Our gardening missteps

By Clive Blazey, Founder of The Diggers Club

It has taken 20 years for The Diggers Club to explain to gardeners and the media that new plant breeding of hybrids, particularly tomatoes, benefits only the bottom line of big corporations at the expense of our best tasting and most nutritious heirloom varieties.

How long will it take to convince gardeners and authorities that most of our native trees make poor garden selections to provide shade in our backyards and as street trees?

Control of our food supply

Since 1991, after the courts allowed the patenting of living plants, in just 18 years Monsanto has made so much profit it has acquired at least 100 seed companies, becoming the world's largest seed merchant in vegetables and broadacre crops, as well as in chemical weed control. It has manipulated the regulatory process, stacking it with its executives to facilitate approval.

Today 6 companies control 66% of our food supply that is seed driven. It took 10,000 years to improve our seed varieties and just 18 years to give control of 66% of that food to corporations.

Our gardening missteps

Australia is a very young and unsophisticated country in its gardening culture whilst the Japanese gardening traditions evolved 1500 years ago. We have made numerous missteps in creating our gardens.

Firstly we tried to adapt the English garden to our brutal summers. Our food palette was a straight copy of stodgy English roast meat, potatoes and cabbage.

We only began to take an interest in a cuisine that suited our climate with post-war Italian immigrants growing vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes that better suited our climate.

Our interest in indigenous plants, which was vital and necessary, led us to planting far too many arid-looking trees in our cities that have poor shade canopies, totally unsuitable to meet the shade requirements for cities that may have 30-90 summer days over 40°C.

Shade in our hotter cities

Re-establishing organic agriculture

In the 1920s, before the advent of nitrogen fertiliser manufacturing, we had sustainable soils. Italy has fed its population for 2,500 years by practising organic agriculture.

Farmers then used cover crops and manures and could maintain fertility for thousands of years by recycling organic matter. Today when we export wheat we are basically exporting soil and water, and depleting our soil fertility for future generations.

How smart is that?

Despite huge growth in interest in switching from artificial chemically processed food to fresh locally grown food, only about 1% of Australian food is currently organically certified. Since the invention of processes to manufacture high-nitrogen fertilisers, now applied to monocultures, we are destroying soil biota and carbon reserves and the run off is destroying our coral reefs, whilst boosting the profits of corporations.

Climate CO2 stabilisation

We started to address CO2 pollution early with the world's first carbon tax but the rich and powerful, supported by the conservative politicians, reversed that and now acquiesce in a climate policy designed not to work.

They have no idea what life will be like if average temperatures increase by the predicted business-as-usual policies of a 4-6°C rise.

During the Black Saturday heat wave in 2009, when temperatures reached 48°C, possums were literally falling out of trees. With 70% of the continent uninhabitable, do we consciously want much more of Australia to be like the Middle East? Yet the reduction costs to bring CO2 into balance are less than 0.5% of annual GDP.

Being an opinionated gardener

I was recently introduced to an audience as an “opinionated gardener”, which I think most of the audience took as a negative judging by their reaction. I notice that American author and intellectual commentator Gore Vidal was so described because he always questioned the status quo, having lost all faith in its democratic institutions due to the ability of the big US corporations and monstrously rich to control politicians and institutions for their own ends.

The consequence of this distortion is that just 1% of the population, the ultra rich, now generate more wealth than 90% of US citizens today. That's the mandate of Trump's "What's yours is mine" Republicans.

Surely the reason for Europe's huge migration to America 300 years ago was to escape the poverty and unbridled power imposed by the despotism of the monarchy and aristocracy. The word ‘Diggers’ gained traction in 1649 when Gerrard Winstanley led a group of what we now call English Agrarian Socialists because they were denied access to common land to grow their food.

Whilst 400 years later we may have curbed the power of the Crown and the aristocrats, they have been replaced by multinational corporations whose only concern is the ‘bottom line’ yielding unbelievable CEO bonuses. This power switch has direct impacts on the daily life of every Australian and particularly gardeners since it impacts our health, our food supply, our soils, our collapsing biodiversity, our future offspring and the very future of Homo sapiens.

So being opinionated means questioning the status quo and addressing the profound consequences facing every one of us.

The original Digger, Gerrard Winstanley 1609-1676

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