This weekend, I attended a talk by Kip Nash, a Boulder man who has turned many of the front yards in his neighborhood into farm plots as part of the Boulder Community Roots project. If the endless gorgeous seed catalogs, warm weather, and the kohlrabi, sorrel, kale, garlic, onions, garlic chives, and strawberries sprouting in my garden didn’t do it already, spring garden fever set in with a vengeance after his inspiring talk.
At one point, he referenced Richard Heinberg–a peak oil guy–and a pamphlet he’s published based on a lecture in which he called for America to train 50 million farmers to deal with the food shortages and rising food prices that will come as our petroleum demand outstrips supply. This article by Heinberg, although not mentioning the 50 million farmers, gives you a great overview of why he thinks there’s going to be a global food shortage.
I know this is hard to even fathom when for most of this winter gas has been at about 1.79 a gallon, but if global consumption continues at current levels (and the growth in India, China, Russia and Brazil almost guarantees that it will), we are going to run out of petroleum. And when we run out of petroleum, things like Kiwis brought in from the Southern Hemisphere and grapes from South Africa, not to mention all the other food products that come from places like China, are going to either get really, really expensive, or are going to completely disappear.
My whole life, being a child of the 70s, there has been talk about the loss of family farmers, the number of farmers that are leaving home for jobs in the city, Farm Aid, the Farm Bill, etc., etc. So it’s scary to think that, in a time when we as a society are losing our connection with the earth and with our agrarian heritage (my family comes from good farm stock, doesn’t yours?), we might suddenly find ourselves responsible in a real, tangible way, for producing food for our families. So how are we going to get 50 million people trained up and equipped to grow food on a local level so that we don’t experience massive first-world starvation when this happens?
We’re still in the midst of our year of eating local, and it’s going well despite a certain longing that all members of the family have for fresh fruit right now (yes, we’ve been eating US-grown citrus all winter, but even that gets old after a while!). But it still may seem premature to issue ourselves a brand-new food challenge. And yet, I will: We’re going to see how much of our food we can grow ourselves in 2009. We started in January with a little window-sill herb garden and lots of perusing of those beautiful seed catalogs I mentioned.
We continued last month by placing a huge seed order with some friends, turning and adding compost to our vegetable beds out back, and by securing a 50×50 foot plot across the highway where we can grow some more veggies. And today, we <em>finally</em> (emphasis from Gabriel, who has been begging/harassing me for weeks now) planted peas, spinach, and leaf lettuce. It’s only March 8, so I think this may be the earliest I have ever actually gotten my behind in gear for planting, and there’s more planned for this week.
Another neighbor who shares my love of veggie gardening is coming over this week to help me clean pots and flats so that we can get our tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and leeks started under the lights. Despite fears that people would think I was trying to grow a slightly more lucrative and less legal plant in the basement, I have purchased a roll of mylar (think shiny silver balloon material) and will be encasing the seed-starting rack Matt built me last year on three sides with mylar and on the front side with clear plastic to help hold in heat and moisture and reflect back light to increase the efficiency of my seed-starting this season.
What I hope to do is see how much of a dent we can put in our $250-300 weekly Farmer’s Market bill this summer. With all the preserving we do (yes, we’re planning, as I expected, to just keep on eating local when our official year is up in September 2009, although I’m guessing bananas and avocados, which have already made occasional appearances in our kitchen, will return to staple foods), it is hard to imagine that we won’t buy some items at market. I’m not, for example, growing broccoli, and doubt that the 20 cauliflower I have on the plan will be sufficient for my cauliflower-obsessed family. And even with a 50×50 plot shared between two families and the 500 square feet of garden space we have here at home, we’ll never produce enough melon and watermelon to keep my kids satisfied. Grains will also still have to come from the market or the local co-op–I just don’t have room to produce the quantity of grain my family consumes. But I do know a few local grain farmers, so perhaps I can get them to trade me grain for veggies. Hmmm….
Another challenge will be to see how much season-extending I can do this year (a la Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest), which is something that didn’t go so well for me last year. I planted in August and again in September, but still didn’t get a harvest of anything (although a lot of the stuff is coming up now, so it wasn’t a complete waste!). Having frozen veggies in the freezer is wonderful, but having crisp greens, carrots, and other root vegetables is going to make the menu next winter even more delicious than it was this winter!
So what about you? Do you have aspirations to become one of Heinberg’s 50 million farmers? I know I do (and I have the dirt under my fingernails to prove it, starting today!).