Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spring Challenge: Take Responsibility for Your Food

I was sitting at yoga the other day waiting for class to begin, and I got into a great conversation with a fellow yogini about the purity of the food supply and the necessity of finding clean, whole foods.  We agreed that part of the problem is that consumers have abdicated responsibility for growing/raising/procuring food, putting a lot of responsibility onto farmers.  They, in turn, must use conventional rather than organic methods to get the largest yield per acre in order to feed a whole bunch of people who are raising and growing nothing.

This is not a crack against farmers, by the way.  Those who I have spoken to take the responsibility to feed the country (and beyond) seriously.   But I am saying that the rest of us should take that responsibility a little more seriously ourselves.  (By analogy, the fact that I have a mechanic doesn't mean I should know nothing about taking care of my car.  Just because I teach college doesn't mean my students should never pick up a book and learn something without me.)

The situation we have now is an historic anomaly.  Something in the neighborhood of 95 percent of this country works in non-farm jobs, counting on that 5 percent or so to produce the lion's share of our food.  That's not sustainable.  We all need some skin in the game, if only to diversify risk.

So here's my challenge for you.  Whatever you are doing this season to produce food for yourself, I want you to commit to doing one or two more things.  I'm not asking you to stop going to the grocery store or even to take a "100 mile pledge" of eating locally.  Just amp up your food production.  If every household did this, imagine the weight it would take off a food production system that is becoming ever more centralized and unsustainable.

Here are your challenge levels:

You: Have a farm, a garden, or a bunch of raised beds.  Your seed orders are in, your seedlings are sprouting, and you are starting to work the soil.  You are READY.  You are already in this.
Your challenge:  Grow/raise/procure something you've never worked with before.  Try a gourmet version of a vegetable, like daikon radishes or spaghetti squash.  Learn to fish if you don't already know and have a place for wild, edible fish.  Put in a couple of blueberry bushes or a rhubarb plot.

You:  Have some outdoor space, but it is limited.  Think patio, deck, balcony, or a limited yard. Or, your neighbors or neighborhood covenant would freak out at the site of too much food production. Or, you physically can't commit to tilling up a bunch of ground.
Your challenge:  Sneak at least one veggie into your containers or foundation plantings.  Potatoes make a great food crop, and the vines and flowers are seriously lovely.  Try a container variety of corn or beans.  Or, I've never known a neighbor hard-hearted enough to protest a single container tomato plant.  Look for dwarf or container varieties of your favorite veggies or fruits.  Take the shortcut you have to take to get you inspired -- buy a bag of organic potting soil to fill a container if you don't have access to a compost pile.

You:  Want to participate, but you have no outdoor space that is suitable for growing.
Your challenge:  Find a windowsill that gets 8 or more hours of sun per day, or buy a desk lamp and put a grow bulb in it.  (I do this to start my seeds.)  Grow an expensive-to-buy herb or two.  Basil is practically a cash crop, given that it is so expensive to buy fresh basil leaves in the store.  Rosemary handles the chill of a winter window sill admirably.  A bay tree will live in a container and produce for a long time.

You:  Seriously don't think you can do this.  You don't have the space, or you don't think you have the time, or your job keeps you on the road too much.
Your challenge:  Sprouts and microgreens will grow to edible size in less than 2 weeks, making them a good crop for times when you are at home.  Because of their short lifespan, they don't require quite the light that long-growing plants do.  (I do shine a grow light on my sprouts to retard mold, however.)  Or, put an aloe plant on your desk in the office.  They do well in low light, and, although relatively rarely eaten, do serve a medicinal purpose.

What challenge are you accepting to take more responsibility for food production this year?  Sound off in the comments -- I need new ideas for me, too!

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