Living off the land (or lettuce as the case may be!!)

Recently one of my fellow students/apprentices (although this particular ‘student’ is something of an expert) on the Diploma for Applied Permaculture raised a challenge about growing all our own food, this is what he wrote;

“The third ethical principle says that we should reduce consumption. I believe that this includes the amount of space that it takes to feed ourselves.
For all of my research, the system that uses the least space to feed a person is the grow biointensive system. It suggests that it is possible to feed a person on 1/8th acre per person including paths, as well as growing all of the materials needed to maintain soil fertility. (Not 100% accurate but good enough for my purposes). 1/8th of an acre is 25m x 20m. Take a look at how much space that is, not on paper, but outside on flat open ground.
The diploma criteria says that not all of your diploma designs need to be implemented. So what about designing a food production system that provides all of the calories for one person, and maintains soil fertility, on 1/8th of an acre?
It would need knowledge/research into plant yields, spacings, timings, rotations, fertility.
At the very least it would be another potential design for a portfolio, and somebody may produce something of use to lots of people.
If anybody gives it a try, I’d love to see what you come up with.” ~ Deano Martin

Given that I like challenges, that I am ‘studying’ permaculture, that I want to be as self-sufficient (which for me also includes inter-dependence and contact with the community and world at large) in terms of my food supplies, that I want to experiment and even more importantly, learn all that I can about food growing,  then I jumped at this opportunity. Without hesitation, or much thought. It just grabbed me and I thought it was a brilliant challenge, I still do.
However, I then remembered that I am a complete novice in growing my own food. That having only started with my small vegetable patch this year I still do not have much (if any) accumulated knowledge. That with this small vegetable patch I am still learning or at least trying to learn, how to identify each plant as it emerges. That I have a long, long way to go in terms of being knowledgeable in maintaining soil fertility. But I reckoned that as there are so many experts out there, who have years of experience and have learned by their ‘mistakes’ then I had no need to reinvent the wheel, I could just ask or seek advice and adapt the tried and tested to suit my particular situation. That should be easy enough, shouldn’t it?

But I should go back a bit and report on what is happening in my garden; my first ever vegetable plot, my experimentation with a poly-culture (mixing various types of veg/fruits/herbs for beneficial purposes and for increasing growing capacity in a small space) and a no-dig garden, as it does have a bearing on how I shall proceed with this challenge.

Three months after planting all my seeds in the garden I have managed to harvest approx seven large bags of lettuce and the plot is still producing more , an abundance of it. Every conceivable kind of lettuce, beautiful, colorful, interesting, healthy and vibrant lettuces.

Lovely, luscious lettuce

According to the design I was working on I should have been harvesting many other things by now (  I guess as I followed a design written by someone who lives in another country/climate may have affected the results. Also, it cannot go without saying that there has been a serious lack of sunshine this summer in the UK. Added to that my lack of real experience and you are left with lettuce!! Not that I am complaining, in these days of ‘fast’ everything I think it is amazing that it only takes three months to ‘produce’ an abundance of lettuce. Also, I can see that my carrots, parsnips, borage, calendula, beetroot, garlic, leeks and broad beans are coming on, ok coming on well enough given all the hurdles that the poor things have had to face here in ‘sunny’ Scotland. Small miracle that anything has grown really..

Broad beans, surrounded by growth and life

But back to the challenge, growing ALL your own food, and what that means?
Well it means learning a lot more about food production, that is for sure, for me anyway. Probably changing my diet somewhat, maybe eating less (but hopefully not just lettuce) making mistakes, stretching myself and rethinking what it means to be self-sufficient.

Imagine if you could only eat what you grew yourself. What would you/we be eating? How would that change the way we view our food, and what we would eat? Luckily this year I have not had to live only by the means of what I have produced myself. I say luckily in the sense that I still have access to food from other sources, I have money to be able to buy myself food, food is still arriving in the shops or markets from other growers and I live a privileged life (in comparison to many people who are presently doing without) But contemplating all of this has really made me think ‘what if I only had access to what I had grown this year?’ How many dishes can you make with lettuce?

Beautiful as they are… I need more variation..

But this brings up lot’s of issues for me, about my needs or desires in terms of food, about the availability of food and also about where the food comes from, and then on to the distribution of food and those who are not fortunate enough to be able to chose what they would like to eat.

So further to the challenge I have thought a lot about food and where it comes from, what we ‘demand’ and what we think is an appropriate diet to sustain us, and how that will be affected by where we live, how much income we have and what have been our expectations up until this point. And how, that may well change in the future post peak oil… Lot’s to think about and lot’s to learn for me, which is no bad thing.

So, I wrote this article:

How much is enough

I shall go on studying, and I would like to thank Deano Martin for raising this issue/challenge for me and highlighting once again the need to learn more about food growing and all that is related to that.

For anyone interested in taking up this challenge I would recommend reading Deano Martin’s thorough investigations into food production and learning from his extensive knowledge:

“In thinking about what is enough, we have to look at the needs and wants that drive material gain, and also at the capacity of earth and people to provide those needs and wants.”

–David Holmgren

Distributing the Surplus

Today the gap between the very rich and the very poor is widening, and corporations and other powerful economic institutions are consolidating power over the planet’s natural and economic capital, with little to no ethical constraint.

People in affluent societies are finding many ways to redistribute the surplus: humanitarian projects, social service clubs, philanthropic trusts, volunteer work.

However, many materially poor individuals and communities redistribute proportionally more of their material wealth.

Why Limit Consumption: Food

This year, roughly 7.8 million people have died of hunger; more than 1 billion are malnourished.

Americans toss out more than 70 thousand tons of spoiled food per day.

Roughly 78% of malnourished children live in nations with food surpluses, while 90% of the hungriest nations on earth are net exporters of food to rich nations.

Are our eyes bigger than our bellies?