If this Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted one thing for me, it is how dependent our society has become on the grocery store food and supply distribution system, and how that system is not built with sustainability in mind. Seeing the empty shelves and the panic (accompanied by much bad behavior, I must say!), it made me think for a moment, “What if I could get the majority of my food from my yard?”
It’s not a new thought for me. As you may know from other of my writings or a class I’ve taught, my Dad was a subsistence farmer. He grew what he could year round and traded for what he could get – which was pork, chicken, eggs, and manure to compost for the garden, all from his neighbor. He also fished and sold fishing & composting worms. That is mostly how he stayed fed. He and Mema (his mom) canned veggies and made pickles for when things didn’t grow so well, or just to enjoy.
He lived in a very rural area with more land than I’ve ever owned. So, years ago I asked myself, could I grow my own food here in the city on a small plot of land? My answer was yes. While I still have a lot to learn (you never stop learning when you’re a gardener), over the years I’ve made it so that I can get a lot of nutrition out of the land I farm.
I imagine many people interested in gardening for food ask themselves that quite often, when they’re scheming and planning to make their yards into places where beautiful and edible things grow. Trust me…you can do it.
I decided to ask some local folks who REALLY know about growing your own, sustainably, just to give you some inspiration and more resources to check out.
Amongst our customers and friends of Shell’s, we have quite a few who practice sustainability and eat mostly what they grow. From massive Earthbox gardens to food forests to backyard nurseries and front yard landscapes full of edibles, aka “yardens”, there are members of our community right here in Tampa Bay who do this kind of food growing. I think this is a great opportunity to pick their brains – in the hopes that their stories will inspire others to Declare Independence from Mass Food Distribution in a time where the question of where our food comes from has a shaky and indefinite answer.
I asked what it means to them and their family to know that they could sustain themselves if the food distribution system was suddenly no longer there, and what Sustainability means to them. Because the concept of sustainability is more than just growing your own food, it’s about replenishing the soil nutrients you use to grow your food and maintaining as much as possible the natural balance of the land so that you can continually grow more food and not strip the environment.
Here’s what they had to say. Also, I’ve linked you up with how to get in contact with them so that we can all expand our community, hear the voices, and see the inspiration of these local gardening/farming influencers.
Amanda Streets – Clearwater
“I grew up on a working farm, so gardening and a pantry full of home-canned goodies is just the way it is. Food growing in abundance in our urban “yarden” carries on my family’s long tradition of farming, even though we don’t have fields to plow. It is important to pass these skills on to my child. Our family is busy – there’s not always time for a quick trip to the grocery store. Dashing out to the garden to harvest fruit for lunches or greens for a salad is the norm – and even better now that our child is able to take on that responsibility. Knowing where our food comes from is important. I know how it’s been grown, what has been applied, and whether it was picked ripe or green. We also know that it is there. When the store shelves were empty in March and April, that was a little scary. Whether or not there is going to be a food shortage in my lifetime, I know that I have the skills and capacity to grow a good amount of fresh, nutrient dense food for my family.” –Amanda Streets, local Clearwater “Yardener” and nurseryperson, owner of Living Roots Eco Design (https://livingrootsecodesign.com) – and the magical force behind the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance (https://PinellasCommunityCompost.com)
Kenny Gil – Tampa
“Being able to produce as much as we can for our family on our micro-homestead means I get to connect with friends, neighbors and community members, encouraging and teaching them to break away from the mega farms that don’t have the environment, biodiversity, freshness, nutrition and flavor as top priority.” –Kenny Gil, local Tampa homesteader, growing his own massive variety of fruits and vegetables (https://www.instagram.com/lig_ynnek)
Susan Roghair – Tampa
“I love to cook! Everything I make is organic, not processed or frozen. I cook only with fresh produce and make everything completely from scratch. I’ve been a vegan for thirty years and my husband, Dan, for over fifty years! One of the things I love about having an EarthBox garden is the accessibility to fresh produce right outside my kitchen door. There is nothing more fun than harvesting a bunch of veggies and them being on the dinner table minutes later. You can’t beat that for freshness or convenience!” –Susan Roghair, local Tampa EarthBox enthusiast with (at last count) 24 Earthboxes, and our Earthbox Simple Success Secrets class instructor at Shell’s! (quote is from an article on Earthbox.com: https://blog.earthbox.com/earthbox-get-to-know-a-grower-series-4. Find her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/771889789977465/)
John Steele – Tampa
“Being able to walk through my property and harvest my own food that I have grown or raised has copious amounts of beneficial aspects to it. Some of the most predominant being: Less waste in the form of unsustainable packaging, the gratification and reward of growing, raising, and harvesting your own meals, creating a space for yourself and family to learn and grow together, independence from the grocery store and large retailers, and one of the most (if not the most) important in my family being financial ease and independence. It is hard work to run a fully functional homestead but it is well worth it. I encourage anyone and everyone to give it a shot even if only on a small scale, see what homesteading can do for you and your family.
