Future Economy: Growing Food

It’s January 30, and the last thermometer I saw said it’s 37 degrees, but it really is time to start thinking about gardening again.  For me, this is complicated by the fact that we’re thinking about moving (not out of Portland, just someplace cheaper and/or possibly a different neighborhood).  So I don’t want to put a lot of stuff in the ground if we’re going to do that.  I might have to do some containers for now.

But gardening is part of our family’s food plan, and should be a big part of our society’s food plan.  Some people are calling for the return of the Victory Garden.  Whatever you call it, we need it.

One question often asked is “Is it worth it?”  After all, you can spend a lot of money gardening, not even taking your time into account.  Seeds, tools, raised beds, soil amendments, plant starts, and fertilizer can all cost money.  But really, many of these can be one time or once in a while expenses.  Once you get started, you can save your own seeds, make your own compost, and start your own seedlings in late winter.

And then you’ll spend time digging, planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting.  If you compare it all with grocery store prices, you may decide it’s not worth it.

But what if we value our home-grown and home-preserved food differently?  Here’s what Rick Saenz of Dry Creek Chronicles has to say:

If by that question I mean, “Was it cost effective?”, then the answer is No. Just no. I can buy one hundred eighty quarts of canned tomatoes at Sam’s for about one hundred and eighty dollars, and it would have been much easier and quicker to earn one hundred and eighty dollars than to can those tomatoes.

Oops.  That doesn’t sound very frugal in “time is money” terms.

Many people say that it’s worth it because the food is healthier.  You get better nutrition and fewer pesticides (assuming you garden organically).  You know what you’re feeding your household, because you grew it.  It’s also worth it as a personal achievement.  It feels good to produce something, and to be more self sufficient.

Saenz says it’s more than this.  He says that we need to move from a cash-based economy, where time is money, and we have to earn cash to pay for the things we need, to a subsistence-based economy, in which we can produce the things we need ourselves, either as a family or as a community.

That sounds like a viable future to me.

Even if we can’t grow everything we need at our own house, we can still find ways to be independent of cash.  Maybe I can’t have chickens, but I could grow some broccoli and trade for eggs.  Or maybe I could do some sewing in exchange.  I could even barter copy-writing for things that we need.

Some people don’t have land for growing food.  Community gardens and bartering can help with this, but apartment and condo-dwellers could also make arrangements to share someone else’s land — perhaps planting a garden in someone’s backyard, and in exchange, giving the homeowner a share of the produce (people in the UK are already doing this).

Once again, it’s all about getting local.  What can you do in your community to help these things happen?

No Impact Man wrote about “The Tom Sawyer Approach to Saving the World.”

To change people’s values, so the shrinks say, you change their behavior. You don’t barrage them with ideas and cause information overload. You don’t tell them their existing values are wrong and get their backs up.

What you do is you get them to change their behavior and, once you’ve done that, you let their ideas and values change all by themselves. “What a great idea we’ve come up with,” they’ll say.

Basically, you get them to join you in doing something, and then once they start doing it, they realize the value of it.  So, can you invite someone to join you on a food adventure?  Maybe you could invite just one person to share a meal with you, made from your own garden produce.  And maybe that would evolve into a weekly or monthly shared meal.  And maybe you could give them some of your started plants for their own garden.

And maybe later, you could each invite someone else to join you.  You might even end up with a co-op in your neighborhood!

What can you do?