The food we have depended on for so long is produced by an industry heavily dependent on oil.
As global populations become larger more demand is placed on diminishing oil resources.
There is enough food to feed the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, but crop failures due to climate change and rapid depletion of topsoil will inevitably result in continued food price rises.
Soil depletion is arguably the most urgent global concern, a result of unsustainable agriculture practices.
World authorities recommend highly sustainable methods, smaller farms, and growing food close to home sooner rather than later.
Food security plans
To grow food locally must not be seen as a temporary fix but a long-term necessity.
Some jurisdictions are designing food security plans that use their wealth to import food or purchase arable land in other countries. Some are taking a more responsible approach and designing food sovereignty plans that aim for food self-sufficiency.
Alternate growing spaces
We here in Bermuda believe we cannot grow all of our food. That’s a mindset we need to let go.
How about thinking in terms of what we can do, and we can grow a lot more than we may realize.
Common sense ways of maximizing space are unlimited. Lawns and unproductive plantings can be replaced with food producing plants. We usually think in terms of horizontal growing spaces but there is also vertical space to expand food growing surfaces.
A productive way of growing potatoes is in potato bags or frames; cucumber and pumpkin vines will grow up and over supports, fruit trees can be pruned to use less space, and flat roofs and road verges turned into food growing spaces.
The concept of land sharing has arisen elsewhere to give access to land to people who don’t have any and want to grow food. (See www.sharedearth.com for how it is done).
There are several local entities currently pursuing starting more community gardens.
Condo designers and landscapers can contribute by designing food-growing areas in their plans, plant fruit trees and other productive plantings instead of all ornamentals.
Condominium associations can manage the food growing spaces with rules like the rest of the property.
Which method to use?
Once a decision has been made to start growing your own food and you have some land on which to do it, the next step would be to decide what method to use.
Since unsustainable methods have brought us to where we are the obvious choice is to choose sustainable methods.
There are two well-established ones taught locally: Grow Biointensive and Permaculture.
Grow Biointensive focuses on building soil and maximizing the use of space.
The innovative part of the method is the concept of growing carbon crops to feed the soil and yielding maximum calories in the least space.
Permaculture focuses on sustainable land use design.
Both approaches are based on ecological and biological principles and minimize soil disturbance.
Square foot gardening has focused primarily on simplifying gardening to attract more busy people into gardening.
All three require less labour than conventional methods.
No quick fix
If the objective is to reduce food costs by growing your own food don’t expect to save money right away.
There are costs up front to getting started.
Simple tools, fertilizers, and seeds are needed. Costs decrease after the first season.
It is a common failure in humans to wait until crises arise before taking action, however, it is unproductive to dwell on what we should have done. What can we do right now?
Get most value
It makes good sense to plant vegetables that are expensive to buy, use least space, and give the most food value such as carrots, beets, turnips, fast growing Bok choi.
Extend a vegetable’s value by picking leaves while the plant continues to grow.
Examples are lettuce, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, and collards.
Herbs take up little space and can make the difference between a dull or exciting meal.
Plant in season
Why fight with nature? Better results are obtained from working with nature so plant crops that are in season.
Local seasonal planting guides are available from nurseries and Envirotalk (free from the Ministry of the Environment).
Every home should have at least one banana plant and preferably more, as they are easy to grow.
Pawpaw, sugar apple, avocado, and peach trees, grow well here and are low maintenance so it makes sense to have them in the yard.
However, take advantage of the fruit varieties at nurseries to expand our rather slender local fruit varieties.
Take advantage of free seminars available at nurseries and elsewhere to learn about fruit tree care.
Growing food can include animals, particularly small animals like chickens.
They provide multiple functions: eggs, meat, manure, insect control, a source of education and responsibility for children while requiring little time and space.
Chickens can forage for most of their food if they are kept in a moveable coop.
We already have a free wild source of wild bantams.
Larger breeds can be purchased from local poultry farmers; movable chicken coop designs are online.
Meat is the most expensive portion of food budget. Increase the vegetable content of the diet and reduce the meat.
Choose recipes that require less meat like stir fries or cheaper proteins like legumes.
You don’t have to radically change your diet all at once. Gradual change is less stressful.
To help transition to a more vegetable based diet the Seventh Day Adventist church and the Vegetarian Society provide nutritional information and recipes.
Vegetarian cookbooks are helpful. Before long you will be planning meals based on what’s in season in the garden instead of around meat. Each of us, regardless of economic situation, can participate in growing our own food to increase food independence.
Imagine the town of St. George’s with its historic homes resplendent with vegetable gardens and fruit trees how much more attractive to visitors they would be.
Imagine Bermuda with every yard resplendent with food. It’s possible. Let’s do it.