While the first sign of spring for much of the Midwest is the return of Robins, for gardeners, it’s the arrival of seed catalogs in the mail. I’ve blogged about this before. This year’s Two Mile Ranch garden not only expands, but takes on a few new crops.
Along side the peppers, potatoes, snap peas, cucumbers and melons will be trial sections of a few varieties of dried beans, and some quinoa and wheat. This first year I’m looking for very small quantities to get a feel for the growing and cultivation, and later, harvest, storage, and flavor in cooking. Next year will include more test plots and also plots of this year’s successes on a scale to provide a self-sustaining pantry.
The costs of growing small quantities of shelf staples like these may seem high compared to buying a bulk bag at the local grocery or big box store. In fact, the economics of gardening in general are the subject of both humorous and serious debate, for example the story on NPR from 2006 about William Alexander’s The $64 Tomato
Beyond my personal garden, there is a larger curiosity to my planting this year. Let me tell you why.
When I leave the farm and do my big-city job at the university – this is where I put on my “good boots” and make sure the truck is washed — there is a real need for these kinds of gardens.
In my public health, food policy, and education work, we look at the food system. The food system is everything from the initial beginnings (seeds or new animals) through the growing, harvesting, processing, storage, distribution and waste management connected with food and eating. This includes energy, carbon use, soil and water conservation.
What we used to think of only as “hunger” has a broader term called “food insecurity” and it essentially includes not only people who can not eat today, but who are unsure if they will have a reliable source of food in the future. The policy folks at the USDA report during 2010 about 14 percent of us were food insecure during some part of the year.
Some of that food insecurity is the result of living in “food desert” another fancy, policy-wonkish phase. But a food desert is an area with limited or difficult access to a large supermarket or grocery store. You can read more about one official definition here.
So if you can’t get to a supermarket, and you don’t have a household supply of food, one solution is grow your own. And what the Two Mile Ranch garden will help me share with you is the time, space, and materials necessary to grow some shelf stable basics.
Gene Logsdson, in his book Small-Scale Grain Raising, Second Edition: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmersshares specific ideas, planting, yield, and other information to look at small-scale grain and bean growing. In one example, he highlights that 1/4 acre can produce 9 bushels of mixed grains.
And while a 1/4 acre (100 foot by 100) foot garden may be out of the question, for some families, community gardens and other innovative space use in both urban and rural areas open the door for gardens that may help fill in the gaps of a personal food system.