By Evan Folds
“People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health. And are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.” – Wendell Berry
Growing a garden and taking control of your own personal agriculture might be the most important thing you can do for yourself and for the planet.
The way we produce food in the modern world is broken and people are waking up to the shortfalls of our food system and the reality that “food” is being manufactured for profit, not nourishment. Britain, for example, imports — and exports — 15,000 tons of waffles a year, and similarly exchanges 20 tons of bottled water with Australia.
According to USDA data, crops such as broccoli and wheat are showing a 50% decline in key nutritional components in the last 50 years. Food system emissions account for up to 29% of the total greenhouse gas emissions and the average meal travels an estimated 1500 miles to our plates. In fact, the large majority of the supermarket contains food-like substances that should not qualify as food in the first place!
People are becoming increasingly aware that using toxic chemicals to grow food makes no sense because they are learning to ask the right questions about the dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and other risky conventional methods of agriculture.
The reality is that eating is an agricultural act; we vote for what we want offered in our food system with every bite that we take. The single most potent tool towards making sense of our food system is for every single eater out there to start a food garden.
It doesn’t matter if it is in the front yard, in your closet or a container on the balcony, growing our own food needs to become the rallying cry of the day. Let’s call it The Food Movement, with the focus to grow healthy people, plants and planet.
Even if it is a single tomato plant on the deck, the principle of growing something that you eat is therapeutic and rewarding. Growing a garden is easy to do, but most don’t get started for fear of “screwing it up.” Am I starting the seeds correctly? How do I know when and what to grow? Should I use conventional or organic fertilizer?
The questions become overwhelming and can never end. The fun irony of this sentiment and the secret to learning to grow an amazing garden is in perspective you hold in your approach and the making of mistakes. Often times it is the “mistakes” that result in the greatest yields!
Remember that plants want to grow. Our job is to nurture the natural systems at hand to get the most out of the garden. A perfect example of this is to consider the living microorganisms that live in your soil that make up what is called the “soil food web”.
Just like in the ocean, the soil is comprised of varying trophic levels of life. The smallest organisms are called bacteria and they perform the role of the plankton of the soil. They are prey for the higher organisms called fungi, protozoa and nematodes. The importance of this soil food web cannot be overstated, imagine you took the plankton out of the ocean?
It is the responsibility of these microbes to recycle organic matter into perfect plant food. Consider that in the forest, the trees don’t eat the leaves that fall, but what the microbes make of them. This is what we call “composting”. It should be happening everywhere, not just in the compost bin.
In keeping with the forest analogy, consider that the forest grows trees without any fertilizer. The reason is that the soil is at least 100 years biologically mature and the soil has never been killed through development or use of toxic artificial biocides and fertilizer.
So our goal should be to grow our soil, not our plants. Seek out a good source of organic compost or use the forest floor to inoculate your own compost. Compost tea is also a potent and effective way to make sure you are working with a broad diversity of beneficial microbes.
In the end, you can’t learn to be a farmer by reading a book. The only true metric for success is the quality and yield of your plants. Seek physical, mineral, biological and energetic balance in the garden and grow the best garden of your life!