The first time you harvest fresh greens from under a row cover during a snowstorm that shuts down the city (remember those five days two years ago?) may be the aha moment you realize that having your own garden increases your family's food security. When you're finally able to make it to the supermarket and discover bare shelves may be when you see how vulnerable we've become as a society by relying on long-distance growing of our food, distributed at large markets that stock only a three-day supply, on average. And if you live in what's called a "food desert" where fresh, healthy food is not easily available, snow storm or not, you already know how vulnerable your family's health is (see a map of food deserts all over our country, including right here in DeKalb County, here). There are some definite steps you can take to increase your local food availability and, thus, security.
1. Shop at your local farmers market. With our year-round growing climate, there really is no off-season, although many farmers markets do shut down for awhile during the winter. When they are open, however, do try to support them, or find out if any mobile markets with fresh food (such as Farm Mobile) will be in your area. If you participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), you can double your benefits at many of the farmers markets through a non-profit program called Wholesome Wave, thereby making locally-grown fresh food even more affordable. When you support local farmers, you help them keep their land in cultivation, you keep money circulating in the community, and you get produce with greater freshness and flavor. You also get to know your neighbors, which increases your food security by giving you connections for sharing in times of need. Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) gets you a pre-paid weekly farm box and provides local farmers with "seed money" upfront so that they have a secured customer base for the food they grow.
2. Plant a garden. Planting a food garden for your family's consumption is a simple action that people used to do routinely, and it is becoming more and more common now. Once you see the difference in taste, cost, and pride from growing your own salad (and much more), you will most likely be sold. Teach your children and increase their long-term food security as well, as this is a skill they will take with them through life. Go to bed satisfied knowing that you are helping to plug the knowledge gap about growing food to feed our own families that is now in its third generation.
3. Advocate for change. Once you get involved with food-growing as a local resiliency, sustainability, and security issue, you may feel some frustration that there are ordinances that serve as barriers to increased local food security beyond our food-growing friendly city of Decatur. In many cities, no backyard chickens are allowed. No front yard gardens or gardens in the right of way. No accessory structures, including greenhouses and tool sheds. No rooftops structures, or height restrictions that prohibit them. No commercial sales in a residential neighborhood, so don't try selling your tomatoes. No commercial activity in green spaces. No compost piles. No bees or goats. And many other rules that came about during a time of great industrialization in our country and a firm separation of allowable activities within our communities. Add homeowner association covenants on top of all that (and something like 60 million Americans live in neighborhoods with homeowners associations) and you may be wondering if that basil plant in your kitchen window is even allowed. The good news? Many cities, including the City of Atlanta, are rewriting their ordinances right now to be more friendly to food-growing activities. Get involved, share your experience, and help our larger metro-Atlanta area be more food-secure. Invite local government leaders to your community garden. Educate them about best practices nationwide regarding urban agriculture. Work with them to frame change not as a "for or against" scenario but rather as a natural societal transition.
It seems so simple to plant a seed and grow food. That seed, however, is often a symbol of change in many other ways. It grows not only food but power, strength, connections, an outspoken voice, and the confident feeling that you can always provide for your family, no matter what. Come into our store or visit our website and let us help you get started on this exciting journey as we welcome a new year in our year-round growing climate.
I hope you have found my series of gardening articles helpful these past six months. I'm working on my book now, and continuing to help people grow right here in metro-Atlanta as well as around the country in as many ways as possible.