Grow your own food
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Why Grow Your Own Food?
If you have ever wondered if it's worth growing your food instead of buying it, this blog is dedicated to you. We understand the drawbacks. Growing food takes time. And it takes time to learn how to do it well. But before we talk about the cons to growing, let's look at (5) five reasons to grow your own food:
"You are what you eat.
And you are what your eat eats
And you're even what what what your eat eats eats,
It repeats. It repeats. It repeats. It repeats"
Ultimately, you eat food not just to survive, but to thrive.
You can try to achieve optimum health through fitness routines, the right amount of sleep, and opting for a more holistic lifestyle. But all of these practices may be nullified without you eating real, nutrient-dense food.
And that's the kind of food that money can't buy.
The healthiest food is the food that you grow yourself
Food Nutrients Decrease over Time
In the study, "Maximizing the Nutritional Value of Fruits & Vegetables" from the University of California, Davis, author, Diane M. Barrett details the nutritional differences between refrigerated and processed foods vs. their freshly harvested counterparts. A nutritional example is found in comparing Vitamin C.
"Vitamin C degrades rapidly after harvest, and this degradation continues during storage. Vitamin C losses in vegetables stored at 4°C for 7 days range from 15% for green peas to 77% for green beans."
But Vitamin C isn't the only nutrient lost in the storage and transportation of fruits and vegetables. Pretty much all the vitamins and minerals in fresh produce are gone over time. If you've ever eaten store-bought spinach and wondered why you're not full after consuming this supposed superfood, the degradation of its nutrients may well be the reason.
Feel full for a longer amount of time
Growing your food means that your freshly harvested backyard kale is more nutrient-dense than a store-bought one. And that nutrition translates into you feeling fuller for a longer period of time.
The article "Why Nutrient-Dense is More Important than Caloric Content" from a triathlon website states that:
"Nutrient-dense foods will make you feel fuller for longer. Many studies have shown that someone on a diet high in nutrients will consume fewer calories."
Eating organic food reduces your risk of cancer
A 2014 analysis of multiple studies by the British Journal of Nutrition, concluded that organic crops contained higher antioxidant levels than their non-organic counterparts. A diet high in antioxidants may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
Growing your own food means you can ensure it is organic
Organic foods are foods that are produced using methods that do not involve synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
According to Statista.com, there has been a steady 4.5% increase in the demand for organic food in the US in the last decade.
"The demand for organic foods is primarily driven by personal health and environmental reasons and the United States has seen organic food sales growth since 2000."
But the fact that we can purchase organically labeled food from a store, does not necessarily mean that we know how pesticide-free or ethical the supply chain process was.
By growing your own you can vouch for the safety and lack of pesticides in your food. There is immense power not only witnessing the entire lifecycle of the plant but nurturing that plant into an edible crop.
Why is it important to eat pesticide-free?
Numerous studies cite the detrimental health effects of pesticide-laden food.
In an earlier blog on Pesticides in Food, we talk about the rise of human diseases alongside the use of pesticides.
Food grown conventionally with the use of chemical fertilizers have shown to be responsible for
- Autoimmune Disorder
And a host of other human diseases.
Hence, by growing your food you can be sure that no toxins were used in your food production.
Conventionally grown food is detrimental to the environment
The chart below from Our World Data.org shows how extensive the use of chemical fertilizers is in agricultural lands around the world.
The US Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) reports that
"As fertilizer prices declined in 2010, consumption rebounded to 20.8 million tons (USDA ERS, 2019c). Consumption continued to increase in each subsequent year, up to 23.2 million tons in 2014, and then decreased slightly to 22.0 million tons in 2015."
But chemical fertilizers are not as efficient nor as effective in the long-term as their organic counterparts.
When chemical nitrogen is applied to the soil, for instance, more than half is lost to leaching.
This study on the impact of chemical fertilizers on soil health shows that continuous use of these products results in the decline of organic matter in the soil. This in turn hardens the soil and reduces its fertility over time, contributing to soil erosion and loss of minerals.
