Comments for: Grow your own, for security and fun

Posted April 02, 2012, at 4:26 p.m.

Since most of us don’t visit food banks and the poor are not very visible, it’s pretty easy to ignore their lack of necessary food. We’re all busy, after all. As the number of people who don’t have enough food for their families grows, some food banks have cut their …

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  • hooray for  homegrown.

  • Anonymous

    Remember, don’t forget to build good root cellars, that can store food year round. 

  • Guest

    How did I know who wrote this piece just from the title even before  looking at it.

    Nancy gets so many pieces published here that she must have someone on the BDN editorial staff that is enraptured with her and her ideas.

    Lets look at some of her ideas logically.   I think she rarely thinks through all the ramifications of her ideas to determine if they are practical.   But they sure sound good as talking points!

     The poor who live in apartments probably cannot do any of this.   No space in the city, and even in the country few landlords are going to want these raised beds made that will become eyesores they will be left to clean up.  Not to mention that the poor have no money in the first place to build these raised beds.  And not that many towns or counties have TIF money either, especially TIF money that could be diverted legally for this purpose.  And all I want is a yard full of holes dug up to fill some raised beds.  Just plant the seeds in the ground, save a lot of work and expense….     And just what are you going to do when you find that most of these raised beds are neglected and both time and money has been wasted?  And just who is going to buy all these fallow farms and donate them to these poor people?   These farms are there now and few are being bought and restarted.   And you don’t even address the real reason why most of these fallow farms are abandoned.  There are few people these days actually willing to live essentially a subsistence level life doing backbreaking labor from dawn to dusk most of the year.  Especially when they have become accustomed to laying around collecting various forms of welfare and not doing anything.

    • Anonymous

      You’re right, Nancy “cleanearth” Oden is a favorite with the BDN and if  you criticize her too harshly your comment will be removed.  As many of us know, Nancy likes to expound upon things in great detail but she will not listen to both sides of a discussion, she only lectures.  Her wide ranging fields of expertise would amaze if one actually believed all that she claims to be knowledgable about.

      There is nothing wrong and everything right about growing your own food.  However, in 2012 it is neither cheap to do nor easy.  In fact, sometimes you can buy your food for less at the market though it will probably not taste as good.  The “organic” only system Nancy pushes is not easy either.  Effective pesticides are a tool of the past so one must go out after dark and pick off bugs, buy expensive row covers and plastic mulch which is definitely not green, and crop losses are much greater so you must till more soil to get the same yield.  Meanwhile seed suppliers raise the price of seed every year and mostly sell hybrids for which you cannot save seed.  Yes, you can avoid this if you work at it but all the same, there it is.

      I have suffered great insults from cleanearth Oden because I use a combination of organic and contemporary farming techniques.  She fails to grasp the reality of most folks and what it takes for people to grow a garden.  Imagine what it would cost in labor and cash to build a 2 foot high raised garden.  Good grief!  I find a great deal of hypocrisy in her attitudes and frankly I am shocked that BDN continues to push her uncompromising and ill informed editorials on the public.

      • Guest

        The last time I commented on one of Nancy’s lectures was a couple of weeks ago when she went into a long spiel  on her ideas for energy conservation.  I responded to her pie in the sky ideas with facts and counter arguments showing how impractical and over simplified most of her ideas were.    No response even trying to support her claims and positions of course….

        • cleanearth

          Send it to me directly at cleanearth@acadia.net and I’ll respond.  I get many emails each day, many new scientific studies, and don’t always get to all my emails.  But I promise to respond to yours. 

          Oops,  then you’d have to say who you are……….{~;> 

          • Guest

            I may well send my responses to you in the future.  But I will also continue to post in the paper so people will see that many of your ideas are not well thought out.

          • cleanearth

            Then you really to be specific and offer alternatives.  Just ridiculing without offering other solutions is rather useless and of no help. 

          • Guest

            Sorry, but I am under no obligation to offer alternatives.  That is a misconception of progressives that they have the right or power to obligate someone else to do something. 

            That  doesn’t change the fact that when someone suggests something that is impractical that it should not be pointed out.

          • Anonymous

            Progressives are among our most egalitarian citizens — authoritarianism is strictly a right-wing phenomenon…

            What is “impractical” is our dependence on corporate, unsustainable, expensive, inefficient, highly centralized agriculture.  

            Point out what you like, but if you’re not prepared to back it up, then… hey — it’s your credibility….

          • Guest

            ignorance is bliss….

