Let’s Turn Suburbia Into A Local Food Mecca
These days anybody who has a Netflix account has likely seen the numerous documentaries about our food problems. The ‘Why’, shouldn’t be hard to understand for many of you, you already see there needs to be change.
If you’re not familiar with such documentaries as Forks Over Knives, The Beautiful Truth, Food Inc., and The Future Of Food, then keep reading to understand.
The root cause of our food problem is our mistreatment of the soil. We haven’t understood the importance it plays to our health. As Dr. Max Gerson discovered in the early 20th century, the soil is our external metabolism, and therefore it plays a huge role in our overall health.
Today, conventional agriculture mistreats the soil by growing monocultures and depleting the soil of it’s essence, its life giving minerals and nutrients. The soil is so dead in fact that farmers have to inject chemical fertilizers just to get it to grow anything.
The main fertilizers they use consist of 3 nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. So how many nutrients make up healthy soil? There are 52 minerals needed for optimum soil health, and consequently human health. For more on this read here.
Another major problem is that our food travels too far to reach our plate.
So why does it matter how far away our food travels? Besides the effects on the climate, the food is just not as nutritious. That’s right. Food that is being grown to ship long distances is picked before it has actually ripened. This is so the fruit or vegetable isn’t spoiled by the end of it’s long journey. They’re also often treated with chemical gasses to delay the ripening process even further. Why does this matter? Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables are most nutritious when they’re allowed to fully ripen on the vine.
These are not the only 2 problems with our current food system, but they are arguably the most troublesome.
Suburbia is arguably the greatest misallocation of human resources. It’s tried to provide the benefits of living in the country and living in the city, but instead has given us the disadvantages of both. For more on this topic, read The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape by James Howard Kunstler or watch the documentary “End Of Suburbia”.
So we have these huge sprawling suburban areas that have backyards full of something that is grown almost entirely for aesthetic purposes: grass.
It’s already bad enough that we’re utilizing the rainfall to grow grass instead of food. To top it all off however, homeowners will actually water their grass, wasting even more of our very limited, very precious resource: water
There are a growing number of homeowners that understand the problems, and want to be a part of the solution but they’re too busy with work and their families.
What to do!?
Become A ‘Natural Suburban Farmer’
Many believe organic farming to be more difficult and less productive than conventional farming. You don’t get to use chemicals and earth polluting machinery after all right?
This just isn’t the case if you understand ‘natural farming’ principles or ‘do-nothing farming’ as it’s also called.
This method of farming was pioneered by Masanobu Fukuoka of Japan. He was able to produce just as much rice as conventional rice farms by challenging everything about the way conventional farming is undertaken. You can learn more about Masanobu Fukuoka by watching this short documentary.
Natural Farming is a very efficient way to grow healthy soil and healthy crops. Mr. Fukuoka discovered that by working with nature, instead of against it, you can achieve much greater results with much less effort.
Growing in this manner has many benefits, including the following:
- Decaying organic matter becomes valuable ground cover that helps the soil to retain moisture, stay cool and serves to prevent erosion.
- When employing proper no-till growing methods, weeds have trouble ever getting started, thus drastically reducing any workload related to weed removal.
- Returning organic matter to the soil helps to naturally fertilize the ground by adding nitrogen.
Natural Farming How To
Here’s a short quote from the One Straw Revolution showing just how simple Mr. Fukuoka’s farming method truly is:
“To plant, I simply broadcast rye and barley seed on separate fields in the fall while the rice is still standing! A few weeks later, I harvest the rice and spread the straw back over the fields from which it came.
It is the same for the rice seeding. This winter grain (rye and barley) will be cut around May 20. About two weeks before these crops fully mature, I broadcast rice seed over them. After they have been harvested — and the grains threshed — I spread the resulting rye and barley straw over the field… You might further notice that white clover and weeds are also growing in these fields. Clover seed was sown among the rice plants in early October (shortly before the rye and barley). I do not worry about sowing the weeds . . . they reseed themselves quite easily!”
