Howard Garrett, the plain-talking organic-gardening "Dirt Doctor" of North Texas, is going to tell you something about the nature of this sun-blistered, snake-bit, bad-dirt region that you're just not going to believe. You might be a damn hippie liberal communist or a knuckle-dragging throwback right-wing nutcase: You're still not going to get your mind around Garrett's message when he tells you Dallas is the biggest organic-gardening retail market in America.
"There's about 700 retail stores in this area that sell a full line of organic products for gardeners," Garrett says. Of those, he says, "at least 10 percent are 100 percent organic," meaning they sell no non-organic products.
"That's huge, because you cannot go to California or Colorado or Vermont and find a single one that's totally organic, that sells a full line of organic products and promotes its use.
"It surprises people that that's the case."
Yeah, it does. A lot. And, of course, we have to factor Garrett himself into this formula: A tireless promoter of organics, not to mention himself, an author, newspaper columnist, radio and TV personality, Garrett also mentions himself as a big reason the organic thing has happened here on such a large scale. He says his show, The Dirt Doctor, on WBAP-820 AM has been a major factor in spreading the word.
"I went on air in 1989, and I said Neil Sperry doesn't know what he's talking about, and I'm going to teach you a whole new way to live," Garrett says modestly. "I took the message to people."
The reference is to Neil Sperry of KRLD Radio, whose Texas Gardening Show has been a mainstay of KRLD Radio 1080 for decades. Every installment of Sperry's show is the aural equivalent of a major chemical spill, urging people to do everything short of spoon Diazinon on their Wheaties in the morning--exactly the kind of pro-hydrocarbon 'tude most of us would expect to find here in the heart of Bush/Cheney.
Garrett's claims for this region as the buckle on the Organic Bible Belt are a little hard to pin down, because the numbers on organic-gardening retail commerce are not readily available from the government agencies one might think responsible. But he makes a useful challenge: "Go to Google and start looking up organic-gardening retail centers under different cities," he says.
Hmm. After way too much time noodling Google for this data, one must conclude that Garrett has his hands on at least a piece of something very interesting. Even if his thesis can't be proved conclusively, the Google test does provide an intriguing and very counterintuitive window on this region: Dallas is one heck of an organic-gardening market. Dallas does seem to outstrip all of the other cities and regions a not hugely sophisticated researcher was able to think of before getting bored.
So if this comes as counterintuitive news for Dallas, what would be intuitive? How would one assume most Dallasites would approach husbandry of the soil? Well, first, obviously, you hire an illegal immigrant. You give him a shovel, some instructions in Spanglish and a great big old squirt jug of Roundup. You get yourself well inside the picture window where you can watch him with the AC cranked up, a Cowboys game on television and a six-pack of cold ones in a Styrofoam cooler on the coffee table. You get your loved one in there with you on the sofa. And you sit back and enjoy nature.
Garrett doesn't exactly argue with any of that. He says organic gardening works here because it's compatible with the culture instead of requiring a religious conversion. If anything, his explanation for the popularity of organics here is that he himself has promoted it entirely apart from and without reference to its hippie-dippie ex-post-'60s roots.
Garrett says the best examples of the kind of organic approach people go for here are found not in your typical East Dallas herb garden but at the big corporate campuses in Plano, Southlake and environs of Fort Worth. Garrett, who is also a landscape contractor, manages several corporate headquarters in this area on totally organic regimens--no chemicals, not no-how, not never.
"Frito-Lay has been 100 percent organic under my program for 15 years. That's a big deal. It's a national headquarters of 300 acres. They know in relative terms that economically it's working for them and that if they went back to chemicals, it would cost them at least as much and probably more."
Based on that and other examples, Garrett preaches through his various media forums that organic gardening costs less or the same as chemical gardening and gets you a better garden. And there's no reason why you can't hire the illegal and get up on the sofa with the cold ones and the loved one, etc. Just, instead of Roundup, you give the guy outside a big old bottle of vinegar and tell him in Spanglish to pour it "on el weedos."
Who knew? We're a lot cooler here than people think.