I’m talking about gardening again. It’s a big thing on my mind and in my heart lately. I think with so much this year that has made many of us feel a bit powerless… with so many things out of our control… it’s important to do things that make us feel empowered, and for our family that has been gardening and producing more of our own food. Jeff and I have both felt a calling, and a responsibility, to grow more food, and we are listening to that. Being more self-sufficient and living more sustainably has been a passion of ours for a long time, but right now it feels more important than ever. With seeds selling out among other things, I know we aren’t alone in this feeling, more people than ever before are interested in growing more of their own food.
Seeing grocery store shelves empty is an uncomfortable feeling, isn’t it? We saw that months ago, and relatives and friends reported empty shelves and shortages of all kinds where they live in different places around the U.S. (One thing that made me laugh, though, was that I found plenty of frozen spinach available. I guess no one wanted that! We like spinach, so we were happy to eat it. Jeff said he saw loads of Brussels sprouts too.) My uncle bought food online, since his local grocery store was nearly empty, and other family members went from grocery store to grocery store in their area to find different things. That wasn’t a surprise to me to hear about empty shelves with the stay-at-home orders, since people were stocking up and buying more than usual, to be at home for longer periods of time.
But what did surprise me was when I first saw articles, and heard from others, about large amounts of food being dumped around the U.S. because the restaurants were closed and they said the demand wasn’t there. I was not only surprised, I was shocked. Mountains of potatoes, milk, meat… I thought surely with empty shelves at the stores (and the pictures I was seeing with long lines of people who were suddenly out of work waiting for food at food banks) there was a need for that food? I couldn’t wrap my mind around having food go to waste when there were so many hungry people in the world- couldn’t that food have been donated to those in need instead of thrown out? No matter how someone tries to explain that, it doesn’t make sense to me. Then there were people getting sick in factories, and food was being thrown out for that reason. Our friends weren’t able to get beef or fish for their steak and seafood restaurant, and I know many of us experienced not being able to buy things we were used to purchasing.
And all of that shows how vulnerable our current food system is! When our food is produced by a few big producers, rather than many small farms like it’s been historically, that makes disruptions felt on a much larger scale. Small, diversified farms are more resilient to disruptions- unfavorable weather isn’t going to wipe out an entire crop (like a giant field of a single thing on many large farms), for example, since there will be plenty of other things grown that year. And when food travels a very long way to get somewhere, there are a lot more factors that can disrupt that process, than when it comes a shorter distance to your door. (Early in the winter our grocery store was out of nearly all vegetables because a snow storm kept the truck from delivering food.) Yes, larger farms can produce food with a lower price point than smaller farms can, and I know eating locally can feel like a luxury on many incomes, but I’m just making the point that the more people who are growing and producing food, the stronger and more resilient to changes and disruptions our food supply is going to be.
That’s where we- all of us- come in. How can we be a part of a more sustainable and secure food system? We can grow more ourselves, and we can support our neighbors and nearby farms that produce food. If you work full time, and don’t have any garden space available to you, or money is tight and buying local food is cost prohibitive for you, then do what you can. Jeff and I are big believers in doing what you can with what you have available to you. I wrote the quote on the top of the calendar last month: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt I love those words so much because so often we can become too easily defeated by an all or nothing attitude, that if we aren’t able to do something exactly how we’d like to do it, than it’s not worth doing at all. But you know what? We all have to start somewhere, and the only way to learn something is to start at the beginning.
Do you have a sunny windowsill? Plant some herbs in pots. Do you have room for a few chickens? (Having a constant source of eggs from your own backyard is some great food security!) Space tight in your apartment? Grow some microgreens. I checked this book out at the library years ago, it has a lot of great ideas for growing food in small spaces. I know Jeff and I have dreamed of being farmers ever since we met- talking about all the food we would love to grow and produce if we had a large amount of space available. (It’s fun to dream, though we really love where we are.) If you have a big farm and you can grow a lot of your own food, that is wonderful! But you don’t need a large farm with open, sunny pasture to grow your own food. Many of us have limited space, limited time, limited funds… yet there is still so much that we can do. Check out what this family has created with their suburban yard in L.A.! I find their story so inspiring.
Jeff and I feel so grateful to have a space to garden and even with the gardening challenges we have here- limited sun and space, abundant moles, soil not suitable for planting, and on and on… we are able to grow a good amount of food for our family each year because of determination and hard work. If you don’t have your own garden plot, perhaps there is a community garden in your neighborhood you can join? Or an apartment balcony you can fill with potted plants? Also remember to look around for things you already have, that you can plant things in. It’s important to remind ourselves to look at things with a spirit of resourcefulness and creativity because we are capable of so much when we do. Who knows what surprising solutions we’ll come up with?
I’m not telling you to go straight home and dig up all your yard and start planting as much as possible right away (though if you want to do that, by all means, go ahead), I just want to encourage people who want to grow more food but don’t know where to start or how to make it happen. I want to encourage people who don’t think they have the skills, or the space, or who just feel intimidated, to get started and do something, even if it’s small. We live in a time where there is so much information available to us, and you can learn so much about gardening and growing your own food by searching online and learning from others. I feel like I should mention here that Jeff and I don’t grow food solely because we’re afraid of empty grocery store shelves, or because we think we won’t be able to have access to buying something we want. We’ve felt that growing food was important long before the challenges of this year, and I think for many of us 2020 has been a big reminder of that importance.
Yes, Jeff and I have expanded our garden this year and taken many steps towards producing more of our own food. Yes, we have felt an urgency at times and food shortages have certainly inspired us to speed up the timeline a bit, but I can tell you that when I’m out in the garden with my family, fear is not the motivating factor moving my actions. Fear is not why we garden. I love going out in the garden in the mornings, feeling my bare feet in the dewy grass, and watering the plants. I love bringing out a big bowl and listening to the birds singing while harvesting fresh food to bring into our kitchen. I love laughing with my family as we enjoy a meal together, full of the delicious food we worked hard to produce. I love sharing food with friends that is so full of flavor, and so full of love. I couldn’t even begin to list all the reasons I love having a garden, but I can say that we are growing a garden out of love, and would like to encourage anyone else wanting to do the same.