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William Martin on Backyard Gardens
What gave you the idea for Edible Gardens?
It happened in 1993 when I had the opportunity, as a filmmaker, to work with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama during one of his tours to the United States. After a talk in Arizona, the Tibetan Buddhist leader headed to the local botanic gardens to explore ways to preserve the precious biodiversity of Tibet. "Tibetan culture is not just the people and languages and art," he said, "but also the plants and animals. From this perspective, even at this moment, ancient cultures all around the world are disappearing."
After this meeting, what were your thoughts?
We are all participants in what Thomas Berry calls the great work, the true "greening of your own life." It is the basic requirement of a sustainable planetary civilization. It begins when we recognize our connection with the cosmos, and extends into our way of life and daily activities.
Is your perspective a traditional one?
Yes, It is. Native American traditions speak of this as an awakening of our "sacred trust"—to birth life seven generations into the future. And humanity's future will depend on how well we steward the resources of land, soil, water and seeds and pass them along to those future generations.
In other words…
We are at a unique historic moment, because we have been experiencing the irrevocable loss of our vegetable varieties with the extinction of over 97% of all our vegetable seeds since 1900. But now we are stepping through the doorway into a new world. What life goes through with us depends on each of us, on our daily choices of what we eat and how we live.
How can each of us be agents of change?
We need to be revolutionary in our thinking. And growing an edible garden is a revolutionary thing you can do. Here's why. Our entire global food system is based on the availability of almost free energy. Shipping products thousands of miles from where they are grown, to where they are processed, to the grocery store, and ultimately to the consumer—that's all of us—requires an enormous amount of energy. For most of us, we consume more gasoline in our food choices than we do in driving our cars. That's includes all the gas that goes into getting all those products to your local grocery store!
This sounds like a problem that can only extend into the future.
Exactly. We cannot always depend on these large industrial agricultural systems to deliver inexpensive food to our local neighborhood. It is essential that we begin to create local sources of healthy food, and the best place for you to start is in your own backyard with heirloom seeds. After all, everyone is so focused on Wall St., but the real story of our future is playing out in the garden. Humans have tampered with the seeds to the point they have lost much of their vitality. There are hardly any natural seeds remaining.