Grow your own food
This may be the single most important thing you ever do. Many of us who have become accustomed to living in cities with dense populations easily miss the importance of this. Food is everywhere and we’ve grown to trust the suppliers…but they haven’t earned our trust. Our meat and vegetables are washed, sterilized, pasteurized, pumped with hormones, artificially ripened and shipped across many borders to reach us. And that’s after they’ve spent generations breeding the taste and nutrition out of our food just so it will ship easier and look better on a grocery store shelf. The whole system is an exercise in self-destruction and futility.
Does that sound a little over-dramatic? Good, it should.
Growing your own food may be the most important thing you ever do because it will reconnect you with food. It amazes me that I was so disconnected from something so vital and important to my survival and well being. Most of us wouldn’t recognize our food before it’s cleaned, processed and packaged for us. But why not? As a society we’ve decided to turn our collective backs on the whole process, trusting someone else to take care of it for us. We’ve neglected the responsibility of producing for ourselves because it’s easier to buy a heat-and-eat meal-in-a-box. Since the end of WW2 and the proliferation of television we have been more focused on entertainment and convenience than health and nutrition. We simply stopped caring about where our food came from. We’ve seen the consequences of this neglect in the form of an unprecedented increase in heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity in this country in just the last two or three generations.
Only a couple of years ago I couldn’t tell you where most of my food originated. I could tell you which supermarket I normally bought from, but that was it. I took steps to get closer to my food, to understand where it came from and who it came from and it has been enlightening. Where does your water come from? Where do your vegetables come from? Where does your meat come from? How were they grown/raised? Why don’t we ask these questions more often? We don’t ask because, for the most part, we don’t want to know. We don’t want the responsibility of knowing because then we would have to do something about it and that means giving up convenience.
This is pure insanity and it’s time for us to reconnect to that most essential part of who we are…our food. We must reconnect with the processes of growing, harvesting and preparing our own meals from seed to table. It’s time to banish those plastic bags and cardboard boxes plastered with fancy marketing and return to simple, healthy, homegrown and locally sourced food. If not for ourselves, then for our children. The next generation faces an uphill battle and, potentially, a war they can’t win.
Why it might be too late
We are so far removed from our food, and the activity of growing it, that we are nearly at the point of no return. The new generation of small-scale farmers and growers have very few mentors left. There is a generational information gap. The more I talk to people the more I see it. My generation and my parent’s generation, did not inherit the skills and knowledge we needed from our parents or grandparents. My grandparents grew up on a farm tending fields, milking cows, running equipment, cooking for themselves and living off the land. The only thing I ever learned about that life is that it was back-breaking work. We can’t let these skills die.
The food industry is moving very fast in the wrong direction. Much of the damage has already been done. It’s getting harder and harder to find non-GMO and non-Monsanto food products. Many varieties have been bred out of existence and a few barely linger on as heirloom varieties. We’ve bred our food to be larger, grow faster, ripen sooner, travel better and taste sweeter. In most cases, we’ve stripped the nutrition from our foods in the process. And the consumer, for the most part, is clueless. Tomatoes, Apples, Strawberries are a few examples of the fruits that are mere shadows of what they once were. Today they have a fraction of the flavor and nutritional content they once had and are loaded with toxic chemicals.
Growing our own food will enable us to preserve some of the better, more nutritionally dense foods before they’re gone. We can allow the foods to ripen naturally, harvested minutes before consuming while the nutrient density is peak and the flavor is rich. We can control the exposure to chemicals, growth hormones and pesticides. We can control what goes into our bodies without influence from industrial corporations or government agencies. And most importantly, we can teach the next generation to appreciate their food in a way we never did.
Taking control of your life
We need food and water to live and most of us have no idea how to provide that for ourselves. How did we willingly let something so vital to our survival be handed over to a faceless industrial machine? We chose blindness in the name of convenience and were led astray. I don’t know about you, but my greatest sense of security comes from knowing I can feed myself and my family without help from Pepsi Co, Dole Foods, General Mills or Kraft.