            In this case of progressive history and how quickly progressives resort to totalitarian government to “encourage” people to do what is best for them.

      • cleanearth

        What insults were those?  I don’t recall insulting you.  Many people grow organically and many grow in raised beds.  In fact, it’s much more efficient since you can mix plantings, e.g., plants like lettuce which could use some shade in summer can be planted on the North side of tomatoes, and so on. 

        Growing your own food isn’t very expensive, especially if one saves seed from last year’s crops.  I still have some organic potatoes which are beginning to sprout so they’ll be in the raised-bed garden within the week. 

        There is no such thing as a combination of organic and poison spraying.  Organic means no poison sprays.  Some items such as sulfur (to acidify) are allowed in organic certification, but neither I nor many other organic growers use that or any chemicals – only compost for fertilizer and our own watchful eyes.

        There are clean methods for all unwanted plants and insects in crops.  http://www.mofga.org puts out a newsletter during the growing season on what people can use for whatever insects are out there.  You could get on that list and save yourself and the rest of us exposure to poisons which stay in our bodies and get passed on to our children in childbirth and in the non-organic food they eat. 

      • Anonymous

        I am an avid gardener; it is neither expensive nor difficult.  Many of my raised beds are free-form with soil from the pathways, and mulch available free at the dump (no truck, just one bucket at a time when I take the trash…)  Chickens “pick off bugs” (kitchen-made compost keeps the soil in balance, that bugs don’t get out of hand.  Biointensive practices, are, in fact, higher yielding than chemical-intensive monocultures.  (That surprises many people.)  There are PLENTY of sources for open-pollinated, heirloom seed at very reasonable prices that CAN be saved.  

        Why are people so critical of very real, empowering avenues to enrich the lives of working people?  …for communities, for that matter, and strengthening their local economies?  Should they just continue to invest ALL of their energy and resources into a corporation that may not pay them even a living wage?  Troubling. 

        • Guest

          Making raised beds 2 feet high as suggested and large  enough to actually  produce a significant amount of food is both expensive and difficult.  The amount of soil to be excavated is tremendous.

    • cleanearth

      First, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve had an op-ed in the BDN. 

      Second, people in apartments can belong to community gardens which ought to be started in parks and backyards of apartment houses.  Use your common sense, man.

      Anyone can find reasons to ridicule good ideas if they think the ideas are against their own  economic interests.    Pesticide-using growers don’t like organic farming because they know very well their use of pesticides is getting poisons into our drinking waters and underground aquifers.

      Starting tiny farms is economic development so it is legal under the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) law.

      TIFs are actually  corporate welfare since the corporations that get their tax monies back from the state have to share a bit of it with the town and/or county in which they’re located.  

      Of course the “wild” blueberry growers (at least one of these posters here is a pesticide-using “wild” blueberry grower) use tons of poisons so they don’t have to use physical work to get rid of unwanted plants in their huge, monoculture  blueberry fields meant for export.

      Hundreds of farms are being held by the Maine Farmland Trust awaiting people willing to farm them, and they’ll be given diverse ways to pay for those farms, so there is no dearth of farms available for those willing to work for their living. 

      You’d be surprised at the young people today who’d love to farm and live simply.  Truly, many of us do this already and like it much better than when we lived in cities with lots more “luxuries,” which have proved completely unnecessary to our lives.

      When one starts small and then grows as one is able, and if one grows crops in raised beds, there is little “back-breaking” labor involved, although, of course, one must do some physical work – and it’s healthy, too.

      Organic gardening and farming works WITH Nature, instead of always trying to conquer Nature with poisons and clearcutting (another topic).

      See the future, poison sprayers….people want clean food, not genetically-engineered with toxic bacteria or sprayed with poisons that get into our streams, lakes, and coastal waters, harming us, wildlife, and fisheries. 

      We’ve all, even newborns these days, got several hundred toxic chemicals in our bodies now – and it’s from the use of agricultural and industrial chemicals spread all around the earth, including the oceans, the source of all life.  

      • Guest

        “Second, people in apartments can belong to community gardens which ought
        to be started in parks and backyards of apartment houses.”   Community gardens rarely work out well over any length of time.  A few end up doing all the work and the whole enterprise ends up with people angry and squabbling.  Even worse idea is using our parks for these gardens.  All the people who wish to use the park for what it was intended for in the first place tend to raise an objection.  Not to mention the produce stolen, vandalism, etc.  Even worse if trying to use a postage stamp sized lawn behind an apartment building.  And where are the children living in the apartment building now supposed to play.  Maybe i am not the one who should accept reality and “Use your common sense, man.”

