“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 1,500 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 and are learning and asking 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 and 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 the 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?
In concert with plants that feed them through their roots, microbes make soil. It is the responsibility of these microbes to self-organize into a system of symbiosis with surrounding plants to help them eat, protect them from disease, and 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.
In short, the more biologically active the soil, the less we are required to fertilize.
It is not possible to fertilize your soil into health. Fertilizer is a crutch. In fact, if you are using artificial fertilizer you are taking advantage of your soil. It’s really no different than fast food for plants, and we all know what happens when we eat fast food for every meal.
The most potent way to grow your soil is brewing compost tea. Compost tea is a concentration of compost created by aerating water and presenting microbes from good compost with organic fertilizers; such as molasses, fish, kelp, etc. In the presence of air and food, the microbes grow to extraordinary concentrations.
Compost tea is very easy to make and can be brewed using your own compost, as long as you properly inoculate the pile with a broad diversity of microbes.
Unfortunately, soil in the average landscape has been significantly disturbed through development and chemical abuse, so it cannot be taken for granted. Microbes move micrometers in their lifetimes, they don’t jump over the fence. So if they are not deliberately added, most times they are not present.
On the positive side, this helps explain many of the typical gardening issues you may encounter with pests and disease. A healthy garden self-regulates, it checks pests and disease with beneficial bugs and microbes.
The truth is that growing a garden should always get better with time. It is only when we use an artificial approach when this is not true. So our goal should be to grow our soil, not our plants.
Remember that the only true metric for success is the quality and yield of your plants. The healthier perspective you hold towards living systems the healthier your garden will be.
What you think, you grow.
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