Laduke: I am planting a victory garden

I am planting a victory garden. Well, a couple of them. They're full of heritage varieties of corn, beans, squash, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, tobacco and hemp as a foundation. I've planted tomato, basil, cucumbers and other produce.

I am planting a victory garden. Well, a couple of them. They’re full of heritage varieties of corn, beans, squash, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, tobacco and hemp as a foundation. I’ve planted tomato, basil, cucumbers and other produce.

I am planting in a time of war. Civil society is shaken, at every level, by national and international politics, climate change is making farming a crazy predicament, and President Trump’s deportation of migrant agricultural workers may cause the spoilage of a good portion of America’s agriculture. It’s time to grow for the homefront.

A victory garden is defined as a vegetable garden, especially a home garden, planted to increase food production during a war. Certainly our civil society is under tremendous duress. America remains in an ongoing war. And, of the 1.5 to 2 million people working in agriculture today, 50 to 70 percent of them are undocumented farm workers, according to a report by the American Farm Bureau.  

Trump has been very clear about his intentions to deport an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. Business Insider reports that if the agriculture sector were to eliminate all undocumented workers, the U.S. would be left with a $30 to $60 billion food production loss.

Predictions are that retail food prices could increase by 5 to 6 percent on average, with some categories seeing higher jumps than others. For example, the National Milk Producers Federation expects a 90 percent increase in milk prices if the country removes the immigrant labor supply.  Add to that a $603 million loss from the 2016 California drought, the unstable weather brought to us by climate change and fossil fuels, and more unknowns this year than any other year in our recent memory. In short, I would say that food security is going to be very important.

To me, gardening is about a promise and hope. Seeds are about possibility and the future.  I grow a really old squash. I call it Gete Okosomin or “really cool old squash.” That variety has been around 800 or more years, and is well-adapted for northern Minnesota. It keeps the winter. When opened up, there are well over a thousand seeds contained within it’s beautiful orange flesh. Each year, I plant more varieties and watch them grow with wonder. I have a large extended family who weeds with me, a pony we use to cultivate, and some soils that I am intent upon improving after 40 years of scorching with industrial agriculture’s pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.  

In a small plot on the Ponsford Prairie, I am intent upon bringing back an ecosystem. In two other plots, I am intent upon bringing back the hemp economy of Minnesota. The White Earth tribal hemp crop, focused on fine textile varieties is flourishing, is generally well over knee high by the 4th of July. I plan to harvest and decorticate in the winter, and hope to spin into thread by the spring.  I am ready for peace, and victory.

Mandaamin, the Anishinaabe word for corn means wonderous seed, and in many ways reflects understandings found elsewhere. To Vandana Shiva, Indian physicist and political leader, seed is sacred. In Hindi, seed is bija or “containment of life.”

The Earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species and destabilization of the climate. Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy. Industrial agriculture uses 10 times more energy than it produces. It is thus 10 times less efficient.

I have been planting and dreaming of my fields. Frankly, I am in a state of war, not one that I called, but one called by Enbridge. Five years of war.

So, I want peace. Let’s pray for victory and peace. And let’s grow food for the troops. Foreign and domestic.

LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation