Last week, WFMU.org reader Dale questioned my use of the term "ghetto germination station" in my post and I replied that:
There really is no other way of putting it - I live in Government assisted housing in an urban ghetto on a low wage. This blog is about making the most of that situation and empowering both myself and any readers who take up the gauntlet to transform their lives.
Dictionary.com defines the word "ghetto" as:
- a section of a city, esp. a thickly populated slum area, inhabited predominantly by members of an ethnic or other minority group, often as a result of social or economic restrictions, or hardships.
There's certainly a growing wealth of material on the Internet about so-called ghetto and white trash gardening, about the need to transform not only our surroundings and our circumstances, but also reduce our carbon footprint by reusing the amount of garbage we produce.
According to Zero Footprint, the average American produces a staggering 12.6 tonnes of CO2 per year in garbage and fuel consumption, and whilst recycling is both necessary and encouraged to try and reduce some of that carbon load, there are still concerns from environmental groups globally that the recycling process can use up to twice the amount of energy and produce twice the amount of pollution in the process.
So, the mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" really comes into play here.
- REDUCE: fairly self-explanatory - try not to buy things which are heavily packaged in the first place. That can mean anything from going to a local greengrocer or farmers market rather than the supermarket, which is preferable and admirable, but not necessarily affordable, to growing as much of your own produce as possible. Both cost money, and this is where ghetto gardening comes in.
- REUSE: again, fairly self-explanatory - instead of throwing away the plastic and the glass and the metal, you make something else out of it, whether it's a house or a wind chime. Again, this is where ghetto gardening comes in.
- RECYCLE: really your last port of call, given the carbon footprint of washing, transportation to a depot, treatment, manufacture and transport back to a retail outlet. Don't stop recycling by any means, just don't make it the first thing you do with your waste.
So, we're back to that ghetto word again.
Ghetto was originally the name of an island in 16th century Venice where Jews were forced to live; here's an interesting passage from Jewish Topographies by Julia Brauch, Anna Liphardt and Alexandra Nocke about gardening in the wartime Jewish ghettos of Lodz:
The United Nations Development Programme declared the US to have the highest percentage rate in the developed world of persons living on less than 50% of the national median income. Figures in 2008 showed the US unemployment rate to be 7.20% and growing.
So, yes - the word ghetto does have negative historical and media associations, but a lot of us do live in them, and if the statistics are anything to go by then a lot more of us will be living in them sooner than we'd care to.
The point is, it doesn't have to be negative and nasty. It's fun to look at your garbage and figure out what you can do with it; potato peelings in the compost, plastic water bottle into a germinator, Styrofoam cup for some seedlings, old bent forks into a wind chime. It's a little weird too, I'll grant you that, but how much better to embrace your circumstances, hold your head up high and say: "I may be poor, but I'm not gonna let it get to me"?