Power of the plot

Nationally known gardening advocate on the importance of growing food locally

Roger Doiron will deliver a speech about gardening Friday at Chico State’s This Way to Sustainability conference.

Roger Doiron will deliver a speech about gardening Friday at Chico State’s This Way to Sustainability conference.

Photo courtesy of Roger Doiron

This Way to Sustainability:
The two-day event will include 80 workshops, presentations and over 100 speakers ready to discuss the future of sustainable living practices, on individual and community levels. Roger Doiron is one of three keynote speakers during the event, which will be held Thursday-Friday, March 24-25. Doiron’s speech, Eat the View: The Fight for Edible Landscapes, will be Friday, 3-4 p.m., in the Bell Memorial Union. For more information, log onto www.csuchico.edu/sustainablefuture/conference.

Roger Doiron is founder/director of the nonprofit Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI), an organization that mobilizes communities to start gardening projects in the hopes of becoming more self-reliant within their local food distribution systems. He’s based in Maine, but will be making a stop in Chico this week for Chico State’s 11th annual This Way to Sustainability conference.

KGI gained international renown after successfully proposing the White House garden campaign, which First Lady Michelle Obama implemented, growing and distributing food around the Washington, D.C., area. Since then, Doiron’s received several accolades, including being named one of the 10 Most Inspiring People in Sustainable Food by editors of Fast Company Magazine. He’s written many pieces and given speeches on sustainable food practices. Doiron and KGI currently focus their efforts on SeedMoney, a crowdfunding website helping nonprofit gardens around the country raise money to grow their food.

Doiron recently spoke with the CN&R about the importance of the garden movement and the myriad benefits gardens provide, from redistribution of wealth to healthier food options and more sustainable production methods.

Why did you start Kitchen Gardeners International?

I kept arriving at the conclusion that food gardeners were going to be part of the solution to many of the bigger challenges we’re facing. We started with a focus on home gardens, and now that’s shifted to community gardens, including gardens at schools, food banks, etc. There is strength in numbers and a number of good things that come from bringing gardeners together.

The White House garden campaign was a big deal for KGI. How did you organize that?

I did a lot of improvising. In 2008, the U.N. was running a contest called On Day One to collect ideas for change that President Obama could put into action during his first 100 days in office. I suggested the idea of a White House garden on the [On Day One] website, and asked everyone on the KGI mailing list to vote for the idea. We set up a separate website and posted the petition on Facebook and eventually got over 100,000 signatures. Later, I called the White House switchboard and asked to speak to Michelle Obama’s policy director, Jocelyn Fry. I think she was a little surprised I got through to her line so easily [laughs]. It turned out to be an important call, and after the garden went in, the rest of the work was First Lady Obama’s doing. It’s not just a garden; it’s a stage for talking about the health of Americans.

In your 2011 TED Talk, you call gardening a “subversive” act. Can you expand on that?

Food is energy, but it’s also power. By growing gardens, we’re growing food but also taking control and power over lives. Who has power over finance, health and food systems? In most cases, too much of that power is in the hands of big corporations. So if we’re taking control within our communities through gardening, the community becomes more self-reliant and less affected by the control of corporations.

In that same TED Talk, you also mention the importance of the recent shift from rural to urban society. How does this affect our relationship with agriculture and food systems?

The world population is growing faster than experts predicted, and we’re becoming increasingly urbanized. Right now we have a long-distance relationship with food; the average bite of food travels 1,500 miles [from production to our mouths], and there are various ramifications of that—it’s not good for the environment, it’s not good for human health. We’re trying to find ways to bring production closer to home, and gardens can do that.

What topics will you cover in your speech on Friday?

I’m going to talk about the struggles that we’re in the midst of, but also focus on how we can get more of these gardens planted. I’ll take people through space and time and show how gardens have inspired me, and I’ll talk about the challenges that organizers have faced in mobilizing the garden movement, and how our organization can help.

If there is one thing you want people to take away from the garden movement, what is it?

Small is beautiful. Small is powerful. Gardens sometimes aren’t taken as seriously as I’d like. People say, “What good comes from some raised beds in a backyard?” But little actions really do make a difference and that’s been proven time and time again. I would urge people to think big about what can be accomplished through little actions. Not everyone is cut out to grow a garden, but everyone is cut out to eat good food and play a constructive role.