday of my grandparents. Or their grandparents. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the digital age and all the convenience it affords us (heck, without it I wouldn’t have a job), but lately I find myself longing for a far simpler time.

In the dream I helped my great-grandmother prepare the garden rows for planting. As I dragged the corner of the hoe through the rich, well-worked earth, she followed along, slowly and methodically dropping a kernel of corn every few inches with pinpoint accuracy before gently nudging the earth back into place with her foot.

“Big Mama, would you believe that people actually go the store to buy dirt for their gardens?”

“Now quit telling tales, Michael. Why would anyone spend money to buy their own land and then spend more money to buy dirt to put on it?”

The simple reasoning of the statement jarred my brain.

“It’s true! Some people don’t even have a garden at all.”

“Well that’s just nonsense. If they didn’t have a garden at home then what would they eat?”

Rather than confuse her with silly talk about people buying their vegetables in cans at the supermarket, I woke up and sat on the edge of the bed wondering if we’ve really advanced as much as a society as we like to think. Sure, we don’t have to have gardens to feed our families as generations before us did, but I can’t help but to wonder how many people who buy green beans could grow them if they did have to.

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We are taught, growing up, that advances happen as the result of learning, and yet for as advanced as we are as a society there are thousands of people going to bed hungry at night—largely because we have forgotten how to feed ourselves. In Big Mama’s day, if someone was hungry, you fed them. If you had extra vegetables from the garden you shared them with friends and neighbors who might not have as much. How many average folks today could grow their own food if they had to?

In the space of just a couple of generations, our society has lost what was once the common everyday knowledge required to feed itself. If that is advancement, I will happily move forward by moving backward. I’ve always been a bit of a history buff, and I’m more than happy digging up the past.

There was a time that I’d feel a twinge of shame when someone poked fun at me for being so old-fashioned as to start plants from seed, grow a garden and then can the produce just like my great grandparents did. Now I remember a conversation that never happened with a woman I barely knew, and I feel like I am part of some secret society, charged with the challenge of never advancing so far that I forget where I came from.

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Michael Nolan is a freelance writer and avid gardener based in Alabama. He encourages eco-friendly living and offers gardening info on his website, MyEarthGarden.com. Nolan is also the co-author of I GARDEN: Urban Style.