Farmer's Diary: Serve Yourself

It is snowing out today and tonight and tomorrow…. So where does a young old man’s mind turn? Well, need you ask. To the garden, of course! After all, spring enrobed in its blushing magnificence is just around the corner (just ahead of prosperity). Thinking of both of them brings to mind the idea of self-sufficiency, horticultural beauty, bounty, sharing and land use.

The move well afoot in Massachusetts is to address the need for vastly improved food security in our general population. The Governor’s Food Policy Council has recently tasked the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) with developing a plan to make the Commonwealth 60-80% food self-sufficient by 2060. The current estimate on food security in our state is three days, were there to be a natural disaster or a significant terrorist event. (Remember the blizzard of ’78?) The City of Boston, following on the heels of Springfield and Holyoke, has just adopted Article 89 of their zoning by-law which will allow production agriculture generally on public and private land and roofs with certain broad restrictions as to structural and soil safety, nuisance questions and setbacks. The federal government, on the other hand, is doing its damnedest to restrict access to locally grown fresh produce with the certain passage of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) at probably some point in the next year. Arguably the unintended consequence of our congressional do-gooders, food-frighters and those in the pocket of ConAgra, Perdue, Monsanto, Chinese capitalists, et al is to make Whole Foods Markets and other food warehouses your neighborhood farm stand at best. However, no one will go hungry if we grow our own food!

Without going through any bureaucratic hoops whatsoever and/or with the adoption of Article 89 and its ilk, you can do your part to make you and your family more food secure, savvy and healthier. Surprisingly few of us have vegetable gardens. Many have flowerbeds of one sort or another. Most of us know something about feeding ourselves. It is part of our nature. Many vegetables are delightfully ornamental and are easily inter-planted with annuals or perennials and herbs. Seed catalogues are wonderful late-winter reading to select the produce that you and your family will enjoy fresh, or put up for the next long, slow winter. Shop around for seeds and seedlings at your neighborhood farms and farm markets. Color, leaf form, flowering habit all contribute to an exciting and unique border garden. You will be surprised at what will thrive here (yes, even, artichokes and ginger). Join with your neighbor and share gardens if only for rotations. Have dinners together to share your bounty, build community; set your off-spring up with a small stand at the farmer’s market. Food production, self-care, independence, and community spirit are closely related, mutually satisfying and basic American values that are neither red state nor blue.

We have much to relearn about feeding and caring for ourselves, as we have become all but completely reliant upon corporate America for our most basic needs (were they to be affordable and available in all our neighborhoods). Massachusetts once led America in ag innovation. Massachusetts can once again become a broad community of innovative agriculturists, amateur or otherwise. We can become that beacon of broader prosperity, eat better for less, live better with more. We can begin this spring.

This story appeared in the Spring 2014 issue.