Why do you have grass?

One of the arguments I hear often about why we have to continue modern industrial farming practices is because there just isn’t enough arable land to grow enough food for everyone. I almost always wonder what the latest person who said such a thing is doing with his or her yard.

Seriously, what are you doing with your yard? How much did you spend seeding it, weeding it, mowing it, and fertilizing it this year? For what? Because it looks pretty?

See, my farm has several dozen acres of grass: grass that cows eat right off the ground or that we mow and bale for hay. For me, grass is a foodstuff for animals and part of a system that promotes good soil health and fertility. Frankly, other than a patch of grass around the houses and other buildings that we mow to keep the critters and building destroying plants at bay, the rest of our grass is food for something or unmowed meadow.

What about you?

I’ll grant that, especially in cities, controlling the places that pest animals tend to congregate is an always pressing problem, but does the answer have to be grass? What about vegetable gardens? What about replacing grass with attractive–and edible–stands of wheat or oats or barley? What about fruit trees or creeping vines like squash, pumpkin, or watermelon?

Heck, you wouldn’t even have to do all that work yourself. I’m betting that, if you advertised your yard as available for planting, someone would be willing to do the work for you for rent or in return for part of the proceeds.

Imagine all the arable ground that would suddenly become available if yards became, essentially, micro farms. This isn’t a new idea either. In many other parts of the world, entire large, extended families feed themselves every year on a fraction of an acre.

Now, I know that people have all kinds of aversions to this kind of idea, most of which I do not understand. But, beyond the perceived images of degraded status and the irrational fear of one’s home looking like a farm, what is the real problem?

To me the idea of growing one’s own food under one’s own control represents the height of independence. If your yard is a garden, do you have to worry about the price of food or the gas needed to get it? If things go badly and you lose your job or the economy goes south, will you go hungry if your yard is full of food?

Of course, for what I am suggesting here to have any real meaning, all sorts of things would have to change. People would have to be willing to do the work. Cities would have to realize that small plot raising of fruits, vegetables, and grains will not diminish the property values in their borders any more than the bursting of unsustainable, speculative housing value bubbles might. Communities would have to believe that a fundamental level of self-sufficiency is  a far better way to ensure their continued existence than begging for grants from state and local governments might appear to be.

And once those changes occur, then even more radical practical ideas can move forward. Ask yourself what’s worse: the occasional cluck or crow of a chicken or the incessant barking of your neighbor’s yippy dog?


The one thing everyone can do

This morning, I read about a bill under consideration by the US Senate that would, if the language in it holds true, essentially criminalize local food producers by forcing them to register with regulatory agencies in the same way that industrial food companies must.

Reading about this bill once again struck home for me how far Americans have drifted from simple, elegant truths about life. In this era of high unemployment and ongoing economic instability, the one thing that everyone can do is grow their own food. I know this is a remarkable idea to millions of Americans, but it is also true.

Anyone with a patch of grass or a place to set up a few pots of soil can grow their own food, sometimes amazing quantities of it if one does it right. A seasoned garden grain farmer can grow enough wheat on a 100 square foot patch of ground to make 100 loaves of bread from the resulting harvest. That’s a 10×10 or 20×5 foot patch of wheat that can provide bread for a family of four for a year.

Unfortunately, most Americans recoil at the idea of providing their own food. They recoil at the labor. They recoil at the dirt. They recoil at the insinuation that growing their own food implies they can’t buy it.

So, what they get instead is 100 little emperors crafting a law that will force them to buy their food from sources approved by a federal agency, sources one can never visit, whose processes are industrial secrets, and whose products are dubious as food at best.

Meanwhile, the 20 percent or more of Americans who are un- or under-employed continue to depend on the same government to let them go to the imperially mandated food sources to get their daily allotment of government inspected and approved foodstuffs never realizing that, in the time it took them to go to the unemployment office and the grocery store, they could have cultivated a wonderful, nutritious garden for another day. Plus, they would have gotten some badly needed exercise and exposure to sunlight along the way.

I understand that, especially with the interstate transport of industrially produced food, the government needs to regulate the safety of what industrial food producers manufacture, but what does that have to do with small food producers whose products often travel less than 100 miles and usually not out of the state where they were produced? I understand that growing one’s own food may not pay the bills, but if the law is passed, even if one is good at it, one won’t have the chance to try because Imperial Washington has decreed one cannot.

Of course, they way to fix this problem is to contact one’s senators and ask them to scrap this terrible legislation then, if one really believes in the idea behind why it is bad, go home and plant, cultivate, and harvest. Everyone can do it, even if the government does not get the idea.