Gardening for food security

Posted Nov. 15, 2010, at 8:25 p.m.

John Piotti was right in his column “Reasons for optimism about Maine’s farms” (BDN, Oct. 27): We must ensure Maine has enough farmland to grow food for Maine.

Land is necessary but not sufficient. Where will the people come from to work the land?

The farms we need aren’t the huge monocultures of potatoes, blueberries, apples or corn, in which fossil fuel-derived pesticides and fossil fuel-dependent machines are used to grow and harvest one crop for export.

For Maine people to be food secure, we need about 50,000 small, diverse farms to supply anywhere from half to all of Mainers’ annual food needs. We have about 4,000 small farmers currently not growing primarily for export.

The average American eats about 2,500 pounds of food a year. If each small Maine farmer provided half that amount for, say, 10 Mainers, they would have to grow 12,500 pounds of food plus enough for their own families.

If Maine farmers intended to supply 100 percent of Mainers’ annual food needs, for each 10 people they would need to grow 25,000 pounds of food each year.

That’s a huge amount of food and work and land.

Thirty, even 20, years ago, most Mainers outside the cities had a garden in their yard. Then food got cheaper at the supermarket; people stopped growing their own food and became dependent on industrial farm food from afar, some of which is downright unhealthy.

People with lawns should be encouraged to grow food instead of grass. People in cities could form community gardens in parks and empty lots.

This proposal’s intention is to have the state provide people with the means to be more self-sufficient, as in “give a man a fish and you feed him a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Taxpayers’ money should be spent on our needs, not more corporate welfare on, for example, more broadband or offshore windmills (unproven technology) or other expensive non-necessities.

With those millions of taxpayers’ dollars, every household could have a nice, raised-bed garden in their own yard. We need food security more than we need more fancy technology.

The economy is not going to get back to where it was, ever, so we need to plan for leaner times. Necessities first.

If everyone interested is provided with a raised-bed garden with good soil or compost, a few seeds and instructions on how to grow good food without chemicals, we would be on our way to food security for Maine. If people do well with their gardens, they may build another and another on their own, and go into small-scale farming right on their own used-to-be lawn. Or they may buy or lease a fallow farm and become one of our new thousands of small, diverse farmers.

Everyone agrees we need better and more education for our young people, so why not teach farming?

I propose every Maine school have gardens with raised beds (eliminates stoop labor), and that all students be taught how to grow food crops from seed to harvest. Several Maine schools already have begun such programs, so we have excellent examples to follow.

With recent floods, fire, drought and concomitant crop failures in many places in the world, we would be remiss if we didn’t begin work right away on food security.

Plenty of abandoned or worn-out farmland is lying fallow that could be brought back into production.

Farming is a satisfying and secure livelihood. A small farmer who grows diverse crops has a family home, all the food one needs, and guaranteed markets since everyone has to eat. What could be better?

I propose Maine food security be put at the top of the new administration’s to-do list. Small, diverse farms are small business, which everyone says they want to encourage. Surely, in the cuts that all the gubernatorial candidates said they’d make, there will be savings to help taxpayers grow some of their own food with their own raised-bed gardens in their own yards, with training to become full-time farmers, if they desire.

Don’t spend our money on corporate get-rich-quick schemes. We need our necessities first. Spend our own money on us, Maine people, to ensure our food security from now on.

Nancy Oden of Jonesboro is an environmental and political activist. Her e-mail address is cleanearth@acadia.net.

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