Front lawns. Covered in vines. Out-of-control plants. Vegetables. Drip irrigation. Rain barrels made out of oil drums. Hoses running every which way. A model of self-sufficiency, you think. Might even believe you stumbled into paradise. But then you smell the pesticides. Artificial and caustic in your throat. Yellow-white streaks. Chemicals mixed with pollen. Washing out into the street.
You get your personal ration, but everything else goes to the food bank. Collection trucks rumble down the street three times a day. You load your veggies into the recycle bin. Sorted by family: legumes, brassicas, nightshades. Better have enough poundage for your tithe.
Milk jugs on landings, brimming with pepper plants. Each specimen is tagged with a bar code. Growing varieties that aren’t on the official list can get you sent away. Guy on a porch looking out at the landscape. He’s got the familiar scars. The night blindness. Permanently wrinkled. Nothing you can do to help him. He seems so sad. Speaks with a far-off voice. Like he’s never been able to reconcile what he’s witnessed the past couple of years.
Neighbors fight neighbors. Brother against brother. Compost is stolen. They argue over who owns the worm tea. People sit outside on lawn chairs and guard their raised beds. Rakes. Hedge trimmers. Garden hoses. Whatever weapons they can improvise. Fending off the guy who didn’t plant his corn on time. The old lady with too much shade to make a go of it. The single mom who needs just one more tomato to make her quota.
One old geezer’s got a claw bathtub filled with kale. Sitting in his driveway with a shotgun. Calls you over. Some sort of veteran. American flag on the back of his chair. Crazy political bumper stickers stuck to the side. Smells of sour mash and urine. Speaks with a voice box. Asks if you want to trade for some organic, unregistered greens. He’s got a sick wife. Needs antibiotics. You look up and down the street. Afraid somebody might overhear. Bartering is illegal. Unregistered food has no chromosomal tracking. Official crops have markers that flow into your blood streams and bond with your cells.
Farm stand. A couple of local families threw it together. A few milk crates and a piece of plywood. Beautiful colors. Variety. One of the kids painted a cardboard sign: “FRESH PRODUCE. PAY WHAT YOU CAN.” Farm stand’s up for about three minutes before some asshole informs on them. Sold the kids out for an extra packet of lettuce seeds. Maybe some vermiculite. Heavies arrive in a Prius. Jumpsuits. Tasers. Destroy everything. Kill the family dog. Crack his head open with a baseball bat. That night one of the kids puts a smashed pumpkin shell on her head and stands in the yard for hours, saluting. Her mom has taken off her clothing. Rubs herself up and down the trunk of the oak tree, trying to scratch away the pain.