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TEDxDirigo

Roger Doiron: My subversive (garden) plot

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Views 199,557

A vegetable garden can do more than save you money -- it can save the world. In this talk, Roger Doiron shows how gardens can re-localize our food and feed our growing population.

- Gardening activist
Roger Doiron wants everyone to plant a garden. He’s the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, a network of home gardeners. Full bio

So, my name is Roger Doiron,
00:07
and I have a subversive plot.
00:08
(Laughter)
00:11
(Applause)
00:13
It is so subversive, in fact,
00:14
that it has the potential
to radically alter the balance of power,
00:17
not only in our own country,
00:21
but in the entire world.
00:23
Now I realize, I'm sounding --
00:25
(Laughter)
00:27
a little bit like Dr. Evil now.
00:28
I understand that.
00:31
But trust me -- we have very,
very little in common.
00:32
His plots are all about
destruction and secrecy,
00:35
whereas my plots are about
creation and openness.
00:38
In fact, my plot can only work
00:41
if I share it with as many
people as possible.
00:44
So I'm going to share it with you now,
00:47
but you have to promise me
you're going to share it in turn.
00:49
So here it is.
00:51
Huh. That's not so good, is it?
00:53
There's nothing particularly radical
or revolutionary about a patch of grass.
00:55
What starts to get interesting
is when we turn it into this.
00:59
Now, I would like to suggest to you all
01:03
that gardening is a subversive activity.
01:06
(Laughter)
01:09
Think about this:
food is a form of energy.
01:10
It's what our body runs on,
01:14
but it's also a form of power.
01:15
And when we encourage people
to grow some of their own food,
01:18
we're encouraging them
to take power into their hands,
01:21
power over their diet,
01:25
power over their health
01:27
and some power over their pocketbooks.
01:29
So I think that's quite subversive,
because we're also necessarily
01:32
talking about taking that power away
01:35
from someone else,
01:38
from other actors in society
that currently have power
01:40
over food and health.
01:43
You can think about
who those actors might be.
01:45
I also look at gardening
as a sort of healthy gateway drug,
01:48
you might say, to other forms
of food freedom.
01:52
It's not long after you plant a garden
01:55
that you start to say, "Hey,
I need to start to learn how to cook."
01:58
(Laughter)
02:01
"You know, I might want
to look into food preservation
02:04
or I might want to look up
where my local farmer's market
02:07
is located in my town."
02:10
Now the other thing, of course,
with planting a garden,
02:13
especially a garden
in front of a white house
02:16
and on a sunny south lawn,
02:18
is you never know who you might influence.
02:20
(Laughter)
02:22
Now, I'm not exactly sure
what my white house garden's influence
02:24
was on the First Lady's,
02:28
but I can tell you this:
02:30
she's had an enormous influence on me
02:31
since planting hers.
02:34
Now it hasn't been --
02:35
(Laughter)
02:36
it hasn't been in the area of fashion.
02:40
I understand that she's just
in a completely different league there,
02:42
and I'm not even trying to compete.
02:46
But she's really inspired me
to think much more boldly
02:49
about the role that I want to have
in the garden movement.
02:52
And so this is sort of
what I'm aspiring to here.
02:56
(Laughter)
02:59
Now, pretty modest, right?
03:01
I like this picture.
03:04
I think it sort of captures me well,
03:05
not that I have any
divine connections whatsoever,
03:07
but I like my facial expression there,
03:09
because, if I've got
a worried look on my face,
03:12
it's not simply because I've got
20 pounds of squash over my head,
03:15
but it's because I've got some
pretty heavy topics on my mind.
03:19
And I want to share some of those
with you right now,
03:22
starting off in the form of a very
short video I've produced for you,
03:25
which is my best effort
to sum up the history of gastronomy
03:29
in about 15 seconds.
03:33
("Also sprach Zarathustra" plays)
03:36
(Laughter)
03:52
So, here we are.
03:58
(Applause)
04:00
Now, that's a funny little clip,
04:05
but it'd be even funnier
if it weren't so tragic
04:06
and if it weren't so true.
04:09
The reality is that we are in the midst
of an obesity epidemic,
04:10
and it's not simply
limited to our country.
04:14
It's spreading around the world right now.
04:17
And in a sort of parallel universe,
04:19
we're also seeing
that hunger is on the rise.
04:21
Over 900 million people
right now are affected by it.
04:24
That's three times the population
of the United States.
04:27
But at the same time,
04:30
world food prices are rising
04:31
and world population is rising
and is set to reach 10 billion people
04:34
by the end of the century.
04:39
Now, another thing about the population
is we know that it's increasing,
04:40
but a lot of us don't realize
that it's also changing.
04:44
