Devolution? Is That What’s Happening In My Yard?

Devolution? Is That What’s Happening In My Yard?

28th July 2015235Views16Comments
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My friend Gerald’s vegetable garden. God, what’s next? Cannibalism?

Allison Arieff is one of my favorite New York Times bloggers. The founding editor of Dwell–a magazine so stylish and committed to its subject that I read it regularly even though I am not interested in modern design–she’s always worth a listen on the subject of our American landscape.

Yesterday, she once again considered the future of the American suburbs in the wake of the housing bust and half-finished and abandoned homes in exurban developments.  Arieff points out…

If some of the readers of my last post
have their way, suburbia could eventually evolve into something
straight out of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel “The Road,”
where a desolate, polluted land is dotted with abandoned homes and
buildings that have been stripped of all valuable parts, and
lawlessness (and cannibalism) rules the streets.

Personally, I wouldn’t wish such a fate on the railroad suburbs.  But McMansion-stuffed Upper Saddle River, NJ, where I grew up?  I don’t know how sorry I’d be.

What struck me, however, was not Arieff’s post, but the thoughts of a guy named Dan T:

‘The Road’ is a scary book and I hope it doesn’t come to that. That
said, I think we are seeing devolution as people lose their jobs and
more of my neighbors are growing their own food.

Devolving?  Is that what we’re doing when we plant tomatoes? 

Seriously, this is how most of America views growing a little food in the backyard–as a return to some nasty, medieval way of being.  Most of our neighbors just don’t comprehend that growing food is one of life’s great pleasures, particularly in a hobby garden where nobody starves if the potatoes rot in the ground one year.

Since I love my vegetable garden, I prefer the term “europeanization” to “devolution.”  Dan T, if you are seeing more backyard farming in your suburban neighborhood, please consider the possibility that you are actually seeing America reach new heights of civilization, a post-Neanderthal stage at which our souls and brains are finally large enough to allow us to appreciate the incredible beauty of kales and cabbages and the unbelievable flavor of even the humblest onion, if you cook it right out of the ground.

But really, all of us who know that it’s lovely to grow food, what are we going to do to get rid of this general impression here in our great nation that gardening is primitive and unlovely, something that only desperation can justify?

Posted by

Michele Owens
on February 5, 2009 at 1:39 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet.


Photography Lesson in a Garden


#TBT: Natives are hot, but am I hot for natives? Or just confused?


  1. I noticed that post, too. More gardeners need to speak up in public about the joys of growing our own food. Today, I’ll be recording some more podcasts for Jacksonville’s paper and as usual one of my topics will be growing veggies. Newspapers are dying for content–couldn’t more of us help out?

  2. Well said. I grow veggies for the pleasure of the food. Raleigh sits in the heart of our State’s Farmers Market. I support it regularly; but this is not substitute to noshing on a matter from the vine.

  3. I’m not sure who these people are who think home food gardens are a sign of devolution…All I hear from people about my efforts is praise, admiration, and many many thanks when I’m willing to share.

  4. The New Yorker had a great article about the Dystopians who take glee in predicting devolution through peak oil, peak soil, etc. It’s a pretty narrow and cynical outlook. McCarthy’s book The Road is altogether different. Everyone should read it, especially our leaders. It’s set in a post nuclear world, and not a shred of life other than man can be found–the waters are gray and dead, land gray and dead, skies gray and dead, etc. For me it had the effect of making THIS world feel intensely precious–the blue sky, sunlight, birds, trees (and civil human interaction–no cannibalism here!)–all were miraculous, and so fragile. Not sure what my point is, other than of course, we need to garden.

  5. Here, Here! I second or third the notion that we aren’t devolving but evolving when we turn our largely unused suburban yards into interactive and beautiful gardens that feed both our bodies and our souls.

  6. “De-evolving” only to the eyes of people confined to concrete mega cities! There are 49 other states outside of New York and in some of them a backyard food garden is the norm. People just need to get out more.

  7. This simply reminds me of an attitude that certain “work”, even pleasurable work, is an act of devolution. Meaning that evolution (however wrongly applied) is marked by changing work habits -off the land, away from resources and into the office or machine. Reminds me of a college friend who saw me changing my own motor oil. He thought I should be aware that I could get off my back and get this work done for $15 by someone else, someone less evolved I suppose. If I display a lawn ornament like a tractor or wheelbarrow, or old plough (plow?), I’m telling the world where I came from-how I evolved from that landscape of work to the middle-class ecstasy of pleasure or recreational landscapes (read skiing, golf, sunbathing, etc.) I wonder if that is what Dan T really meant. Devolution poorly used. As for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, that’s more than devolution, thats horror.

  8. I’m with John. People need to get out more. Even though we continue to lose family farms in Wisconsin, people farm and garden everywhere in the state. I live in a gonzo garden town with veggies growing in plenty of front yards. We’ve put in over 200 trees and shrubs on our 1/2 acre so there’s not much sun left. But two neighbors (both retired) have amazing veggie gardens. One man grows things the neighbors like, but that he doesn’t eat. He just calls me over when the French Breakfast radishes are ready!

  9. I should think any neighbor’s negative opinion of backyard food growing falls away when they are offered a basket of surplus tomatoes or zucchini or lettuces for free! There must be escalating awareness out there that growing one’s own vegetables, pleasurable or not, is a wonderful way to save money while eating well.

  10. It is my goal to turn my lot into a Path To Freedom style garden. If I don’t grow most of my own food I’ll be stuck eating the overpriced rotten produce from the grocery store. We are so far from everywhere that by the time the stuff gets to us it is usually on it’s last legs.

  11. This makes me think, somehow, of a great article in Harper’s a couple of years back about Detroit as an analogy for a new Arcadia kinda thing. With so much abandonned real estate, it sounds like, even in some core parts of the city, people are reclaiming land to grow their own. It’s a harsh and sad way to get our little ‘correction’ but no, this is not ‘devolution’.

  12. You touched a nerve with this one, Michelle! A little more devolution is a good thing, if that’s the case. Others have said it brilliantly–people need to get out more. But since some are terrified of ‘bugs’, think that soil is full of ‘germs’ (and bugs, of course), and shudder at the thought of getting their Manolo BLAHniks dirty…I guess we’ll always have critics like that among us. Maybe they’ll be the first to disappear as we ‘devolve.’ We can but hope.

  13. Dan T sounds a lot like my brother-in-law. He has this sneering attitude towards people who grow vegetables in their front yard. He thinks only uneducated, poor people do such things and that front lawns are meant only for showcasing the house. I actually find a few veggies grown in the front yard charming. I’m actually going to plant mostly perennial herbs in my front yard and treat them as landscape plants, as my current herb garden location is anything but convenient to the kitchen.

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