By Victoria Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
One person making one little change might not have a big impact on the world, but 300 million people making that one little change? Well, now you’re onto something!
The little change I have in mind is growing your own food. We all know it’s healthy to eat organic and local. Well, it doesn’t get any more local than your own backyard, or even your windowsill! And growing it yourself gives you complete control and assurance of what has gone into what you are putting into your body. That alone would be reason enough for me to want to grow my own.
But, beyond your own health and satisfaction, once again, this practice has far-reaching benefits to the greater good. Stop and think for a moment about how that lettuce leaf made it to your plate. Unless you bought it from a local farmer, chances are it was grown on a giant monoculture (one crop) farm somewhere far from your home There are several ways that is impacting the environment.
Monoculture is an unnatural way for things to grow on our planet. If you look around at the uncultivated world you will find a diverse group of plantings coexisting together. This is the happy way nature intended things to grow. The soil below is constantly being renewed and replenished as the life in the soil works its magic on the decaying plant matter. The roots are joyfully intertwined and communicating with each other via a healthy fungal network of micro rhizomes.
A monoculture farm does not contain this lively balance. The soil becomes dead and depleted. And to counteract that, farmers must pump chemical fertilizers into the ground to feed those undernourished plants. These chemicals pollute our home planet. Also, because the soil is dead and lacking organic matter, it does not hold water the way that living soil does. So, it takes a great deal of irrigation to provide the plants with the water they need before it drains out of the dead ground, thus wasting one of our increasingly precious resources: fresh H2O.
As you might imagine, plants grown in this fashion are not at the optimum health that they could and should be. To add to this, without the diversity and balance of flora and fauna around them (including “good” bugs to counteract the “bad” ones), they now become easy targets for the pests that attack them. Can you guess what the farmers do to address this issue? If you guessed strong chemical pesticides to kill the bugs, you win! Or do you? Does anybody win here?
Then there is that supermarket lettuce on your plate. How did it get from that giant farm to your kitchen table? Popular science reports that transportation makes up a fifth of all food system carbon emissions. In fact, much of what we typically buy travels an average of 1,500 miles in the U.S. Ecoguide.org, whose mission is to help us fight climate change, reports that the transportation for each pound of food releases 0.18 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
I recognize that most people do not have a farm-size yard on which to grow a great deal of their own food. But everyone, even those living in apartments in the city, can grow at least a little something. And here’s where that 300 million of us comes in. If we each grew just one pound of our own food a year, that would relieve the environment of 540,000 pounds of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
Of course, it’s not as simple as that. It’s not like the farms are actually going to grow one less head of lettuce for each one we grow at home. But my point is, in time, as more and more of us start to grow as much as we can, and less food is bought from the grocery stores, a difference can be made.
I would like to implore each and every one of you to pick up a packet of seeds and start the journey. If you have some land out there, devote some of it to vegetables. Even if you don’t have a separate plot to devote to them, mix a few in with your flowers or landscaping. And if you have no land at all? Perhaps you have a deck or a terrace or balcony where you can grow some veggies or herbs in pots.
There are quite a few veggies that will be quite happy to grow in containers. Smaller edibles, such as lettuce, radishes, leafy greens (like kale), and bush beans will do fine in small pots. Even bigger plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, and squash can flourish in a larger vessel.
If you are growing plants in containers, it is best to buy the varieties bred especially for that purpose. For instance tomatoes come in indeterminate varieties (will keep growing forever) and determinate varieties, which are better for containers because they will stop growing at a certain size (usually about 4'). Zucchinis and cucumbers can also be purchased in a more compact bush type for growing in pots. It will usually indicate this on the label.
If you want to get fun and creative, you can put a trellis out there and grow some pea or bean vines up it. They are both beautiful and edible. You can even grow certain fruits on an apartment terrace. Strawberries do well in pots (there is a type of pot “tower” called a greenstalk with many pots put together in a vertical manner that lends itself beautifully to terrace growing of strawberries, lettuces, or other small crops). There are also blueberry plants that are sold specifically for container use.
And even those of you in apartments with no outside space can grow a things on your windowsill in tiny pots. Basil, oregano, rosemary, and mint are just a few of the herbs you can grow right in your kitchen. And try a small lettuce plant or two as well. Don’t have a sunny windowsill? You can buy grow lights for indoor growing. You can even grow “microgreens.” This is when you fill a small container with seeds and just let them grow to a few inches tall and then “harvest” and eat them.
So, let’s start a grow-your-own revolution! If everyone grows a little, we can collectively grow a lot! And once you taste that homegrown goodness and feel what it does to your health and well-being you will never want to go back. You will become as addicted to growing fresh delicious food as I am.
A long, long time ago, after the birth of her third child, Victoria made the life-changing decision to leave the work world behind and devote herself to being a full-time mom and homemaker. Along with her new title of Domestic Engineer, she took on the role of the Chief Home Economist for the family.
At first, it was scary to try to live on less than half their income, but Victoria found that she not only rose to the challenge but thrived in the enjoyment of learning to live their best life with limited resources. She embraced this new frugal lifestyle of the at-home-mom and went on to add a fourth child to the mix. And their family was complete.
Along the way she acquired a great deal of wisdom in how to not only avoid debt, but pay off mortgages early, buy cars for cash, travel on a shoe-string budget, and send kids to college with no student loans, all while also saving a tidy nest egg for retirement. She currently educates others in these skills through her business Bright Future.
Now living the life of a modern homesteader in the Hudson Valley, New York, Victoria has added gardening to her list of skill sets as she grows many of her own vegetables to supplement her family’s primarily vegan diet. And she has come to realize that this waste-not, want-not, carbon-friendly, sustainable life she is living is not only benefiting her own family but also our Mother Earth, and that each of us has the obligation to live a responsibly sustainable life not only for ourselves, but for the greater good of our community, and our planet. We can all do this one household and backyard at a time. We are the world! And it all begins right at home.
Victoria can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org