Currently on my property we have a small flock of chicken & quail hens that are for the sole purpose of being of layers, along with a few males that play the role of broilers if ever needed. We have a 1000 gallon rainwater collection system in the works as a priority. Numerous fruits and vegetables both established and seedlings.A cleaning station for fish and wild game we catch/hunt and process ourselves, as well as a deep freezer to store it along with a generator large enough to sustain its needs for electricity throughout the hurricane season. In addition to our current resources we are adding our own shade cloth greenhouse, bee hives, and a vermiculture tower in the weeks to come.” –John Steele, Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply Employee, local Tampa homesteader/urban farmer
Tanja Vidovic – Safety Harbor
“Sustainability and the ability to grow food on my own property means the difference between food independence and dependability. I feel that if something were to happen to our food system, that me and my family would still survive. Having a food garden in my yard provides us with exercise and needed skills to live without being completely dependent on a broken system. You learn about what it takes to make a healthy soil, healthy plants, and a healthy ecosystem. I was happy to see that this past year, in Florida we approved the right to have front yard gardens. People need to be able to grow their own food, especially in food deserts were the only option may be unhealthy food. Gardening, permaculture, sustainability are all things that most schools should be teaching our younger generation.” –Tanja Vidovic, Safety Harbor homesteader and influencer, Sustainability Radio Show Host on WMNF 88.5FM, and local Environmental Activist, Also, Facebook Group “Tampa Gardening Swap” Creator with nearly 13,000 followers, and prior candidate for Safety Harbor Mayor!
Kenny Coogan – Tampa
“As a current Global Sustainability grad student at USF, I think a lot about being able to sustain myself from my land. Sustainability has three pillars: social, economic, and environmental. In 2019 I started documenting every egg, fruit and vegetable I produced from my 1 acre home in Tampa. January 2020, I reflected on my year’s harvest and was surprised by how little I grew and ate. Now in 2020 I am focusing on what grows copiously without a lot of work to get my numbers up. I grow a ton of true yams, passionfruit, katuk, moringa, Chaya, chayote squash and Seminole pumpkin. Currently I am growing a lot of okra. Even though I don’t love some of these crops I use them to help the society around me by bartering, trading or selling my surplus. I also focus a lot of my attention on food waste. I jam, pickle or freeze a lot more now to save what I grow. This year I jammed several jars of Surinam cherries – not because I love them – but because they grew abundantly. Combined with strawberries the jam tastes great. Preserving your own food and reducing food waste helps your wallet. Growing as much food as possible and not wasting it helps with the environment as well. It cuts down your food miles and saves on fossil fuels needed to grow and transport the crops. Growing food that is well suited for your ecosystem limits your need for fertilizers, are more resistant to pests and offer flavor profiles that you can’t find at the grocery store.” –Kenny Coogan, local Tampa Homesteader, Chicken Keeper, Nurseryperson, Agriculture Educator, and Global Sustainability Grad Student.
Georgea Snyder, Sustainable Living Project – Tampa
Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the Sustainable Living Project, run by the wonderful Georgea Snyder (who doesn’t know I’m doing this…), a long-time customer of our store and someone who is doing an excellent job at the hard work to run a garden that exists because of the efforts of the volunteers she “recruits” and coordinates.
Their mission is: “to affect positive change in the community towards becoming more sustainable and healthy in our everyday lives. Using sustainable living on our urban farm and education center as a model to serve, educate, and build community through example, hands-on experiences, and education. We describe SLP as a place where people can be immersed in the world of sustainability and community. We implement innovative and traditional technologies that help reduce our impact on the environment. Our 1 acre plot houses 34 grow beds (10 of which are dedicated to Veteran volunteers & programming, 3 sheds, a water catchment system, patio with solar panels, a greenhouse with aquaponics, a chicken coop, bee hives, a biodigester, and a 12 stall compost station. All of these elements play a part in our exploration of what it means for our bodies, communities and planet to be healthy.”
Well, I hope seeing these amazing folks doing stellar sustainability things has inspired you to work on your family’s sustainable food sources. There’s so many aspects to help sustainability, and ways to grow your own food, it can be overwhelming. But don’t panic! We’re here to help.
Fall gardening season is coming up – Fall Garden Seed Planting STARTS IN AUGUST! – so when you have questions, when you need supplies…we’re here. We’ve got free Garden Guides in the store that we publish to use as a reference tool. We’ve got classes too, great for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.
We’re here to help, just a short drive away to see us in Tampa. Check out the buy online and pickup in store – we call it “Buy & Fly” – at shellsfeed.com/shop. Call us if you don’t see what you’re looking for – not every one of our approximately 5000 items we carry is online.
Until next time…Keep Growing!