Oct 032011
Four years ago I gave myself five years to figure out how to grow fifty percent of our food (two of us). There’s one year to go and I’ve learned a lot. If I could get a greenhouse built I think I could hit the target. If not, I’ll come close.

The experiment has  been interesting. I started knowing nothing; had never had a garden. I read a lot. Talked to people. Went to a workshop led by Steve Diver and diligently read the daily posts on the Soil and Heath Discussion Group on Yahoo.

We’ve added to the size of our vegetable garden. Added berries, fruit and nut trees, grapes and kiwis. The fruit, nuts, grapes and kiwis will add to our larder in the future and make the 50% goal easier to obtain.

Along the way I’ve studied and sometimes experimented with organic gardening, no til, biodynamics, permaculture, Fukuoka and nutrient dense. I’ve learned that there is an argument going on at the cutting edge of unconventional gardening, one that argues that just adding lots of organic material to the soil doesn’t necessarily mean nutritious food. Organic may only mean food that isn’t poisoned. And, it will result in a garden with too much potassium.

Interestingly, Steve Solomon perhaps the guru of Pacific Northwest Gardening is beginning to question his own wisdom and advice laid out in his very useful books Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades and Gardening When it Counts. He has joined forces with Michael Astera and they are writing a book together on the importance of mineral balancing the soil to be able to grow the most nutritious food.

Astera has written a book called The Ideal Soil which brings up to date soil science that goes back to the 30’s and 40’s and was squelched by the big chemical companies who make their money selling NKP fertilizer.

It is possible to have your garden soil tested and analyzed. A soil test costs $20. The analysis $45. If a gardener buys Michael Astera’s book and if you have a basic knowledge of math you can learn to analyze the test yourself. When Michael or Steve Diver analyze your soil test they write a prescription. Back in August I posted the prescription I will use on our garden this fall.

If one is a backyard gardener growing some food for the fun of it then a soil test and analysis are not going to be a high priority. But if one is trying to grow 50% of one’s food then it will be important for that food to be as nutritious as possible. Theoretically, the more nutritious your food, that is—higher in necessary minerals—the less food you will need to eat.

Handling a big garden entails a certain amount of work. Harvesting and putting food by is even more work. After a day of canning it’s easy to see why Americans bought into the ease and convenience of supermarket food. I recently spent nine hours with the result of 14 quarts of pickled beets, 9 pints of pickles and a gallon bag of frozen beet greens. If I were going to sell any that stuff I’d have a hard time figuring out a price. It doesn’t seem like much of a result for nine hours of continuous labor.

However, it’s part of the experiment. If food supplies dwindle or dry up, if prices continue to rise, if transportation becomes a problem, it’s important to know how to extend the growing season and extend the eating season by canning, freezing, pickling, dehydrating, etc.

It’s possible that what I now describe as 50% of our diet could become 100% if there is  economic catastrophe.

One important thing I’ve learned is that if you plan to survive on your garden you need to grow some calories: potatoes, dry beans, corn meal, squash.

Still much to learn.


  5 Responses to “Food Security”

  1. Thanks, Randy. Inspiring, as usual. Nutrient content is important. Life force, chi, of the food is also important. I’m working on that level, too. Intuitively at this point.

  2. Thank you for sharing your learning curve! It can be pretty intimidating to read Deppe and Solomon, etc. and realize that to produce all or nearly all of our own food would be at least a full time job for one person. This is a lifetime learning project and the lessons are always changing!

  3. There are lots of reasons why it’s hard to keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen ol’ Broadway — and why old time families were large and community work groups were the rule rather than the exception.

    Serious (50% plus) farming & food preservation is hard work, way beyond romantic poking around in the dirt now and then. If a small family is to manage successfully, they need to be very well organized (including keeping records), highly energetic, strong and healthy, alert and intelligently thoughtful about their homestead, persistently disciplined all year long and able/willing to stay focused on the land rather than all the other interests and activities that most of us pursue.

  4. The strong and alert issue is what concerns me most long term. That’s why, as a community, we need to do something to encourage some young farmers to come here and establish farms by providing them some land to farm on.

  5. Aubrey:
    Good point. When I lived on Lummi the big sentiment was that it had gotten too expensive and become too much of a bedroom community or retirement destination, which was driving up the cost of land and housing. I rented for awhile but the options were limited and I had trouble finding housemates of similar age and values. The young folks were moving off or just barely struggling to stay on the island. Now that I have learned to grow most of my food and keep my expenses WAY down, I see that if the basic necessity of housing is taken care of, anything is possible. However, doing it alone is pretty impossible. I am grateful to have two housemates that are determined to grow and preserve food constantly (every single evening we are working on something: canning, drying, cooking, fermenting, working on root cellar, harvesting, shucking dry beans, planning next year’s farming season). That makes it feel realistically doable. It is important for island communities to think about their own population and division of labor and encourage young people with the necessary skills to be part of it.

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