In the short term, by using chemical fertilizers, you may get a bumper crop one year, but you will see the fertility of your agricultural field drop in the following years
"Constant use of chemical fertilizer can alter the pH of the soil, increase pests, acidification, and soil crust, which results in decreasing organic matter load, humus load, useful organisms, stunting plant growth, and even becoming responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases."
Chemical Fertilizers and Pesticides affect not just the soil, but our waters.
Water is life. Life on earth began in waters and is sustained by water. However, the effects of chemical pesticides and fertilizers extend to our water ecosystems due to runoffs from agricultural farms.
The EPA reports that agricultural runoff is the leading cause of impaired water quality in the US.
This, in turn, affects the ecosystems in our lakes, rivers, and oceans.
"We know that some of these chemicals that we're finding in the runoff from the ag fields can affect [aquatic] reproduction and egg production," says USGS biologic Diana Papoulias
Because of water's molecular characteristics, water is crucial for the survival of life on earth.
Garden of Grow-It-Yourself Member, Lynn Valine in Michigan
Growing Your Own Food Helps Sequester and Reduce Carbon Emissions
The problem of climate change according to author and scholar, Eric Toensmeier must be addressed in a twofold manner.
"If you imagine that climate change is like a sink in your house that's overflowing. The water coming out of the faucet is the emissions and the first that you do when your sink is overflowing is to turn off your faucet. That's reducing the emissions.
And then you come in and you mop up the water, that's carbon sequestration."
Growing Your Food Decreases Climate Emissions
Homegrown food reduces emissions as it eliminates the need to use fossil fuels to transport, package and preserve foods to your local grocery store.
You don't need to get into your car as often to make the trip to the grocery if you grow at home.
By growing food, you naturally go "zero-waste" and do not bring home the often plastic packaging that comes from the groceries.
Growing Your Food Increases Carbon Sequestration
Moreover, by growing your food you sequester the carbon from your surrounding atmosphere into plants. As your plants grow up they capture carbon in their roots in the soil below ground (belowground biomass) as well as the above-ground (aboveground biomass). The more backyard crops you grow, the more you can capture carbon into living plant tissues for growth and development.
HERE's an image of the carbon density captured by aboveground and belowground biomass
Image courtesy of NASA
"Rather than generating methane, the composting process converts organic material into stable soil carbon, while retaining water and nutrients of the original waste matter. The result is carbon sequestration as well as the production of a valuable fertilizer."
How Much Difference Does Your Tiny Backyard Make in Solving Climate Change?
Curious to know how much your growing your own organic backyard garden can affect the state of the overall carbon emissions?
You can find the answer in the work of Project Drawdown. Project Drawdown is an initiative whose mission is to help the world reach “Drawdown”— the point in the future when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline.
Drawdonwn's article on the Powerful Role of Household Actions in Solving Climate Change sums it up this way:
"The Drawdown Solutions analysis reveals that individual and household actions have the potential to produce roughly 25–30 percent of the total emissions reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change (>1.5°C rise)."
When you compare the common popular solutions for sustainability such as using solar panels or driving an electric car, at-home food production makes the biggest ecological impact as shown in this article, Best Sustainability & Climate Change Solution: Grow Your Own Food!
Save money growing your own food
If saving the planet isn't enough reason for growing your food, how about keeping more money in your wallet?
A Consumer Reports article did a nationwide survey of organic produce vs. non-organic, and stated that "the difference is often $1 or less per unit."
This may not seem a lot more to pay per item, but it cumulatively adds up the more fruits and veggies you buy. Herbs are particularly pricey to purchase compared to growing them yourself.
You also save money when you account for the fact that by growing your food, you are eating healthier food. As such, saving money from your at-home growing efforts comes in forms that cannot easily be calculated.
One example is the decreased medical expenses that come from eating a healthier, nutrient-dense diet and getting outdoors more.
Another is that you can opt to make your Christmas gifts rather than purchase them.
Make money growing your own food
Homegrown food allows you to even make money and create a new home economy. If you have an abundance of garden vegetables you can opt to sell your produce at local farmers' markets.
