Around the time our first child was born, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. She's been one of my favorite authors for ages, and this book inspired us to see gardening as a way to reduce carbon emissions, support our local community, and nourish our bodies well.
Both Nathan and I were no strangers to gardening or homesteading. We both had grandparents that grew extensive gardens and raised small amounts of livestock. During the 1950s and 60s, this was much more common especially in families with limited economic resources and lots of children.
Some of my favorite memories from childhood are spending time at my maternal grandparents little farm. I would help my grandmother pick cucumbers and beans to make our side dishes at dinner. When the blackberries were ripe, we would gather as many as we could and cover them with milk and a little sugar in small cereal bowls. We had canning parties making strawberry jam with all of my aunts and cousins in the kitchen.
My parents always kept a garden as well. My dad would painstakingly start pepper plants on the windowsill. We joked that they were more his children than my siblings and me. The deer liked our garden so much that we had to put up a fence but we still found a few in the garden over the seasons.
When I first read the book, Nathan and I were busy young professionals. We were both working and in graduate school in the evenings. Our leisure time consisted of exhausted weekends on the couch watching the DVDs Netflix sent us in the mail. At the time, I could hardly picture adding more work to our plates.
But just a few years later, we had three kids and a homestead in Michigan. We became the primary source of not just flowers, but kale, tomatoes, and eggs, for many friends. We were eating wild foods like black raspberries from our property and learning how to process the Black Walnuts that littered our yard each fall.
With COVID and the move, we had to start from scratch. Flowers took up most of the time and resources when it came to planting space at our new home in Columbia, Tennessee.
Little by little, that desire to grow more food and buy as much as we can locally what we don't produce has been reignited in me. Our community is an embarrassment of riches for local food: beekeepers, vegetable farmers, expert foragers, pastured eggs and meat galore. There's really no excuse not to be a locavore (someone who eats local food).
This week, I've got Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in my ear bud while I dog ear seed catalogs and sketch out a mini orchard. Some of these ideas will be multi-year projects, but here is what I'm committing to for 2024:
Growing More Food
I made the decision to shift the flower business from growing lots of varieties to just a few that my florist and retail customers love: ranunculus, peonies, dahlias, hellebores, and yarrow. I have a few annual varieties that I still had seeds for that will get planted if I have the time and space but those are the big five. I've moved many of my perennials to our landscaping so I can enjoy them or cut from them but they are no longer taking up space in my production area.
Cutting many varieties out of my growing plan leaves more room for growing food. This year we will have heirloom tomatoes, greens, beets, peas, beans, peppers, and potatoes. We will be growing mostly in raised beds.
We hope to have an abundance to share with friends and family, though only via gifts or barter, not sale. I am also dreaming big about ways to connect local gardeners and farmers to gather excess produce for the economically disadvantaged in our community.
Frequent the Farmer's Market
Our town has a great little farmers market twice weekly in the growing season. In addition to vegetables, there are homemade breads, meats, cheeses, honey, and eggs. I always mean to get down there, but haven't made it a priority.
This summer I really want to buy the majority of our fruit and vegetables locally. That means putting the market in my schedule. If we all shopped at our farmers markets, we could reduce the amount of fossil fuels used each year by millions of gallons. It takes a lot of oil and gas to move produce all over the world. This small change can add up to significant climate action if we all take part. Once you have a local tomato, you'll never go back.
Invest in Local Farms
Last year, we participated in a CSA (community supported agriculture) by purchasing a produce share from our friends at Athena's Harvest farm. We got gorgeous fruits and vegetables every other week and tried many new foods that I never would have thought to purchase. We plan to participate in the CSA again this year. If you are local, you can sign up HERE for the Athena's Harvest CSA or find options in your area at localharvest.org
These darkest days of winter can be tough, but planning a new growing adventure is a great way to beat the winter doldrums.
Next week I'm going to share some ways to get creative growing flowers and veggies when you are low on space.