        “Starting tiny farms is economic development so it is legal under the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) law.”   Not that simple.  The TIF has to have been set up in the first place to allow it.  And unless the produce is grown for the purpose of being sold it doesn’t qualify as economic development.  And that still doesn’t get around the fact that MOST towns do not have TIFs.

        “Hundreds of farms are being held by the Maine Farmland Trust awaiting
        people willing to farm them, and they’ll be given diverse ways to pay
        for those farms, so there is no dearth of farms available for those
        willing to work for their living. ”  The reason you have all those hundreds of farms, (can you actually back up the “hundreds”?), is because there are not half as many people as you think there are willing to do the hard work actually necessary to run a farm.  That and the poverty level lifestyle turns a lot of people off as well.

        Sounds so good.  Going back to all organically grown food.  All over the world, right.    Now tell me how most people in the world will be able to afford to feed themselves with this much more expensive food?  And tell me which 2 billion or so of the earth’s population you are willing to let die of starvation?  And who gets to choose who lives and who starves?

        • Anonymous

          People starve because of politics; not because of a lack of food — Centralization of food production makes that ever more likely.  Our accounting considers food grown and eaten by farm families “waste” or “loss” — it’s all about what goes to market.  

          “Cheap food” is never cheap enough for the poor — people starve within sight of warehouses full awaiting more favorable prices…. The U.N. has learned, that the solution to food insecurity, all over the world, is local, biointensive, low-input food production.  

          Dr. Vandana Shiva has written extensively on agriculture.  She explains it beautifully…

          Are you on Monsanto’s payroll?   

          • Guest

            ” local, biointensive, low-input food production”  is how communities have done it for thousands of years.  And has resulted in famines and starvation time after time.

          • Anonymous

            Communities have staved off starvation for thousands of years growing a variety of crops, and returning fertility to the soil.  Famine and starvation is a combination of our reliance on monocultures and bad politics.  The Irish potato famine is an example of this — Peruvian potato farmers maintained stock of many varieties; Ireland continued to export food to England, even as its own people starved. 

          • Guest

            The Irish potato famine is not a typical example of famines and starvation throughout history. You need to look at all of history. You know, look at the forest not just 1 or 2 trees.

        • cleanearth

          You are such a Negative Nellie.  You’re really reaching with some of your statements.  Well, here goes:

          1.  Many community gardens have been in use for years and, so long as they are fenced in with only people who have gardens having keys, there shouldn’t be a theft problem.   The fear that someone might steal a tomato isn’t enough to negate all the good food and friends one gets from a communal garden.

          2.  Using parks as gardens.  One does not have to use an entire park, unless the need for food trumps “play” area.  Children can work in gardens, too, learning an important self-sufficiency skill, and be taught in such a way that it’s fun.

          3.  Whether the town or county has TIF funds doesn’t mean there aren’t other alternatives.  (Boy, you’re really reaching here.)  Towns have the option of organizing volunteers or, perhaps one part-time staff person to organize the gardens to get the initial gardens built.       
          Donations of lumber can be solicited from businesses, and/or houses/barns which are falling down can be taken down by volunteers and re-purposed for the raised-bed gardens.  (Some of mine are old wooden lobster crates, just right size.)

          4.  Google Maine Farmland Trust and you will see just how many farms there are awaiting new farmers.  They’re holding them in trust so people can become farmers, which is an excellent alternative to being out of work, and a good, healthy way to raise a family.

          5.  Organic food is only so expensive now because so much of it is shipped in from far away.  Maine organic growers are, for the most part, small farmers who do not get the subsidies that the large growers get (farm subsidies in the hundreds of millions for big agribusiness, most of which is owned by lawyers and speculators). 
            
           If people grow their own food, their cost is negligible and it’s right there, fresh from the garden.  That’s the bottom line defense against hunger, and what people have been doing for thousands of years. 

          Small villages all over the world grow their own food working with Nature and using no pesticides.  We know more than past generations about how to grow food naturally and, given we have no catastrophes that ruin our crops, we can continue to do so.   

          • Guest

            At least you are fleshing out your ideas some and addressing SOME of the negatives.

            (1)  So now these community gardens are fenced in with people having keys.  Not cheap, have you priced fencing lately?  OK, sounds like you are still advocating the communal plot idea.  What do you do about the free riders?  This was tried by several colonial groups.  Led to starvation and they went back to people working their own plots of land.

