On Growing All Your Own Food

by: Sara on 01/22/2014
Posted in: Gardening

In today's blog Cindy Conner, attempts to answer the difficult question of "How much space do I need to grow all of my own food". Obviously there are many variables to consider, which are addressed in more detail in her just released book, Grow a Sustainable Diet, Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth.

Cindy Conner, is a permaculture educator and founder of Homeplace Earth. Her passion is exploring growing a complete diet in a small space and getting food from garden to the table while minimizing the use of fossil fuels.

I am often asked how much space it would take to grow all one’s food. I can only address the issue from the sustainability of also growing all the compost crops to feed back the soil.  With the world population now topping seven billion, using the least area for this project is a major consideration.

Limiting your diet to only what you could grow brings nutritional challenges. Those can be met with careful planning, however the resulting diet might be very high in potatoes (irish and sweet) and grains and includes no vitamin B12, a critical nutrient necessary for healthy nerves and to prevent anemia. Most likely you would want to expand on this diet.  Chickens are becoming pretty popular and would help with that B12 deficiency.  If you are considering the total ecological footprint of your diet, you would have to include the area your chicken’s food came from, including everything it went through from farm to you.   

Cindy's garden in August

Then of course, there’s dairy. Dairy products widen your ecological footprint, while providing necessary nutrients. You could drive yourself crazy worrying about every detail.  I worry when people drop whole food groups from their diet. I believe we need to feed ourselves from a variety of foods available seasonally and as locally as we can. The amount of these animal products and the way we eat them would change in a sustainable diet.  

Some people want to grow all their own food out of fear for what the future holds. However, we are not alone in this world, and furthermore, everything is connected. We need to recognize that interdependence and build upon it. It is in building our communities that we can develop a resilient food system that will feed everyone. Most likely, as you go about becoming involved with the people in your community, you will meet just the ones who can teach you the skills you lack.

Permaculture ethics call us to care for the earth, care for the people, and return the surplus. Each of us has talents we can use to strengthen the network within our own communities. If our talents and resources allow us to grow more food than we can consume ourselves, we can share, barter, or sell the surplus within our community, building strong ties with others and expanding our own options. 

In our gardens we need to think in whole systems. There should be no waste because excess from one operation would be a resource in another.  Your permaculture garden wouldn’t

only have vegetables.  There would be a hedgerow with filbert trees and berries, grapevines growing overhead, mushrooms in the shady areas, and beehives. There are many ways to add food and shrink your diet footprint. If you are building the soil as you grow, you can provide your family with more nutritious food than you can get anywhere else. Buying from local producers what you can’t grow provides your family with a safety net that is only available within strong, resilient communities.


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