There's a fundamental shift taking place.
04:47
As of 2007, we went from being
a primarily rural planet
04:49
to being a primarily urban one,
04:54
and that has implications
for how we're going to feed these people,
04:56
how we're going to get the food
to the people in the cities.
04:59
Now, I imagine that there are
some Stephen King fans
05:03
in the audience here,
05:06
and I'm one of them.
05:07
But I can tell you, I haven't read
anything scarier than this here,
05:08
and that's this statistic:
05:13
in order to keep up
with the growing population,
05:14
we're going to need to grow more food
over the course of the next 50 years
05:18
than we have grown over the course
of the past 10,000 years combined.
05:22
What makes this even more challenging
05:28
is that we're going to need
to grow all this food with less,
05:30
and when I say less,
05:34
I mean a number of things.
05:35
Less oil, for example.
05:37
Most reputable geologists believe
that we've already reached
05:38
peak oil production in the world.
05:42
Now, you might not think in terms
of oil and food as being linked,
05:44
but there's a very strong link, in fact.
05:48
It takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy
05:50
in our highly industrialized food system
05:54
in order to produce
one calorie of food energy.
05:56
We'll also need to grow
more food with less water.
06:00
These three images come from three
very different parts of the planet,
06:03
but they all tell the same story
of catastrophic drought.
06:06
We'll also need to grow
more food with less farmland.
06:10
Here, the pressures differ
from one place to the next.
06:13
In the Global South,
we're seeing desertification,
06:17
whereas in the north,
we're seeing suburban sprawl.
06:20
We'll also have to grow more food
with less climate stability
06:23
and less genetic diversity.
06:27
Now, this is really important.
06:29
We need our genetic varieties
06:31
because they're a sort of insurance policy
against climate change.
06:33
We heard earlier today
06:38
"not putting all of our eggs
in one basket."
06:39
Well, we shouldn't be doing
the same with our tomatoes, either.
06:41
We're also going to need
to grow more food with less time.
06:45
Now here, I'm not simply talking
about the ticking time bomb
06:49
that is the global population.
06:52
I'm talking about
the amount of time we all have
06:54
in order to put
a decent meal on the table.
06:57
And that "31" figure there
is not something arbitrary.
07:00
That's the average amount of time
the American family spends
07:03
preparing, eating and cleaning up
after meals per day.
07:07
31 minutes.
07:12
So somewhere in there, we're going
to need to also fit in growing food.
07:14
Alright?
07:18
And I think we do need to do that,
07:19
but that's also going to mean
that somewhere along the way,
07:21
something's going to have to give.
07:24
So it sort of leaves us feeling like this.
07:26
(Laughter)
07:29
You know?
07:30
It's time to leave town
or even perhaps leave planets.
07:31
But where do we go?
07:33
Where do we go
when we only have one planet?
07:35
And where do we go
where the going gets tough?
07:37
Well, if we were to listen to a lot
of our political leaders over the years,
07:40
we would simply go shopping.
07:44
Right?
07:45
Because we have this unwavering belief,
07:47
especially in American political culture,
07:49
that we can shop our way
out of just about any problem.
07:51
But the reality is something different.
07:55
We're not going to solve
our food problems and our health problems
07:57
simply by switching from regular Coke
08:00
to some future green iteration thereof.
08:03
And although the large food companies
would like us to believe
08:08
that we can give our children
all of the vitamins, minerals
08:13
and immunity-building
substances that they need
08:17
without even leaving
the chocolatey cereal aisle --
08:19
(Laughter)
08:22
the truth is something quite different.
08:23
Now, what's become
even more troublesome of late
08:25
is that even the foods
that ought to be healthy aren't always so,
08:28
and we're starting to lose confidence
in our food system, I think.
08:33
The bigger it becomes
and the more complex it becomes.
08:36
And we've seen this time and time again.
08:40
This is an image
from the latest E. coli outbreak.
08:41
In this case, it was in Europe,
08:45
and we think it was started
with bean sprouts, of all things.
08:47
So we have this sort of
shopper's dilemma right now.
08:53
We have all of these different foods --
08:56
30,000 foods in the average
big-box grocery store --
08:58
but we have less confidence
in those foods,
09:02
and we have less confidence in the actors
09:04
that are putting those foods
on the shelves.
09:07
I think we need to redefine
what good food is.
09:10
This is an interesting image
from Berlin, Germany,
09:13
where somebody started planting
shopping carts and leaving them around.
09:15
Those are potatoes, by the way.
09:18
But in addition to redefining
what good food is,
09:20
I think we need to redefine
