Monday, April 28, 2008

Michael Pollan on Growing Your Own

There is a very interesting editorial from noted sustainable agriculture advocate and author Michael Pollan in the April 20 New York Times Magazine on dealing with climate change in your own life.

The piece is entitled, The Way We Live Now: Why Bother? And in it, he looks at the attitude many have: why bother to face the issue of climate change when it seems too big and hard to fathom? He goes through all of the issues and ultimately says that we should bother and that:

"The idea is to find one thing to do in your life that doesn’t involve spending or voting, that may or may not virally rock the world but is real and particular (as well as symbolic) and that, come what may, will offer its own rewards.

And one act he says can do this is to grow some of your own food.

"But the act I want to talk about is growing some, even just a little, of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don't, look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the problem we face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it's one of the most powerful things an individual can do to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind."

He also goes on to say, " It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible... Yet the sun still shines down on your yard, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organized vegetable garden (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden center), you can grow the proverbial free lunch — CO2-free and dollar-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious)."

He also points out the other benefits of growing your own including the fact that it's a great workout that burns calories and doesn't involve having to use the car to go to the gym.

And, as he points out, we can learn what it's like to be self-sufficient, what we can do for ourselves:

"You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate."

Very powerful stuff and so well-written, as is everything he writes. Pollan's latest book is “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pledge to Grow Sustainably For Earth Day

If you are thinking of making the switch to organic gardening, Earth Day is a great day to make it "official" and get started, especially if you are growing food that you are going to eat.

Some people think that planting more plants, fruits, vegetables, etc. actually will use more resources. But, if you practice good, basic organic gardening techniques, you will actually be helping to preserve natural resources because they require you to use less water, less chemicals, fertilizers, etc.

What exactly is organic gardening? Organic Gardening magazine offers a very simple definition. It defines organic gardeners as those who “don’t use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides on their plants and that think of plants as part of a whole system within nature that starts in the soil and includes the water supply, people, wildlife, and even insects.”

Basically, if you begin with the premise that gardening is part of a whole system, your goal as a gardener is to minimize the disruption of the natural system and to continually replenish any resources the garden uses.

The most fundamental way to do this is to practice good, basic gardening methods. The most important of these is “feeding” the soil, by providing fertility to the soil using natural sources of nutrients whenever possible. In organic gardening, soil is the most important component. It is the source of the nutrients found in fruits and vegetables.

For those who interpret organic gardening in its most literal sense, this means adding organic matter or decaying plants wastes like grass clippings, leaves, and vegetable scraps from the lawn, garden, or kitchen in the form of compost. While compost is considered the ideal organic matter for garden soil, it’s not for everybody. Organic soil amendments and fertilizers are available at local nurseries.

Other key components of organic gardening include making sure to use healthy plants because are they are less susceptible to disease, mulching, using the right irrigation system, and weeding.

Organic gardening also involves the use of natural, safe methods of pest control including crop rotation, companion planting, and introducing beneficial insects.

It’s become easier to go organic because many garden supply companies are now providing more nontoxic, natural controls for pests and disease for the organic gardener. Gardeners can also find an increased number of disease-resistance plants at local nurseries.

Check out the resources I have provided here for tips on how to get started. And think about this: You will also find that organic gardening is not only better for the garden and the environment, it also means less work for you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Need For Food is At Critical Level

Although I am starting to feel a bit like a doomsday blogger, I keep finding and receiving story after story about the spiraling cost of food and the food shortfall at food banks that is accompanying it.

This story came to me from FoodLinks America's newsletter and I am reprinting most of it here because it's so important:

Skyrocketing Food Prices Contribute to Hunger Woes

'The rapidly rising cost of groceries is severely squeezing the budgets of low-income American households. Even for families receiving food stamps and other nutrition assistance, prices are increasing faster than benefits, sending numerous households to emergency food sources such as food banks and food pantries to try and cover the difference.

Officially, according to the federal government, the cost of food at home rose 5.1 percent between February 2007 and February 2008. But double-digit increases on many staple items generated consumer concern. During the same time period, bread prices rose by 12 percent, rice and pasta by 13 percent, cheese by 15 percent, milk by 17 percent, and eggs by 25 percent.

For low-income people, there is little relief in sight. “Increasing food costs may prove to be a greater problem for families than soaring oil prices,” FRAC observed. “The average household spends three times as much for food as for gasoline, with food accounting for 13 percent of household spending compared to four percent for gas.” To view the FRAC paper, go to:"

Monday, April 7, 2008

Grow Your Own For National Garden Month

April is National Garden Month and for the second year in a row, the National Garden Association (NGA) is emphasizing how important it is to eat locally, pointing out that one of the best ways to do this is by growing your own fruits and vegetables. Eating locally is not just one of the hottest trends around, but is an important part of environmental and economic sustainability.

Most produce travels thousands of miles by refrigerated truck to get to your local grocery store. Local eating eliminates the need for long distance transport reducing the amount of fossil fuel devoted to your food supply, it helps local growers and the local economy, and you will get the freshest and best tasting food around.

Gardening helps in reducing global warming and climate change. Growing organically is even better because it emphasizes building soil organic matter not only improves the plant health and growth, but also keeps carbon out of the atmosphere.

The NGA also suggests that you consider donating excess garden produce to those in need by growing extra vegetables in your garden this summer. As the NGA points out, it’s estimated that almost 33 million Americans (including 13 million children) resort to emergency food because they cannot afford to purchase the food they need.

They talk about using the Plant a Row for the Hungry Campaign. As they say on their site, "Plant a Row for the Hungry is a national campaign, sponsored by the Garden Writers Association, to help feed hungry families. The concept is simple. Plant extra produce in your garden and donate it to a local food shelf, shelter, or soup kitchen. It's a great way to help your community, and if you include your kids or grand kids, a valuable life lesson."