Don't think you can commit to tending a stall at the farmer's market year-round? Try contacting your local farmers market vendors and talking directly to farmstands about them carrying your particular glut of zucchini or sunchokes is also a viable option.
This blog details how a blogger mom got paid $80 one summer for her harvest simply by connecting with a produce stand.
One online site in Australia called, RipeNear.Me supports home grower economies.
Another way to make money when you grow your food is to sell your plants or seeds on places like Etsy.com.
Support Local Economies
Experience the Creator through Creation
The universe has a natural order. This is evident in the regularity of the seasons, and particularly, in the intricate patterns found in nature.
As a gardener, you experience these natural patterns in plants, as well as the patterns of the seasons more intimately. Knowing that you cannot grow summer crops such as tomatoes, corn, and green beans in the cooler months is different than experiencing it as a food grower.
You start to pay closer attention to details such as your first and last frost dates and even whether it is a full moon or not.
When you garden, you start to ask questions. Questions such as, "Where does this universal order come from?"
"Why is there an order in the first place?"
"What can I learn from these patterns?"
Ask many more questions or simply gaze in awe at the wonder of your backyard garden alone, and you will eventually come to experience a little bit of the spiritual. You may start to come to experience the fingerprint of the Creator in creation.
Be amazed by the diversity in your permaculture garden
Growing food in a permaculture way, allows you to develop a profound respect for the infinite diversity of species in the flowers, fruits, medicinal herbs, and vegetables that we grow.
Commercial farms that grow a monoculture of species do not have this appreciation for diversity. And they impose this limited view of food available on their customers when they sell only one type of tomato, one type of cucumber.
A century ago, commercial seed houses offered 288 varieties of beets. By 1983 only (17) seventeen of those varieties were found in the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, a US government facility in Colorado.
When you grow your food at home, you will be amazed at the differences of varieties, out-of-this-world flavors, textures, smells in food all available at your fingertips.
Sunflowers growing in a community garden in Northern Virginia
Experience abundance that you co-create with nature
Another benefit to learning to grow food using permaculture is realizing how abundant nature is. Each sunflower you grow will yield (1) one to (2) two thousand seeds!
A quintessential symbol of abundance used in the Philippines is the many uses or yields of one coconut tree. The coconut tree yields the fruit, but also the coconut "milk" or juice used in flavoring many curries. The oil from the coconut is used in cooking and making lotions. Its bark is used as firewood and in homebuilding. Its leaves as thatched roofing for nipa huts. The husk of the coconut fruit is used for polishing wooden floors, and the coconut coir is used as a medium for growing food or even for starting fires.
Growing food helps you experience divine assistance in daily life
The more you grow food the more you begin to feel supernatural assistance in not only your food supply but also in the various medicinal herbs that support us in times of need.
There are herbs in nature that are useful in putting us to sleep or calming us (chamomile, valerian, passionflower). These are sometimes called, "nervines" or "calmatives" by herbalists. Some herbs bring down fevers (feverfew, yarrow, elderflowers) called antipyretics.
Some roots like ginger, lessen nausea and vomiting.
The world of herbalism is indeed an ancient and often ignored field in today's culture of pills. But often these herbs yield better results than their pharmaceutical drugs and have fewer side effects. (Please use herbs medicinally with the supervision of a registered herbalist.)
The fact that the word agriculture contains the word "culture" in it helps you understand how pivotal cultivating plants is to the enrichment of a greater human culture.
According to anthropologists, like Keirsten E. Snover, culture has several characteristics. It is learned, shared, symbolic, integrated, adaptive, and dynamic.
Gardening for food is not something we are born with. It's something we learn. In the past, we would have learned this naturally from our parents and grandparents as they handed down techniques used to tend their gardens. But nowadays, it is more common to learn growing from other gardeners on YouTube.
Growing food allows you to connect with the generations before us and those to come. It's always an exciting moment when you can see a child's expression as she picks her first carrot. This shared experience crosses race, politics, and even geography. We may grow different vegetables across the globe, but we can all still grow something to eat.