Every single person I’ve talked to who has started growing their own food describes a sense of feeling more grounded, spiritually and physically. It develops a better sense of self and a connection with nature that was lost generations ago. Growing vegetables reconnects us with the cycles of nature and seasonality. We find our place in the natural cycles of life. There are many studies showing the psychological benefits of gardening, digging in the dirt, spending time in the sun and breathing fresh air. People who grow their own food are generally happier, healthier and possess a better sense of purpose.
Really what it comes down to is understanding that you can be in control. Realizing that you don’t have to be dependent on industry and large scale operations to feed yourself and your family. The underlying message is about self-reliance. Educating yourself and taking control of where our food comes from is the first step to breaking our dependence on a failing system. Grow your own food and live the life you want to live, not the life they let you live.
Laying a foundation for the future
The industrialized food system is a lumbering, inefficient giant reliant on massive amounts of cheap oil, water and money to keep it going. It’s the worst kind of bureaucracy that insures it’s own survival by growing out of control and it feeds on extremely finite resources. Cheap oil is nearing it’s conclusion and every analyst reports that petroleum based fuels and products will be cost prohibitive in the near future. There is not enough water to go around, not where we need it. The southwest is dolling out it’s last few drops and in just a few years all the back-room deals, bribes and smoke-and-mirrors won’t be able to keep the water flowing. No water, no fuel and the obscene devaluation of the US dollar will collide in the collapse of large-scale conventional industrial farming. Then where will we get our food?
Will you wait until the system fails to start finding alternatives? When there is no more food at the grocery store, or you can’t afford to spend $20 on a tomato, what will you eat? What will you feed your family? If you haven’t already started growing food, building skills, collecting knowledge by then it will be too late. Now is the time to start laying the foundation of self-reliance and independence. Now is the time to get to know, and support, your local community of growers and producers because they are the ones that can help you when the time comes. They are the ones that can help you now…so that you can help yourself later.
It’s really not a question of IF, but a question of WHEN. The reckless system of food production that has steamrolled our society for the last 50 years is coming to an end. Small personal gardens, local small farms, markets and ranches will be the food supply of the future.
For the joy of eating
I love food. It’s not that I just love eating, but I really love food. The whole process of finding great ingredients and pairing them properly and finding those great recipes that make eating a wonderful experience. I enjoy thoughtfully preparing a meal and artfully presenting it on the plate. Cooking is one of my passions and, it stands to reason, I seek out the best ingredients to work with.
There is a profound difference between a conventional store-bought tomato and one grown organically, in your own garden, ripened naturally and plucked straight off the vine before you prepare it. The first time I ate freshly harvested broccoli from my own garden I reeled at the natural sweetness and tenderness of the plant. I was amazed at how beautiful the flavor of broccoli could be. I used to reserve kale for cooked dishes or juicing, but freshly harvested Nero Kale from my garden is flavorful and tender eaten raw. The best ingredients are the ones grown in living organic soil, allowed to ripen naturally, and harvested right before you use them.
The only way to achieve this level of freshness in your food is to grow your own food. The next best thing would be to buy your food from a local producer, usually harvested just before it’s sold at market. Supporting your local growers is the next best thing, but nothing beats having your own garden.
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Know your food
Get to know your food, where it comes from, how it gets there, who touches it along the way. Get to know the real cost of your food including the way it’s grown, how it’s processed, how it’s transported and how far it travels. The real cost of food is in the process of getting it to you, not the food itself. Read labels and educate yourself about what is in your food, how far it’s traveled, how it was treated and how long ago it may have been harvested. Once you start reading, it’s pretty easy to understand why growing your own food and buying local is better for everyone involved.
