18:48
TEDxDirigo

Roger Doiron: My subversive (garden) plot

Filmed:

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

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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