            (2)  Parks are public property and you are advocating fencing off areas for what is essentially a private use.  Other members of the public might not agree.  And just TRY and get most children these days to work in a garden or suggest to their parents that it would be good for their children to work there….  

            (3)   Why don’t you just stick with planting seeds in the ground instead of all this work with raised beds?  With lumber that will rot and have to be replaced every few years.

            (4)   So where are all the enthusiastic farmers just itching for the farm life?   I know, they gave it up …. 

            (5)  I buy some organic food every summer from farmers markets.  It costs even more than the  organic stuff shipped in.  Your economics understanding is lacking.  I am also against farm subsidies but I at least realize that ending them will result in more hunger.

            The cost of growing your own food is hardly negligible.  Everything you propose requires either money or time and usually a lot of hard labor.   You forget the initial investment, tools, seed, huge amounts of time, (time is money), fuel, compost, canning supplies, (unless you are only growing food to eat for the 3 or 4 months of harvesting various crops), storage space.

            Small villages all over the world have been doing this for thousands of years.  and many, if not most, suffer from malnutrition and even starvation regularly. 

            And I have had apples grown without any pesticides.  No thank you.  Same for corn.  The bugs get to eat more than I do.   Organic techniques that minimize this, and only minimize not eliminate by a long shot, are very labor intensive.

          • Anonymous

            Properly structured, community gardens work well.  Why the fences?  Are the vegetables trying to escape?  Maybe some of Monsanto’s GMO’s….

            “Other members of the public might not agree” — or they might.  Decisions regarding public property should be decided democratically, and many might prefer to see land in production, feeding families and being spared the expense of mowing huge green spaces.

            Families can NOT afford to pay farmers’ market prices; they CAN obtain the same quality, and big savings in their own, rented, borrowed land; public allotments….  The possibilities are as large as the giant monoculture bluegrass lawns…

            “So where are all the enthusiastic farmers just itching for the farm life? ”  Ask the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, who maintains ever growing lists; develops more farming opportunities for journeymen farmers.  You would be surprised.  

            Small villages of subsistence farmers have staved off starvation for thousands of years by maintaining a diversity of seed stock, returning fertility to the land.. Our dependence on monocultures; growing for “market” instead of community nourishment, and “dumping” our subsidized commodities on their markets.  We’ve driven countless people off their land in Mexico, sending them across the desert to mow our lawns!

            You are making quite an assumption about pesticide free apples and corn — we DO control pests, often more cheaply, in terms of money and labor,  and effectively than Monsanto would.

            You really should read up on sustainable agriculture and the pastoral economy.  

          • Guest

            I didn’t suggest the fences, Nancy did. But even then a fence isn’t going to stop animals or other people from stealing the food. I’ve seen a raccoon totally destroy a garden plot of corn in one night. You don’t want to know what a rabbit or deer can do. That is before we get to the 2 legged thieves.

            Those farms are still fallow. So much for all the new farmers itching to dig in the dirt.

            And small villages of subsistence farmers have led short nasty lives for thousands of years as well. Those that didn’t starve periodically.

            You are free to eat your worm infested apples and corn.

        • Anonymous

          I would certainly be interested in YOUR alternative.  The status quo cannot continue. 

          • Guest

            The fact that the status quo cannot continue, (I agree),  does not mean that  pie in the sky Utopian fantasy worlds will either.

          • Anonymous

            Why is it “pie in the sky”?  This is do-able, certainly. 

          • Guest

            Only if you force people to do it. The majority are neither willing or able to do it.

    • Anonymous

      “…why most of these fallow farms are abandoned?”  ..more to do with our farm policythat favors heavily-subsidized, inefficient corporate farming methods.  

      There are, in fact, many people who ARE choosing to embark on a rewarding, (though not in the monetary sense) life on the farm.  Land need not be owned to be farmed, and partnerships between landowners who would rather not incur the expense of bushhogging their fields every year and farmers who want to plant/graze — win-win.  “…all I want is a yard full of holes dug up to fill some raised beds.”  Our obsession with bourgeois, suburban lawns; the expectation that “respectable” people earn cash then use it to fill their needs rather than utilize unsightly self-sufficiency…  

      Ever grow potatoes in a barrel on a patio?  …tomatoes in a pot?  …pole beans on a railing? THIS is what “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” really looks like, in an economy where labor, sold for cash to corporations, is worth less than the cost of living…!

      • Guest

        Small farms were abandoned because they were so labor intensive and economically unsound that people could no longer provide a decent living standard for their families.