our living spaces.
09:23
Instead of seeing this as a yard,
09:26
we need to think of it more
as like a full-service greengrocer.
09:29
That's, in fact, my yard,
and that's how I look at it.
09:32
That's what we transformed our yard into,
09:35
and I think a really key
message is this one:
09:39
gardens grow good food.
09:41
And when I say good food,
09:44
I mean a number of different things.
09:45
I mean food that is safe,
09:47
food that is healthy,
09:49
food that is absolutely gorgeous
09:50
and delicious.
09:52
Another important message is this one:
09:54
gardens grow healthy kids and families.
09:56
Those happen to be my two youngest sons,
09:59
and they look healthy
and they are healthy,
10:01
and I think it has to do with the fact
that they grew up in gardens
10:04
and they know where good food comes from.
10:08
And in fact, they know how
to grow some of it themselves.
10:10
But in the current economy,
I think it's key to get this message out,
10:14
that gardens also grow
important economic savings for families.
10:17
And you can pretty much
take my word on this one,
10:22
because in addition to crunching
the vegetables a couple of years ago,
10:24
my wife and I also crunched the numbers,
10:29
and we found out that at the end,
10:31
we had saved well over 2,000 dollars
by growing our own food.
10:34
So you could be asking this question now:
10:39
If gardens grow all of these great things,
how do we grow more gardens?
10:41
That's, in fact, the question
that my organization,
10:45
Kitchen Gardens International,
10:48
is both asking and answering.
10:49
And our answer is essentially this one:
10:52
we're going to need to leverage
the resources and power that we have,
10:54
the gardens and gardeners that we have,
10:58
in order to grow and inspire even more.
11:01
And as I said before, you never know
who you might inspire.
11:04
(Laughter)
11:07
Now if this campaign was successful,
11:09
I think it wasn't simply because we had
a visionary First Lady
11:12
taking up residence at the White House --
11:17
that certainly was a major part of it --
11:19
and it wasn't simply because we had
some celebrity chefs and authors
11:21
saying this would be a good idea to do.
11:24
I think it was ultimately made possible
11:27
by the fact that there were
a lot of people who wanted it to happen.
11:29
There was a movement that made it happen.
11:33
And my organization tried
to sort of channel some of that energy
11:35
of the movement
11:38
and direct it towards the White House.
11:40
And we had a lot of luck
11:42
in terms of getting our message
out there to the media.
11:43
We had a petition on Facebook,
110,000 signatures.
11:46
We had viral images and videos,
11:49
and we did crazy things like
symbolically putting the White House lawn
11:52
up for sale on eBay.
11:56
But we need to do even more,
11:59
and what we're trying to do
in my organization
12:00
is to connect people online,
12:02
but also to connect people in person.
12:04
This is an image from a little
holiday we invented
12:06
called "World Kitchen Garden Day."
12:09
It's at the end of August each year,
12:11
and it's just about bringing
people together in gardens
12:13
to learn from one another,
12:15
to experience a garden
as a community experience.
12:17
We also need to grow
the next generation of gardeners,
12:20
and we're doing that
in the United States and abroad.
12:22
But there's still so much more
that needs to be done,
12:26
and I think this slide sort of captures
where we need to go.
12:29
We need a road map,
12:32
and I picked this slide for a reason.
12:33
We've got a bike garden on the left
12:35
and a map of the Netherlands on the right.
12:37
I was in the Netherlands early this year
12:39
and was absolutely amazed
by the amount of bikes on the road;
12:41
26 percent of all trips taken
in the Netherlands are by bicycle,
12:45
and it's gotten me thinking:
12:48
How do we get that happening
in terms of food and gardens?
12:50
How would we get 26 percent of all produce
coming from backyard gardens?
12:53
That might sound like a lot,
12:56
because we're probably at about
two percent at the most right now.
12:58
But if you take into consideration
13:01
that at the peak of the victory garden
movement last century,
13:03
40 percent of all produce
was coming from gardens.
13:06
We can get there again.
13:10
And I think this is a really good start.
13:12
The White House garden
is certainly very inspirational.
13:14
That's actually sort of a snapshot
of what the garden looked like
13:17
when it was planted earlier this spring --
13:20
lots of diversity, lots of healthy crops.
13:22
However, this is not a good representation
13:25
of our federal agriculture policy.
13:28
(Laughter)
13:29
If we were to take the model here,
the diagram of that particular garden,
13:31
and sort of transpose it
onto our federal agriculture policy,
13:36
we'd get this:
13:40
billions of billions of dollars
going to support
13:42
just a handful of commodity crops
13:45
with just that tiny little bit at the top
