Published on
The Guelph Mercury (Canada)

Of Gasoline and Gardens: A Look at the Future

Sam Turton

Modern industrial society runs on oil and its derivative, gasoline.

All the plastic or synthetic items around us, from clothing and computers to appliances and tools, are made from oil. Almost all of them were manufactured with machines that either run on oil or on electricity that was produced by oil. Each one of these items was shipped to a store -- which we drove to -- in vehicles that run on oil.

Cheap oil and combustion engines drive our global society. They are what separate us from the person-powered, hand-hewn, land-centered life that our predecessors lived barely 100 years ago.

Although many of us believe our modern lifestyles will be maintained by alternative energy sources, many experts disagree.

At the Guelph Civic League "Amazing Possibilities" conference two years ago, James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Long Emergency" and "World Made By Hand," solemnly declared the raw, immediate power of the gasoline engine cannot be replaced by wind, solar, electricity or green fuels at the degree or volume required by our machine-driven society. In other words, we can only run at our present level with oil -- cheap oil -- and the days of cheap oil are over.

The cost of oil and gas will continue to rise because supply is limited and demand is increasing. As the price of oil goes up, the price of everything else connected to oil goes up as well. We are holding onto a balloon that is pulling us off the ground. There is only one thing to do -- let go before it's too late.

How do we let go of oil? Is it possible? How can we even consider such a life?

My son's grandmother, Theresa, grew up on Cape Breton Island. Her father was a dory fisherman and they lived in a wood-heated home without electricity and with a big garden out back.

They were "off the grid" long before it was hip. Virtually nothing in their lives was dependent on oil, complex machinery, or global trade. Theresa proudly told me the Great Depression never affected their family because they had more than enough food -- enough, in fact, to give to the "poor folk" in town.

Theresa's family had the essentials -- food, shelter, family, and community -- and a rich culture as fiddlers and artisans. They lived by hand not by machine. They lived locally not globally. If you live simply and don't move things over great distances, you don't need oil.

My own grandparents tended vegetable gardens and bought the rest of their food from market farmers and local vendors. Now, as gasoline goes up, these sensible traditions will come back. It's doable, active, cheaper, and provides healthy food that tastes much better than the prematurely picked, mass-produced, boxed-up, trucked-in items we pay more and more for.

Another solution is CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. This is a system where consumers support a farmer and benefit in the harvest. You buy a share of the production in advance and receive a box of fresh, in-season vegetables every week. Community members get organic produce and local farmers are financially supported to start each season.

I have a small "kitchen garden" in my backyard and a larger plot with neighbours in the community gardens at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre. The bountiful fields of the Ignatius CSA are all around us. Information on this and other CSAs can be found online at Each farm is unique, and in addition to vegetables, some farmers offer eggs, poultry, meat, herbs, and honey. Scrumptious.

The price of gasoline is going up. I'll see you in the garden.

Sam Turton is a member of the Mercury's Community Editorial Board.

© Copyright 2008 Metroland Media Group Ltd

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