Garden of Eatin'
This is it. Right here, right now. The sun is high. The days are perfect. And the garden is exploding. Every single day, we're hauling out what seems to be several metric tons of tomatoes, green beans, eggplants, squash, zucchini, corn, cucumbers, onions, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and more. It's a delectably colorful and deliciously fresh organic bounty that utterly amazes me every year. How can so much food come from such a small patch of earth?
But it does, and here's the thing: There are three families on our hill. Each spring, we plan a little community garden. It doesn't cost us much, maybe $100 for plants and seeds and a day spent digging dirt. We till in our compost and once in awhile we weed. But that's about it. Now it's mid-August, and that 20' x 20' or so plot is feeding us all. Eleven people, and as long as nobody minds a vegetarian feast, we literally do not have to go to the grocery store. Instead we are eating like royalty and virtually for free, all of it real living food whose tastes can't be topped and whose nutrition is as good as it gets. We've absolutely got all we need and then some.
Except that this extra really isn't. We are canning pickles and chutneys by the boatload. Drying cherry tomatoes by the basketful. And freezing veggies and homemade sauces as fast as we can. All of this will warm the long cold winter days ahead with the sweet taste of summer. It will stretch our food dollars and keep us healthy long after October's first frost claims our garden itself. Packed in jars and stuffed in freezers, it's a legacy we'll savor until the next harvest comes in.
We are feeding ourselves, and here's the other thing: you can, too. It doesn't take much space to produce a lot of food. Even containers on a city balcony can produce harvests that will make a healthy dent in your diet. If you've got any kind of yard or community growing space, you can do a lot more than that. You can all but bypass the industrial food chain for at least part of the year and teach your kids the real meaning and true source of sustenance. It doesn't take much money or time, and what relatively little effort is involved pays huge dividends. You just need a little room and some healthy soil. The sun and the rain and the bees will do most of the rest.
It's something I think everyone should do, and we'd all be much healthier if we did. You can buy a decent energy efficient freezer for long-term storage for around $200. Freeze your dried foods, homemade sauces, blanched veggies, and purees for use all year long. (Use your freezer to stock up on grocery store sale items alone and it will pay for itself in a year or two.) Canning is simple, too. (If I can do it, anyone can.) You just need to make a small investment in supplies. Then you'll have homemade pickles and compotes and jams and jellies and relishes no matter what the season.
If you garden, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, do it and find out. Make 2011 the year you discover just how immensely rewarding a homegrown food supply can be. Because if we all get growing, the world will get going in a much better direction.