Obviously, what you grow is determined by where you live, but the same basic principles apply. Sow seed, harvest, spread straw and repeat:
Step 1: Test Soil
The very first step you need to take is to test your soil. This is especially true if you live in a dense urban environment. You just don’t know what kind of contaminants can be lurking in the soil. Here’s a helpful guide on soil safety.
Step 2: Clay Seed Balls (aka Seed Bombs)
After we’ve tested our soil, the next step is to prepare clay seed balls for your yard.
These are seeds encased in soil and clay to create a solid ball.
Doing this helps to protect the seeds from animals, wind, and heat. It gives nature that extra boost which really makes a difference.
It’s important to include seeds of cover crops or other nitrogen fixing plants like clover, legumes, rye, buckwheat, alfalfa, etc . These grow in between you other plants and serve to protect the soil and add beneficial nutrients.
There are 2 different types of seed balls Mr. Fukuoka teaches how to make.
The 1st kind is meant for a ‘natural farm’ and consists of 20 kinds of vegetable seeds, 20 kinds of fruit seeds, 10 kinds of tree seeds (optional depending on land size), and finally ‘green manure’ seeds (i.e. clover, alfalfa, etc.)
The 2nd kind is meant for fields rotating between rice and wheat. This just includes clay seed balls of wheat and clover, and clay seed balls of rice only.
You can find out what grows well in your region by searching Google using “[county name] planting calendar” as the search term.
Here’s a great recipe for making these seed balls via GardeningKnowHow.com:
“2 parts potting soil
5 parts pottery clay mix from your local art store
1–2 parts water
1–2 parts seeds of your choice
Large tub to mix ingredients
Large box to dry and store seed balls
Mix the soil, clay and 1 part water thoroughly. There should be no lumps. Slowly add more water until the mixture is the consistency of the toy store molding clay that comes in a can.
Add seeds. Keep kneading the dough until the seeds are well mixed in. Add more water if necessary.
Take small bits of the clay mixture and roll into ball about one inch in diameter. The balls should hold together easily. If they’re crumbly, add more water.
Dry seed balls for 24–48 hours in a shady place before sowing or storing. They store best in a cardboard box. Do not use plastic bags.”
Here’s a lazy man’s method to making clay seed balls:
Step 2: Sow Seeds
You can scatter these seed balls as you wish, or you can set them in rows if you like a more orderly garden.
This step is pretty straight forward and simple. There’s nothing else to explain.
Step 3: Harvest
As your plants start to grow and bare fruit, simply harvest when ready.
Step 4: Spread Straw
At the end of the growing season, cut down the dying plants and spread them as straw mulch upon the ground.
Step 5: Repeat
Start the process all over again. Mr. Fukuoka says that with natural farming as each year passes, more and more of your plants will naturally reseed themselves. Lessening the need for Step 1.
When making the transition into this kind of farming, Mr. Fukuoka also says some weeding, composting and pruning may be required, but the need for this type of work will too be reduced as the years go by.
Knowing how to turn your corner of suburbia into a local food mecca can increase the health and vitality of your family, your neighbors, and yourself. You just need to do it!
Start small, and don’t burn yourself out. Start with one or two garden beds this upcoming grow season. Find out what kinds of crops grow well in your region of the world, and just start with a couple.
Once you have mastered ‘no-till’ gardening, simply offer to help your neighbors to do the same in their backyard. If they don’t have enough time on their hands to do it themselves, offer to do it for them in return for a percentage of the harvest or just because you want to make a difference in your community. It’s up to you!
What are you to do with extra produce? You could sell it at the farmer’s market. Or you could just give it as a gift to your family and friends. In return, I’m confident they’ll express their gratitude by gifting back in due time. This is what community is for. It’s time to disrupt this poisonous food chain and create the community we want to live in. Be the change we want to see in this world.
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