Saturday, March 30, 2013

Grow Your Own Money

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money,” said Ron Finley on a TED Talk about living in a food desert and the problems his community faces in dealing with that dilemma. Gardening brings economic benefits, brings together a community, and allows you to control your own food supply.
In regard to economic benefits, gardens are an investment. They start out small, and grow into something big that you can replicate over the years with seed saving, regenerative practices, and general upkeep.
Starting your garden can be as cheap as you want it to be, and can certainly help save you money in the future as you depend less on purchasing food from the grocery stores or markets.
You can grow your garden in various sizes. My current garden is grown in several different clay pots. Some people plant gardens on rooftops, on walls, in any container they can find that might be suitable, even trucks!

Try experimenting with different plants at first to see what works best in your climate and general area. You can purchase seeds online, or several grocery, local produce, and home maintenance stores have them as well. Pay attention to the kind of seeds you buy, and try to get organic or heirloom seeds if possible.

Gardens are an investment in community. A local scene in Orlando, FL called the Dandelion Communitea Cafe has started a Seed Bank project outside of its establishment, which allows locals to freely exchange seeds and encourage gardening. I think this is a wonderful idea, and would love to see other examples of this kind of sharing around the country. Remember, sharing is caring!

For some produce though, you don’t even have to purchase the seeds, all you need to do is know how to handle the scraps from food you normally buy, before you throw them away! Like the carrots in my previous article, there are several different herbs, fruits, and vegetables that you can regrow. (We’ll also talk more about seed saving later).

I’m currently in the process of re-growing an onion. It started to sprout in my pantry, so I cut around the bad parts and put them in my compost pile, used the good parts to cook a nice meal, and replanted the center of the onion, which will produce more layers and regrow itself! Didn't I say plants were smart?

The plants that you grow organically in your own garden reduce pollution and all the need for packaging, transporting, shipping and travel costs. You also get the freshest food delivered right to the soil in your yard by the sun and rain, and your own productive care. You can control how much you grow, how it is grown, and how to distribute it. If we continue to rely on others to produce our food, we are at the whim of their interests, not ours. Every little bit you can do to wean yourself off of that system will help you and your community to become self-sufficient and put power back into your own hands.

Starting a garden is like growing your own money, but it is also much more than that. In my next post, we’ll talk about real cost in the food system, and the price we aren't taking into account with our purchasing power.
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Baby Carrots are a False Security

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and been amused by the apparent cleanliness of all the fruits and vegetables? Baby carrots stand out to me the most - packaged in a little bag, pre-washed, and ready to eat. In this little bag, details about our society's values manifest.

The shape of the carrots - all smooth and rounded off to perfection, the plastic bag used to hold them - complete protection from germy hands, these characteristics symbolize our culture’s disconnect from the very earth from which those carrots came.

Baby carrots represent convenience and conformity. Since carrots were not originally bred in the baby size, a new breed was made that was smaller and sweeter, just for attracting kids and those of us with a sweeter tooth. They are then processed and made into the little round carrots you eat right out of the bag.

There is some debate on whether it is safe to eat baby carrots that have been dipped in a chlorine/water mixture during processing. Although this is a low risk, it is an unnecessary exposure to small amounts of chlorine that could be avoided by either growing your own carrots or purchasing carrots that have not undergone this process in their journey from farm to table.

Mainstream American food culture also values conformity. We want all of our produce to have a similar shape. However, in nature, this is not always what we get

Nevertheless, we like things that are familiar to us, because familiarity reduces potential for danger, and eliminates fear of an unknown. Therefore, we've designed our food culture around foods that have a common shape, which shows our value for safety, but also an obsession with discarding or isolating things that are different, or aren't the norm.

This behavior is potentially harmful in that we are reducing agrobiodiversity, which is important for food security. As we develop monocultures--producing the same variety over and over--in order to obtain the conformity and consistency our American consumers are expecting, we are giving them a false sense of security with conformity of shape, whereas the real security and sustainability of food rests in the maintenance of multiplicity and variety of genetic resources.

An excellent reason to purchase carrots from the grocery store or farmer’s market that still have their green stems attached, and to avoid those pre-cut baby carrots, is that you can replant the stems to cultivate their seeds. You can also do this, of course, with carrots you plant in your own garden! The replanting of the carrot stems will not grow another carrot, however it will produce the seeds once the stem sprouts, which will allow you to make a new harvest. Plants are so smart!

When I was a little girl, my family used to plant carrots all over the backyard. It was like a scavenger hunt to find them and pull up the root to find that beautiful, orange stubby piece of nature.

Children picking carrots from a garden
I recommend if you have a front yard or backyard garden, to plant those carrots everywhere and allow the neighborhood kids to have a good time pulling them out for you. Even let them try eating one with dirt on it, right from the ground. It’s a learning experience that digs into memory with a sensory experience, and allows your children to really appreciate where their food comes from and to learn about how food grows.

They are the future, and their future happiness depends on how we teach them about food security. That lesson starts in the soil, not from a plastic bag.

Have you done any creative projects with your children to teach them about biodiversity and how food is grown? Please leave your comments below!