        “There are, in fact, many people who ARE choosing to embark on a rewarding, (though not in the monetary sense) life on the farm.”     Yep, people who make so little on their farms that the rest of us are supposed to subsidize them with food stamps, free government supplied health care, and other welfare.

        You still ignore the fact that making raised beds of any size will require the excavation of a huge amount of topsoil.  Leaving those areas with exposed, environmentally destroyed, subsoil.

        Grow potatoes in a barrel.  Are you really serious?  That will get you enough for maybe 1 to 4 meals depending on how well the plant does.  That may make you feel good about yourself but is insignificant. 

        • Anonymous

          Where on Earth do you get your information?  Do you KNOW any small, diversified farmers? …not easy, but no more so that being “working poor” and far more rewarding.  

          ~The “rest of us” are “subsidizing”, fossil-fuel dependent CORPORATE farms — the amount is staggering, and the continuation of the status quo nothing short of a “radical” idea.  Many of these small farmers ARE self-sufficient to a greater degree; and more sustainable.  I would recommend reading up on the “pastoral economy” to learn more.

          ~”…enough for maybe 1 to 4 meals”… The yield can be 100 pounds per barrel…  Either you are a glutton, or have never grown potatoes above ground in a barrel.  You clearly underestimate the productivity of small diversified farms — VERY high.  
          I constructed my own “raised beds”, without cost, through double digging, adding homemade compost, fill from the pathways and edging with scrapwood and stones.  There will be no silver bullet, here.  Solutions will come from many small changes in the way we live.  I for, one, am not interested in subsidizing the status quo. I cannot believe people are so offended by Ms. Oden’s vision; that it is “controversial” in any way!  Why wouldn’t you applaud the efforts of people? …her vision of widespread self-sufficiency? ..the re-localization of our economies?   What are you afraid of?  

          • Guest

            A few of your small farmers may be self sufficient to some small degree.   Don’t try and pretend they are truly self sufficient needing nothing from the outside world.   Please point out some of these small self sufficient farmers who do not need electricity, gasoline, any number of things from the outside.  Also, they need to make enough income to buy their own health insurance, etc.

            Farm subsidies should be ended.  I agree.

            I have never grown potatoes in a barrel.  I have grown them in a garden.  My experiance tells me that you could plant only 1 potato plant  in a barrel without over crowding and killing your yield.   Unless you have some humongous barrels.  I have never seen 1 potato plant, or even 3 plants, produce 100 lbs of potatoes. 

            When you exaggerate you damage your credibility.

            I am not offended by Nancy’s vision.  I simply see it for what it is.  A Utopian dream, something that most people do not share but that she thinks people should be encouraged to live.  I wish those who share it well.   But don’t present it as some sort of cure for all that is wrong with the world.  It isn’t.

          • Anonymous

            You clearly no nothing about agriculture, sustainable or otherwise.  “Self-sufficiency” does NOT mean “nothing from the outside world”, and nothing is more destructive, rapacious and expensive to “the outside world” than Big Ag.  

            Actually, using biointensive techniques; layering of rich soil — in raised beds or in a barrel you CAN, quite successfully, use spacing that would be considered “overcrowded” in a chemically-fertilized, row garden.  The technique is readily available on various websites — I doubt you’ve read up on the subject, or have any experience.  

            When you make judgement about something about which you have no knowledge; are unprepared to back up — you “damage your credibility”.

            No one is suggesting sustainable agriculture, localized food production is the solution to everything in the world… …but the way we produce food now? Untenable. My generation refuses to subsidize it any more.

          • Guest

            You might want to look up the definition of self-sufficiency. You don’t get to redefine concepts just because you misused them and don’t like to have to admit you exaggerated.

            I’ve looked into it. As I have said, it is labor intensive. Not to mention the huge amount of compost necessary that has to be made. Nor am I enamored with the idea of sanitizing human waste and using it as suggested. Sources I read suggest 2 to 6 times the yield of conventional farming. Still doesn’t get you 100 lbs of potatoes in a barrel. I looked at a 20 lb bag of potatoes. (got one in the kitchen) Still do not believe you are going to harvest 5 bags of potatoes out of 1 55 gallon barrel. volume alone, + the soil, etc.

          • Guest

            And sustainable is a totally different concept from self sufficient.

  • Anonymous

    This is what health, sustainable self-reliance looks like… Where the almighty shareholder isn’t raking in all the fruits of our labor, there’ll always be harsh criticism…

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