Buying from local growers and farmer’s markets you get to ask the seller about your food. In most cases you are talking to the person who actually grows and raises the food and they can tell you exactly how it’s grown, where it’s grown and when it was harvested.
Become a Locavore.
The word Locavore was coined in 2005 and in 2007 was voted “word of the year” by the Oxford American Dictionary. It was a word created to describe people who eat locally grown, locally produced food purchased from local vendors. This would include food from your own garden, or the gardens of neighbors, friends, family or community gardens as well as purchased food. The general rule is to try to make sure that most of what you consume comes from within a 100 mile radius of your home.
Growing your own food and supporting local growers and food craft businesses is hugely beneficial to your community. Not only do you generally get better, healthier, tastier products but more of the money you spend stays in your local community and supports your local economy. Generally, only 10-15% of the money you spend at a large national/multinational chain stays in the local economy. Supporting local businesses, especially local food producers, is essential for a strong local economy and is an easy first step.
Plant something edible
It’s as simple as it sounds. Find a piece of dirt in your yard or buy a container, it doesn’t have to be huge. Purchase a small plant and some garden soil from your local hardware store, garden store, or farm. Place the container someplace where it will get the right amount of sun exposure (this depends on what you plant). Water regularly and wait.
Grow something you will eat. Think about what you buy most at the store, and plant that. Tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce are all pretty common options and are easy to find. Grow a small herb garden too. You can find oregano, cilantro, mint, rosemary, thyme, dill and sage just about anywhere. All you need is a little space in the yard, on the patio or in your window sill and you can grow something edible.
Explore your neighborhood
Here in Phoenix there is edible food everywhere. Much of the valley is littered with the remnants of old citrus orchards and citrus was planted prolifically in the 60s and 70s in residential neighborhoods and some civic areas. Within a quarter mile of my house I have dozens of orange, tangelo, grapefruit and lemon trees. Most of these are not harvested by the owner and, in most cases, they’d be more than happy to let me take the fruit.
Get to know who else in your neighborhood is growing food. Find out what they’ve been growing to learn what is successful in your area, or grow something different so that you can trade. The easiest way to supplement your own garden harvest is to trade within a small network of personal gardeners.
Look for community gardens in your area. Many neighborhoods around the country, especially in urban areas, have started community gardens where neighbors can share a plot of land and grow food. This is a great resource and a good way to gain some experience growing, meet like minded people and learn from others. Check with local churches, community centers and neighborhood associations about starting a community garden if one doesn’t exist near you.
Support your local growers
Not everyone has the room, or the resources to immediately start growing all their own food. It’s just not realistic. But while you are learning and finding ways to make it happen, you can still find good, healthy, locally produced food by seeking out and supporting your local growers. You can find them at farmer’s markets, locally owned stores and restaurants, and sometimes you can even buy directly from the farm itself. Save some money by looking for farmers that offer U-Pick programs and group purchasing options.
Many local communities have Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) where you can pre-order your produce and meat and be notified when it’s ready to pick up. In some cases you can pre-order and pick up at your local farmer’s market so you don’t have to drive as far or opt-in to a monthly delivery system. Get to know the farmers, ranchers and growers is your area and what options are available.
I encourage you to get to know your growers. Find the ones you like, the ones that not only offer what you like but run a quality operation. Ask questions, get to know how they operate. I have not met a grower yet that doesn’t like to talk about their product. Choosing a food supplier should be like choosing a personal physician and the same care and research put into finding one you like is perfectly reasonable. Your food should be your medicine after all, so why not make sure you’re getting the best medical care available by picking the best food you can get.
However you start, the important thing is to take the first steps toward controlling your food. Knowing where it comes from or growing it yourself gives you the ultimate control over what we feed ourselves and our families. It leads to a happier, healthier life independent from the industrial food system. We can sustain ourselves and our families with local resources and lay a foundation for a more secure, self-reliant future. You’ll be able to enjoy food on a level you never thought possible. It’s time to grow your own food…now.