for fruits and vegetables.
13:49
This is scandalous. This is scandalous.
13:52
We need to do something about this.
13:55
I think one place we could start
is we could look at the tax code.
13:59
We're already using the tax code
to encourage green transport
14:03
and green shelter.
14:07
Why not green food?
14:08
We're in the midst now of talking
about another stimulus package.
14:10
Why not a garden stimulus package?
14:13
Why not?
14:16
(Applause)
14:17
In terms of other things
that we need to be doing,
14:25
we need to move down to the local level
14:27
and we need to make sure
that gardens are legal.
14:29
This is an illegal garden.
At least it was.
14:32
It's from Michigan earlier this year.
14:34
It was planted by a woman,
a mother of four,
14:36
and she nearly faced
a 93-day jail sentence
14:39
because she planted it in her front yard.
14:42
We still have laws from the 20th century.
14:45
We need to bring our codes up
to the realities that we are facing now.
14:49
We need to figure out also
new ways of getting people into gardens,
14:55
people who don't have yards.
14:58
I think we also need to set
garden entrepreneurism free,
15:01
and I'm happy to say, as a Mainer,
15:05
that we are leading the way in this area.
15:07
Earlier this year, a number of Maine towns
15:09
passed local food sovereignty laws
15:12
that allow town residents
to not only grow food
15:14
where they want to grow it
15:17
but to also sell it
the way they want to sell it
15:18
and to the people they want to sell it to.
15:21
I think that's an incentive.
15:23
There are a lot of gardeners out there
15:25
that would be interested in scaling up
their production if they could,
15:27
if they had a financial incentive.
15:30
I also think that we need to examine
15:33
the composition of the movement right now.
15:35
(Laughter)
15:38
If the movement were a 1960s beach flick,
15:40
it would be "Where The Boys Aren't."
15:44
(Laughter)
15:46
So I'm going to take you to task, guys.
15:47
It's not right and it's not fair
that the burden of this responsibility --
15:49
feeding our country and the world --
15:53
should be with the women.
15:55
OK?
15:56
(Applause)
15:57
And I'm going to challenge the women
16:01
to come up with really clever,
creative ways of getting guys
16:02
into the gardens, too.
16:05
(Laughter)
16:07
Perhaps wearing a bathing suit?
16:08
(Laughter)
16:10
But beyond that, I think we need
to reexamine the infrastructure
16:12
that we have in place for gardens.
16:16
I think we need to create
new infrastructure.
16:17
And this is one of the things
my organization is working on right now,
16:20
sort of a local communications
infrastructure, very place-based,
16:24
that allows people in the same area
to connect with one another
16:28
and to help each other out.
16:32
I think we're lacking this
at the moment --
16:35
(Laughter)
16:37
but we can do it.
16:38
The technology is certainly there.
16:40
In addition to that, I think we need
another type of infrastructure.
16:42
It would be good if we could
all get together.
16:45
I think if we've learned anything
through the TED experience,
16:47
it's that there is power
when we bring people together,
16:51
and I think we need to bring people
together at the local level as well.
16:53
And I think we can take some inspiration
from a previous movement,
16:57
which was the grange movement,
17:00
a rural movement which brought farmers
together in a single building
17:02
to meet and to recreate
and learn how to become better farmers.
17:06
I think we need a network
17:10
of suburban granges now.
17:11
I think one of the last
things that we need
17:15
is to not lose the fun of food.
17:18
Food is at its best when it's delicious
but shared as part of a community,
17:20
and I think that gardens can get
some of that community vibe back as well.
17:26
So I'm going to leave with one last video,
17:30
and I'm going to revisit the short video
that I showed you before,
17:33
but I'm going to suggest
an alternative ending.
17:37
And I think this ending
is well within our reach,
17:41
but it's really going to require
that we all pull together.
17:44
So here's the new history of gastronomy.
17:47
("Also sprach Zarathustra" plays)
17:51
(Applause)
18:08
(Applause and cheers)
18:30
Thank you very much.
Thank you all. Thank you.
18:39

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About the speaker:

Roger Doiron - Gardening activist
Roger Doiron wants everyone to plant a garden. He’s the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, a network of home gardeners.

Why you should listen

Roger Doiron is dedicated to helping individuals grow their own food. He is the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International -- a network of 20,000 individuals in 100 countries. In 2008, he started the "Eat the View" campaign, a successful bid to get the White House to plant a kitchen garden--which was planted (by none other the First Lady) in March, 2009.

More profile about the speaker
Roger Doiron | Speaker | TED.com