In book group I had been looking forward so very much to the chapter in Making Home by Sharon Astyk about growing food. So of course I was disappointed. Not only was the chapter a little disappointing, but the group discussion was disappointing too!
The book as a whole is about transitioning to a post-fossil fuel world proactively. When it comes to food lots of people think, well I live in a city so I had better go buy some acres or I am going to starve. Well, no. If you have never grown more than a tomato plant or a few herbs, buying a couple acres and thinking you are going to grow all your own food – from zero to farmer – is unrealistic and will probably do you more harm than good. Not only will your farming efforts likely be disastrous, but you will probably be taking on a large mortgage for the property. And how are you going to pay that off? By commuting an hour or more in your car to the city for work? And you are going to work on the farm when? Best to stay where you are and make the best possible use of what you have.
It is not likely, Astyk suggests, that food will be impossible to find but it will be expensive. She writes:
I would say you do not have to grow food as long as you have faith that you yourself will never become poor — will never lose your job, never struggle to make ends meet, never fall through the increasingly shaky safety nets.
I can’t figure out if she is trying to make a joke or what since she does spend quite a few paragraphs talking about how you don’t have to plan to grow your own food and then comes out with the above. So basically, yes, you should plan on growing your own food. Or at least plan on being able to supplement significantly.
She then goes on to talk about how much you can grow in a small space and how most food globally is raised on farms that are smaller than five acres. And while that might be, my own piece of land is so small it is measured in feet not acres. Nonetheless, you can still do a lot, trust me!
At the end of the chapter she has a list of 25 things you might want to consider growing. Most of them are useful — potatoes, beets, turnips, squash, kale — but she also suggests popcorn, rice and alfalfa. I have grown popcorn as a novelty but unless you have the space, the harvest is not going to be worth the effort. Same with alfalfa, though I am planning on growing it as a green manure ground cover that I can also use some of to feed the chickens as a treat. As for rice, that is so unrealistic for so many people. You have to have the right climate and access to a lot of water.
Book group finished reading the chapter out loud about 10 minutes before the end of the meeting. So the question was, who has tried growing the most things from the list? Will you be surprised that Bookman and I had tried growing the most? We counted up 15. I was hoping we’d get to talk more about the chapter including possible strategies for expanding your growing space in the city, foraging, etc. But it was not to be, the plan ended up being to move on to the next chapter about raising livestock. I will not be attending that discussion because I don’t want to talk about killing chickens or raising rabbits for meat.