With all of the focus on striving towards wholesale changes to the entire global farming model, it’s sometimes hard to believe that we, as individuals, can make much of an impact on the prevailing models of food production and its detrimental effects on the environment. But this could not be further from the truth. Yes, each of us needs to be putting pressure on lawmakers, community leaders, corporate growers, and agricultural suppliers, but in addition to these large-impact efforts, we can make contributions in the form of personal gardens—even in urban or suburban locales—that have bigger, wider-reaching impacts than you might imagine. And operating under the “strength in numbers” rubric, the more personal gardens and growers there are, the greater the impact.
If you were, for example, to devote a small amount of financial resources and a larger amount of time and effort to starting a personal garden, you would see dividends almost immediately, in the time it takes those first vegetables to ripen. A carefully managed plot of farmland, even a rather small one, can easily create enough produce to feed a small family. Not only are you saving money and guaranteeing that you’ll eat healthy and fresh food on a regular basis, you’re negatively impacting the profits of the corporate growers and everything associated with them, each of which has as a financial stake in your continued patronage. Without that financial support, and without many other people’s as well, their model of growing and distribution will be forced to shrink, while their prices will rise to make up for lowered sales volume, and perhaps one day fail altogether. This means fewer pesticides making it into the ecosystems, less soil degradation, and less clear-cutting of natural forests. It also means that these cash-crop vegetables and fruits won’t be traveling across oceans and continents, which means a lot less fossil fuel consumption. All of which are positive contributions to the overall health of our planet. Permaculture is the only viable alternative to this vast industrial agricultural complex, and your small garden can help make the alternative the new norm.
With that in mind, thinking beyond that relatively small plot designed for family use—or a plot that is maximally organized for increased and sustained abundance—you can see even greater benefits with only slightly more land and resources. Whatever isn’t consumed by you and your family can be sold at a local market, to someone in the same community, which means you’re helping that buyer to further contribute to the lessening of our overall dependence on supermarkets, corporate growers, and the gas-guzzling web of distribution. This model is very seasonal, of course, but this only enhances the overall health benefits to the consumers because they’re no longer eating produce treated with chemicals to preserve it for long journeys during out-of-season months. Pickling and canning of vegetables, along with drying and making preserves of fruits, can help guarantee access to these foods year-round, and several hearty varieties of squash and root vegetables can last for months in proper storage conditions, also lengthening the definition of “seasonal.”
In urban settings, where the plots might be much smaller, a cooperative approach might be the best approach. Crops can be assigned to various plots to eliminate excess of one crop and shortages of another, and the collective labor might be organized on a schedule that makes sure the more demanding plants get the attention they need in a fair and equitable way. The added benefits to this would be threefold:
1) everyone in the coop would get a wider variety of produce to eat;
2) everyone would learn to grow a wider variety of plants; and
3) the overall efficiency and production would increase exponentially as a result of the shared knowledge and experience base.
Coops can be set up in an infinite number of ways, each suited to its community and its needs.
The important thing to bear in mind with all of this is that proper management of that small plot is absolutely essential. Math is your greatest ally, along with the first-hand knowledge of people who’ve farmed in similar situations in similar environments. Years of trial and error will certainly be necessary to truly fine tune everything, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t get yourself as close to maximum efficiency right from the beginning, and that means consulting with experts and then properly adapting their ideas and instruction to your unique situation. The cost may seem like an unnecessary expense, especially as you’re paying for new tools and seeds, but the results—some of them almost instantaneous—will be worth it. And in addition to all of the tangible benefits you’ll see on your dinner table, there are benefits that affect the world in an incredibly important and invaluable way, and that might be the most important point of all: no contribution is too small, and every contribution helps.