The “geography” of our food has changed. Traditionally, our food came from local outlets that required little energy for packaging or transportation. However, with the rise of cheap oil and with technological advances, the number of “food miles”–the distance that food travels from producer to consumer–has grown immensely. Shipments across vast distances, particularly by air and by large freight truck, are very energy intensive, and have created a U.S. food economy that uses as much energy as the entire economy of the United Kingdom! (Lester Brown’s Plan B 3.0)
The aforementioned is a major concern of “locavores.” Locavores try to eat foods grown within a strict radius of where they live (e.g. 50, 100, or 150 miles) because they believe eating locally boosts local economies and protects the environment.
Buying fruits and veggies locally at a farmers market or the super market is a great start…but what’s more local than your own backyard? Growing your own vegetables organically is making good environmental and economic sense these days. Cultivating a garden ensures healthful produce that’s both delicious and can save you from the sometimes high prices of organically grown food at the grocery store–food that has often traveled thousands of miles to get to the aisle.
The Obamas: Locavores!
The First Family has joined in the eat local trend! In early March, First Lady Michelle Obama began cultivating a “White House Kitchen Garden.” Obama rolled up her sleeves and planted alongside Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and several elementary school children on the White House Lawn. Mrs. Obama’s gardening efforts were the first since Eleanor Roosevelt installed a victory garden during World War II. Images of Michelle wielding a large shovel and working gloves splashed across several news articles and really got a gal wondering: Is that her secret to those flawless arms? Gardening: good for the environment, and your figure!
Anyhow, the White House vegetable garden will be organic and will
supply the first family with many of their meals. While the First
Lady’s main hope is to get her children and the nation’s youth
interested in eating their vegetables and maintaining healthy
lifestyles, the White House Kitchen Garden will also serve as a de
facto political and environmental symbol for the Locavore movement.
Already, several first ladies around the country have followed in
Michelle’s footsteps, including first lady of Maryland, Katie O’Malley,
and first lady of California, Maria Shriver. Both women have begun
planting vegetable gardens on government grounds and promoting
gardening in their communities.
What you can do:
Gardening can be a lot of work, but it is a labor of love–and a
great way to think globally while acting locally. Here are a few tips
to get started planting your own vegetable garden:
- Assess your climate. The first step to creating your vegetable garden should be research! It’s important to find out which vegetables are best suited to the soil type and climate of your area,
as well as the specific conditions in your own backyard: Sunny? Shady?
Any water restrictions? Once you’ve chosen a selection of seeds that
will work for you, it’s time to get planting!
- Start small! When creating your first vegetable
garden, take small steps. Start out with a plot of soil no larger than
8 ft by 10 ft in area. Keep in mind that if your garden is a success,
you can always expand!
- Soil is the keystone to your garden. Before you
begin cultivating, you should test your soil’s nutrient levels to
identify any deficiencies that may inhibit plant growth. You can
purchase a soil testing kit at your local garden center or from a
gardening internet site, or you can bring soil samples to a local
laboratory for analysis. If your soil is lacking in essential
nutrients, you can purchase fertilizers to enhance its natural
composition. Adding “humus”–organic material that was once living but
is now dead and decaying–can also help improve drainage and overall
soil condition. Compost, leaves, grass clippings and manure are good
examples of readily available humus. .It’s important to incorporate
this organic material by tilling or turning it over with a spade.
Digging up the bed and breaking up compacted soil and removing any
weeds will set your garden on the path to success.
- Water! A garden needs about 1 inch of water per
week. It is best to water first thing in the morning or early evening
to minimize evaporation.
- Geography, of course [that is, micro-biogeography]! Choose
a location that receives as much sun as possible throughout the day
(most successful gardens receive at least eight hours of full sun.)
- Make gardening a family activity. NG Kids provides some great tips for planting a garden with your children.
Personally, I was not gifted with a green thumb. If others
of you out there would love to get involved in “going local,” but
simply aren’t ready to get your hands dirty, I encourage you look into
a few alternatives!
- If you can’t plant a garden at home… join a community supported agriculture program (CSA) or visit your local farmers’ market for access to fresh, local produce. Here are a few sites to get you started:
• Find farms near you
- Dine at home with locally grown produce. Here are a few links to recipes for cooking with locally sourced veggies:
- And if you can’t cook local, eat out local. Try dining at local, independent restaurants and make sure to ask whether their produce comes from local sources.
Kirsten for My Wonderful World