Monday, March 23, 2020

The Gardener's Universe sets down roots in the Maritimes

As part of the opening reception for his lifetime retrospective exhibition at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown in early March, Victor was invited to present an Artist Talk on some of the inspiration behind his artistic work. He chose to speak about Dirt.

Early in March, Victor made his first visit to Prince Edward Island for the 
opening reception of his retrospective exhibition, The Gardener's Universe.
Victor, and the show, were warmly received, and a good time was had by all.
I grew up with healthy dirt on my hands. My fascination with dirt (and gardens) developed around the age of seven, as I observed my grandmother Bunica standing barefoot in her early spring garden, bending down to scoop up a handful of garden soil. She squeezed it. She smelled it. She rubbed it between her fingers to examine it for organic matter. Was the soil alive? Was it ready for planting?

A teaspoon of healthy soil can hold up to one billion bacteria according to Kathy Merrifield, a retired nematologist from Oregon State University. Each of these creatures has a role to play in keeping soil healthy, but this underground livestock also needs to be fed, to maintain and renew soil fertility. Nature does this by recycling plant and animal residues. As gardeners, we do it by composting and mulching to increase organic matter. Voracious soil bacteria break down organic matter into nutrients that plants need to grow and to stay healthy.

As a kid, I could walk all the way to Wetmore School down back alleys from my home in the Garlic Flats. Every backyard had a garden. Back then, most people were still connected to the land, like my grandmother Bunica, getting their hands dirty planting gardens. That's what gardeners have been doing for thousands and thousands of years. Soil is the foundation of life. It has sustained us.

The disconnect with the land came around 1947/50, with the first supermarkets selling fruits and vegetables, based on mechanization and chemical farming using herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers This destroyed the natural productivity of the soil and polluted water resources. Industrial food production is a major polluter of our environment. Most people don’t even know where their food is coming from, how it was grown or how it was processed. Cheap food is packaged in plastic and the only thing that matters is price not quality. Wash your fruits and vegetables, they say!

However, a revolution in gardening is well under way. People are digging up their unproductive, chemically-polluted lawns to grow organic gardens. This transition is about people reconnecting with garden dirt and with growing food where they live. Others are joining community gardens. Still others with shovels in hand are digging up their backyards and planting gardens with lettuces, radishes, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs and much more. This revolution in planting productive organic gardens is growing by leaps and bounds.  

By planting an organic garden, you are working with nature not against it. Involve your grandkids. Gardening is a magnet for kids. It’s a small step toward food security, but an important part of building a sustainable world.

Photos ©2020, Courtesy of Jan Pel, Julia Kruger