There’s no doubt that Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is leading a grassroots political movement. But is there a connection between grassroots and gardening?
A LawnStarter analysis of Google Trends data from 2011 through 2015 pinpoints the 10 states where people expressed the most interest in gardening through Google searches. Among those 10 states, seven had held Democratic primary caucuses or primaries as of April 4, and Sanders won all seven of those state contests. As of April 4, the three other states — Montana (No. 2 on the Google chart), New Mexico (No. 9) and Wyoming (No. 6) — hadn’t held caucuses or primaries.
“Many people who like gardening would likely find Sanders’ strong environmentalist stances and concern about global climate change appealing.”
— Political science professor Jim Melcher
So, the question becomes: Is there some sort of overlap between Sanders supporters and gardening enthusiasts, or is this just a statistical fluke?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Sanders, a U.S. senator, clinched victory in his home state of Vermont, which happens to be the No. 1 state for Google search activity around the term “gardening.” And it stands to reason that Sanders also captured wins in two other top-ranked states for “gardening” searches, Maine (No. 3 on the Google chart) and New Hampshire (No. 10). Vermont borders New Hampshire, and New Hampshire borders Maine.
But how do you explain the Sanders/gardening connection in Idaho (No. 4 on our list), Utah (No. 8) and Washington (No. 7)?
Photo: Spirit of Ethan Allen
Jim Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, doesn’t have any hard data on the possible intersection of grassroots politics and gardening. However, he does offer a potential theory about why there might be a tie between the two.
“Many people who like gardening would likely find Sanders’ strong environmentalist stances and concern about global climate change appealing,” Melcher says. “There are many people in these states — I’ve seen it up close here in northern New England — who, like Sanders, left big cities and moved to a more rural environment. Many here in Maine did so to ‘get back to the land.’”
He adds: “Many Sanders supporters have strong views against corporations and concerns around pesticides, GMOs and the like that would correlate with wanting to grow one’s own food, perhaps organic food, rather than relying on food produced by big corporations. Gardening fits in well with that type of ‘small is beautiful’ philosophy.
Cash for Community Gardens
Although we don’t know whether Sanders has a green thumb, we do know that he’s supported gardening in the past.
In 2010, Sanders announced that $120,000 in federal money had been awarded to establish community gardens at 40 schools throughout Vermont.
Sanders secured the funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with backing from Friends of Burlington Gardens and the Vermont Community Foundation. The money enabled the nonprofit groups to provide the 40 schools with gardening supplies, such as topsoil, compost, fencing, hoses, rakes, hoes and trowels.
“This project addresses two major issues confronting not just Vermont but the entire nation,” Sanders said in 2010. “It will help students learn the importance of good nutrition and a healthy diet. It also will broaden the school curriculum and help make learning fun.”