Here in late-April Indiana, we are experiencing a new season called “Sprinter.” It appears that spring is finally starting to push away winter and that means it’s time to start growing food. My Food Literacy Manifesto is meant to define food literacy for our time and challenge you to improve your food literacy skills. Like any other skill, it’s just a matter of a little education and some trial and error.
Many people have asked me over the years how I know how to grow food. I did grow up with a big backyard and a family that gardened (that I avoided at all costs.) So, I knew people could grow food, but I didn’t have a lot of practical knowledge. I certainly did not see a future for myself as a farmer and nutrition expert.
When I began to take back my health and examed our strange, dangerous, and dysfunctional food system, I knew that I had not only the power to turn my 5 acres of land into a food factory but also a responsibility to myself and my family to work in harmony with nature to produce clean food. You can read more about how my search for health turned me into a farmer and, ultimately, a food/nutrition expert.
I started by reading a bit and asking questions of the farmers at the market who had become friends. Mostly, I just dove in head first. I made a lot of mistakes. My biggest mistake that first year was greatly underestimating the space needed for the plants as they grew. I spent that first year wading into a sea of plants that I had planted way to close. It was a jungle of my own making, but I grew a lot of food.
Despite my early mistakes, the wonderful truth is: plants want to grow! Farmers/gardeners help set the stage, but the magic is all about the soil, the plant, and the weather. Growing food is set of interventions that are aimed at optimizing the soil-plant-weather magic formula. Every year I get better because I have learned from my failures. I am also continually being taught the lessons of how much is not in my control. Growing food is a meditation on hard work, patience, and the all-powerful life-death cycle.
The obvious goal of growing food is the food itself, but I have found so many unexpected benefits. When I started buying from local farmers and growing my own food, I quickly realized I was eating the best food of my life. Fresh, diverse food does not compare to grocery store offerings. When food is fresh and flavorful you can prepare it very simply. I am still blown away by how much better the food I can grow is.
Another unexpected benefit is a deeply fulfilling connection with nature and, for me, the divine. An important part of healing (and just living in general) is to find the place and activity where you feel connected to something greater. I often get asked how I find the time to farm. The truth is I HAVE to farm. It is what keeps me going and able to do all the rest. For me, the hard physical labor and connection to nature is the ONLY time that I feel like I am doing exactly what I need to do and time falls away. It calms my mind, engages my body, gives me the space to think clearly, and recharges my spirit.
Growing food has given me a deep understanding of natural cycles and respect for food. To me, this is a crucial piece that is missing from our industrial food system. We no longer value food. When we do not participate in food production and preparation, we take food for granted. Doing so has been to our and the planet’s detriment. You have likely heard the statistic that 40% of food in the US is wasted. When you have done the hard work behind what is on your table, it is hard to watch it be wasted. I once had a friend complain that raspberries at the farmers’ market were $4 a pint. I explained how many hours I have spent wading into thorny raspberry canes in 90-degree weather and I would charge twice that!
My passion for farming won’t be for everyone, but there is magic in participating in the production of your own food. I challenge you to find even a small way to do so. I will be sharing on social media and here on the blog as I plant the farm and demonstrate ways you can participate in growing your own food. I encourage you to follow along, build your food literacy skills, and participate in the magic that starts with a seed.
You don’t need a green thumb or specialized training. Plants want to grow. You can absolutely do this. You will amaze yourself.
Here’s my first tip: Plant an edible spring garden in a container. Get a planter about 15 inches in diameter. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom. Get a bag of organic potting soil and fill the pot. Add 4-5 plants that are beautiful and edible. Here are plants you can plant right now in Indiana “Sprinter” that will work well in a planter:
- Pansy (flowers are edible)
- Parsley: Italian or Curly
- Nasturtium (flowers are edible)
Put your container garden in a sunny location and check daily to see if it needs water. When summer finally gets underway, you need to water daily, preferably in the morning. Don’t forget to harvest along the way!