This allows you to share a similar experience with a gardening relative that you have only just met, or with someone from a completely different background in another part of the world who also grows their own food.
People in different parts of the world develop their own ways of growing. In Southeast Asia, rice is grown on terraced hills.
If you live in places like Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, you will find that desert growing is much different than growing in a climate with regular rainfall.
Growing food humbles you
Finally, the way that we grow our food is something that evolves into better (sometimes worse) techniques over time.
At one point, we thought that using carpet-bombed chemical fertilizers was the most effective way to grow food. And sadly, this was called the "green revolution."
Today there is a new wave of gardeners who are ready to ditch the chemicals and return to the way nature intended we grow food. We like to call this permaculture gardening.
Humans are always learning.
Learning to grow your food is a skill, but is also an ongoing, lifetime process. True gardeners know that we never stop learning how to grow. The more you grow, the more you realize how little you know.
Challenge Your Gardening Excuses
1. No Time to Grow Food
Perhaps in the past, you have told yourself, that you have no time to grow food.
Amy Stross of Tenth Acre Farm in her book, "The Suburban Micro-Farm," proposes that if you can grow food in as little as 15-minutes a day.
John Jeavons of Ecology Action estimates that you can do grow food with a mere 3-minutes a day!
So try swapping some of that online screen time for a little garden time, even if you grow a few herbs on your windowsill.
2. No Energy to Grow Food
Some members of our Grow-It-Yourself / GIY Program are growing food in balconies and on kitchen counters because that is all they have energy for.
A good example of small-space gardening is growing and incorporating microgreens in your diet. Microgreens are harvested in about (10) ten days and use hardly any soil at all. The food you grow and eat will provide you with a little more energy than store-bought food.
3. No Money to Grow Food
If you feel like you have no money to start your garden, think again. Gardening is one of the cheapest hobbies. (See image above.) Sometimes all it takes to get started is the cost of seeds and some dirt.
You can even start for free by reaching into your pantry and using what you have. You can grow whatever beans or lentils you have on hand and (again) sprout those as microgreens.
4. No Know-How About Growing Food
There was once a time when our ancestors would would pass down agricultural wisdom to the next generation. But in this day and age, many of us are unfamiliar with food production.
If we do decide to grow a garden, we waste countless hours YouTubing our way to a food garden only to find our kale decimated by white flies.
Don't you wish had the wealth of agricultural knowledge that our ancestors did?
If you don't know how to grow your own food but want to learn without making rookie mistakes, then join the GIY Community!
The GIY Community is a positive, dynamic and encouraging online space for you to learn to grow your food successfully by harnessing the collective wisdom of real-life gardeners across the US and abroad!
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In 2013 I participated in the Grow Your Own Produce workshop series with permaculture instructor Marisha Auerbach. I joined the workshop series to expand my knowledge about gardening and obtain first-hand guidance in regards to the design, creation, maintenance, and harvesting of backyard vegetable garden. As an amateur gardener delving into his first vegetable gardening experience I had a lot to learn (and unlearn). The classes were well organized, and I felt comfortable asking questions both during and outside of workshop. Marisha is incredibly knowledgeable about growing food in the Pacific Northwest. Marisha is passionate and curious about growing food, as is evident by her thriving home garden, and her enthusiasm for mindful cultivation of fresh, healthy and local food was inspiring to me. My garden in 2013 was relatively successful! I stewarded a bumper crop of snap peas, and was successful in growing chard, kale, shallots, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, and cardoon. My personal goals of not killing everything I planted and wanting to plant a garden next year were achieved! ~ Christopher Kochiss
Thank you for showing the way. I heard you on Jack’s show. My problem is there are so many things to learn and plants. I have started Japanese sweet potatoes from the organic source in the store. I am trying many things and see if they work on my property. I have been lucky and have a source of wood chips from tree work in my neighborhood.
Way to go, Danny!
Wood chips are great mulch because they break down slowly and become the richest most fertile soil in the end!