Winter gives me a bit of a breather to hang out with friends and family and sometimes those I know just a little bit. There’s a friendly couple in their golden years that I’ve been bumming bulbs and plants off of for years, but other than a few short gabs between extractions and loading, I’ve never actually sat down for a good relaxed yak until this February.
Their house is located near the public beach, so their property was pure sand when they bought it back in the 1970s. After years of adding pig manure and compost, the gardens are now full of dark, rich earth. The perimeter has beautiful flowerbeds that surround fruit and flowering trees, and the yard has enough room for their veggie and fruit gardens, a small greenhouse, a chicken coop housing little bantams used for a natural insecticide, a garden/tool shed and woodshed and a big compost that neighbours contribute to and can take away from. It’s just about everything they need to run their own self-sustaining show, and that suits them just fine.
As I munched on their own goodies of dried cherries and plums while drinking tea and delicious homemade tomato juice, I learned that they both came from either a farm or homesteading background and, like so many of their generation, it was only natural for them to grow fresh food. Besides enjoying their outdoor lifestyle and obvious health benefits from exercise and nutritionally-loaded food, it was also important to them to have a degree of food sovereignty, to know where it was coming from and how it was grown. They save most of their own seeds and a considerable amount of money, plus they always have enough to share with their neighbours, friends and family.
A friend of mine temporarily moved to the Kootenays years ago and rented a house in a neighborhood of mostly Portuguese immigrants from way back. Although each lot was quite small, just about all of it was used for growing food. The front yards had enough room for two fruit and nut trees, and the entire postage-stamp-sized backyards were jammed full of raised beds loaded with herbs, tomatoes, veggies and fruit, with pea and bean vines along with beautiful old climbing roses trailing along their fence lines. It’s encouraging and wonderful to see how much food could be grown in such a small space, and I think we have something to learn from these people about savouring a little food sovereignty.
There is more than enough grim news and studies on the Internet to galvanize anyone into making room for more food gardens. A few years ago, 19 out of the 24 food-growing states declared a state of emergency due to crop damage from freezing, hail storms, flooding and drought. Some grain farmers were forced to sell their seeds for food, rather than having them for next years’ planting season. California is now experiencing a record-breaking drought, suffering massive short- and long-term crop losses, which can only mean higher prices and a limited supply. Just one or two really bad years for the farming communities that stock our stores, and we’ll be left holding a pretty empty grocery bag.
These days, I can’t completely trust what the labels say and are selling me. Are the fruits, veggies and grains really organically grown, and were the seeds organic to start with? Do I really want to chow down on food that may look great, but likely has built-in pesticides and herbicides, was grown with toxic fertilizers and is nutritionally deficient? And how many times did they get sprayed and zapped crossing state lines and borders, and then given another treatment to speed up the ripening process in the warehouse? Yuck – just thinking about it leaves a bad taste in my mouth!
The backyard dachas are so effective in Russia that they represent more than 50 per cent of the entire agricultural output, and this number continues to increase as more and more join the eco-village movement.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to grow as much good food as I can with organic seeds, buy food from our local farmers and markets to eat fresh and freeze, and learn from and listen to these people that have known the value of growing their own food all along.