Wednesday, October 13, 2010

We're Horticulturists

I watched this Toby Hemenway talk recently entitled "How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but not Civilization."

It was really interesting. The best part, though, is when I get to watch these talks by these really smart people who tell me, in essence, that what we (as a culture/society) should be doing is exactly what Deus Ex Machina and I are doing.

I've talked before about how, when I first started on this path, my goal was to grow all of our own food, but how Deus Ex Machina kept telling me I couldn't ... or shouldn't ... one of those two. What I heard him saying to me was that it couldn't be done, that it was not possible to grow all of the food we'd eat on a quarter acre, and, basically, I was wasting my time.

The problem is that: 1) I do not believe in impossible; and 2) I was fairly convinced that we didn't have a choice, that things were going to be bad, sooner rather than later, and if we really couldn't grow everything we need on our quarter acre, we would probably starve.

When I finally stopped to listen, though, I realized that he was not saying it was not possible, but rather that it wasn't necessary, that *I* don't need to grow EVERYTHING on this quarter acre that we need to sustain ourselves; that, perhaps, the better option is to do some combination of growing and foraging.

And wow! When that lightbulb finally went off it was like blinding sunlight in a newly opened cavern with a chorus of celestial beings, and I thought, "Oh!"

So, we started, doing a little of both, and then, I watched Toby Hemenway's talk about horticultural societies, and bam! that light nearly blinded me.

What he's talking about in this talk and with the permaculture movement is exactly what Deus Ex Machina and I have been working toward .

We're so smart ... well, Deus Ex Machina is, anyway, because he knew. I just wanted to grow stuff, which, as it turns out, is not a bad thing, either ;).


  1. I think that it sounds like a nice balance - you can grow as much as you feel comfortable with (and what makes sense in your space) and forage, barter and otherwise make use of local people you trust for the rest.

    I believe that the more we educate our neighbors and friends, the more everyone benefits. I have some friends, for example, who didn't realize how easy it is to grow kale, scallions and chives for year-round munching! Just those 3 ingredients would make a soothing onion soup in a pinch, and so healthy! And it can grow in your windows!

    I know this is all stuff you know, but my friends literally had no idea. Now those friends have told other friends, and so it's getting paid forward that simple things can make a big difference...and the bigger things even more so!

  2. I've read in several places that the reason the suburban block IS a quarter acre is so that, in lean times, a family could grow enough food to support themselves, way back in the dark ages (well, a 100 years ago or so, but you get the drift).

    Of course, people usually had more kids then.

    So for people to assume it can't be done is probably foolish.

    HOWEVER, it isn't easy to grow food at all, and society needs to change a lot. We need to reskill, and relearn so much that most people simply don't know. The average joe or jane on the street has enough difficulty opening a can. let alone canning their own food after having grown it from seed!

    I think now is a really good time to start learning. And permaculture is amazing - I've just watched my chooks build two rows of veggie beds for me (you couldn't ask for neater edges) using a sheet mulch plus chook tractoring permaculture technique. They've even manured it for me! :-)

  3. @ Witchy - very funny about your friends, but I think that's probably not unusual. There is an incredible number of food plants that will (if not thrive, at least) grow in pots in a sunny window. And how very cool is it that you can grow all of the ingredients for onion soup on your windowsill! Awesome! Thank you for sharing that info ... with your friends, and here, too :).

    @Leanne - I had never heard that about the size of suburban lots. Very interesting! What's even neater about you saying it is that it's something I've always suspected (i.e. that we could grow enough not to starve), but for which I had no proof or even support (because most people believe it *can not* be done - and some will go as far to say that *no* food can be grown on a quater acre - which is just silly).

    I don't think growing food is particularly difficult. What I think stumps most people is knowing what to do with all of that raw, unprocessed food once it comes out of the garden. The real problem is that too many people don't know what *real* food looks like, and I'll admit to being one of those people who (still, even after all of these years I've been gardening and canning ;) has a hard time figuring out how to cook/process things like a 10 lb Hubbard squash :).

    I completely agree that we need to start learning some of those forgotten skills and NOW is the best time to start.

    I love my chickens. They're so amazing on so many levels!

  4. I think what throws a lot of people is the difference between what they see on the store shelves — carefully chosen, waxed, and polished — vs. the random flaws on so much of home-grown produce. Not to mention the hassle of digging, planting, weeding, debugging (literally), and picking.

    In the White Pickups sequel, Jason, Ben, and Johnny will be debating over what direction they should go to reach food security… I think they'll agree to (like you) forage *and* farm.

  5. FARf - I know you're right. In fact, up here, we have fiddleheads (which are fern buds) ... free for the picking in the early spring. It's a wonderful wild food - tastes a bit like green beans. What's funny is that I know a lot of people who've eaten them, and very few who've actually picked them, because our grocery stores sell fiddleheads in the spring. It's bizarre.

    I'm looking forward to reading the rest of White Pickups. It's really interesting. Be sure to have them visiting bookstores and raiding the houses for books. I would love to see them set-up a library somewhere - in the clubhouse (or even one of the empty houses) - complete with all sorts of books - including practical how-to's like a Foraging the South, but also books like steamy romance novels or dime-store fiction :). Wouldn't be awesome of books made a comeback ;)?

  6. No prob, Wendy, and thanks much! In fact, they *do* a lot of reading (see Episode 52, had to give my blog-buddy Nancy a shout-out there). I imagine that they've cleared out a room in the clubhouse as a library or book exchange… and some of the recent Book II stuff I've been working on talks about Cody's reading habits. Back when they found the kids at the mall (Episode 32), several of them took a side trip to clean out a nearby Borders of anything useful.

    Funny that you mention ferns: I took a walk Thurs. afternoon and saw several different ferns I'd not seen here before. Given the climate here, I'm often surprised to see ferns at all, but they do grow around here (especially in moist shady spots). I just haven't seen them growing along the roadside here before.

  7. I just picked up a book at the library that purports to tell me how I can grow everything I need on a quarter acre. I'm a little bit skeptical, but intrigued. In any case, I'm trying to do it myself! I just wish my (wonderful all the same) husband was a helper like yours!

  8. Diana - I think I have that book, too. The one I have is called The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. I haven't read it all, yet, but it does look interesting.

    The thing is that I do believe that it's possible to grow a significant portion of one's food on a very small space using intensive gardening techniques, season extension, and permaculture. In fact, Deus Ex Machina and I realized that from just the squash and chicken we raised this year, we have enough food to feed ourselves until, at least, March. We'd be very bored with chicken and squash, and probably a bit hungry, but we wouldn't starve.

    And then, we started remembering that we also have eggs and rabbit in the back yard, and there's a great deal of stuff we canned during the summer. There are still beets and Jerusalem artichokes in the garden outside. We can still collect acorns, too. so, even worst case scenario, at least for this winter, we'd be okay - and most of the food I listed was grown on our quarter acre.

    The only area where most of us would fall short would be grains, BUT the looming question for me is do humans really need grains, and more and more I'm finding evidence to suggest that we don't - especially in the quantities that the US Food Pyramid suggests. Grains are good heavy-duty carbs, but are there other things (like tubers and members of the squash family) that could give us the carbs without some of the other negative effects of grains (and without needing to tie up so much land in their production)?

    As for your husband - I think he will come around. It may take some time, and a good deal of patience, but just wait. One day you'll wake up, and he'll say something about growing a garden or raising some animals or something that will just blow your mind, and you'll know he's hopped on the wagon with you ;). It's a great moment, and it will come for you, too :). As Mr. Miyagi would say, "Patience, Daniel-San" :).