Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eat Your Yard

In his thoughtful article "Food for Thought" featured in the June issue of The American Conservative, John Schwenkler (doubtless the one in the background rather than the foreground), a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, writes "Renewing the culinary culture, and restoring the kinds of values that are necessary for the proper functioning of a healthy republic, is not the sort of thing that can be left to activists, environmentalists, and government bureaucrats. This is a conservative cause if ever there was one, and it is going to have to begin at home. The revolution is coming. And it’s sure to be delicious."

Although Schwenkler and I may have different presidential candidate preferences and not see eye to eye on matters such as a need for preschools, in this instance he and I substantively agree. Schwenkler makes the case thoroughly, citing a diverse cast of sources ranging from Alice Waters and Michael Pollan to Bill McKibben and Miguel Altieri.

I make one exception. I do depart from singing in Schwenkler's choir on this one note. In discussing the issue of potentially reduced yields after a widespread conversion of food crop producers to organic and sustainable farming he states:"Proponents of a new way of eating are on shakier ground when they claim that a widespread turn toward small-scale and deindustrialized agriculture would not affect crop yields. McKibben proudly cites a study in which sustainable farming methods were found to lead, on average, to a near doubling of food production per hectare. He does not mention the many cases in which results have been less impressive. A much discussed study published in the journal Science in 2002 found that switching to organic farming reduced yields by 20 percent, though the possibility of lessening our reliance on petroleum may be worth the investment of some extra land. Reincorporating into the human food chain some of the millions of acres where corn and sorghum are now grown for ethanol production would also make a great difference."

Not that I would hesitate one heartbeat in suggesting land currently dedicated towards ethanol production would be better used to grow a diversity of food crops. I would more simply add my observation that a potentially huge resource for crop production currently sits needlessly devoted to ornamentals and grassy monocultures.I am speaking of course, about the typical suburban yard with its familiar expanses of curb to curb lawn, interrupted only occasionally by other ornamentals, all of them requiring chemical and hydrological support far beyond what is needed to grow food.

According to a resource page found on the Edible Estates site, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is on record stating that homeowners use "up to 10 times more chemicals and pesticides on their lawns than farmers use on crops."

On the same page we read "North Americans now devote 40,000 square miles to lawns, more than we use for wheat, corn, or even tobacco."- "The Lawn: North America's magnificent obsession' by Robert Fulford (Azure, July-August, 1998)...and further, "6% - 12% of every dollar spent on food consumed in the home comes from transportation costs"- Rhodes, V. James. 1993. "The Agricultural Marketing System", 4th Edition. Scottsdale, Arizona: Gorsuch,Scarisbrick, Publishers.

Where to begin? Absent years of experience raising edible plants in your area, start small. Observe your own suburban lot or urban terrace. Do you have anything planted at all? If you do, can you eat any of it? If not, consider why not.

You could start today. Mark out a small area and consider preparing it for gardening. Our mild winters allow for a prolonged growing season. You could be raising your own lettuce crops, radishes, carrots, or beets. If you must replace a tree, consider native fruit trees. There are several varieties of figs, certain peaches, and I have seen apple and pear variants listed as possibilities.

If you don't have adequate space for a garden plot, many edible plants lend themselves readily to container gardening, and are extremely pleasing to the eye. You will soon discover for yourself the deep satisfaction it brings to grow something yourself and then eat it.

Think of it. 40,000 square miles of land that we could be using to raise seasonal, sustainable, local food. And using less water and fewer chemicals while we're at it.

With that in mind, my family and I are slowly but surely moving parts of our lot from a monoculture of St. Augustine to a diverse setting for mostly native plants. In the front where marauding deer make raising food crops tenuous, we are doing what we can to institute a xeriscape culture that will support not only Bambi and his voracious friends, but a host of birds, butterflies, lizards, snakes, and squirrels. It is not an easy task, and at the moment there are areas in front that are slightly less than glamorous.

In our back yard, a space that once looked like this

now looks like this...

We are doing what we can, one area at a time. We are raising onions, herbs, lemons, loquats, tomatoes, eggplant, tomatillos, jalapeños, lettuces, collard greens, chard, in and amongst native flowers and shrubs. As we gain knowledge we have plans to expand further.

Get edible out in your yard. The revolution is here, and it begins at home, with YOU.These ideas may be revolutionary but they are by no means new. There's lots of expert help available for you. Want to learn more? Check out these resources for starters:

Sustainable Food Center
Grow Local
Central Texas Gardener
Austin Organic Gardeners

1 comment:

Flapjacks said...

That's funny. I just went to get dirt yesterday. More to come on that.