Our Veggie Gardens Won't Feed Us in a Real Crisis

Our Veggie Gardens Won’t Feed us in a Real Crisis
July 14, 2019 by Kollibri terre Sonnenblume


"Massive flooding and heavier than normal precipitation across the US Midwest this year delayed or entirely prevented the planting of many crops. The situation was sufficiently widespread that it was visible from space. The trouble isn’t over yet: Hotter-than-normal temperatures predicted to follow could adversely affect corn pollination. Projections of lower yields have already stimulated higher prices in UN grain indexes and US ethanol. Additionally, the USDA is expecting harvests to be of inferior quality. Furthermore, the effects of this year could bleed into 2020; late planting leads to late harvesting which delays fall tilling, potentially until next spring, when who knows what Mother Nature will deliver.

"Accuweather’s characterization of this as a “one-of-a-kind growing season” is literally true only in terms of its exact circumstances (given increasingly chaotic events) but not in its intensity (which will surely be exceeded). Prudence would dictate that we heed this year’s events as a warning and get serious about making preparations for worse years. Literal cycles of 'feast or famine' have marked agriculture since its birth and sooner or later we will experience significant shortages here in the US, if not from the weather, than from war or lack of resources.

"The Midwest floods and their possible repercussions for the food supply got some attention in the news (though not enough). One of the most common suggestions I saw on social media was: 'Plant a garden!'

"If only it were that simple."

A timely reality check...

mountainmoma's picture

He says that it took 1/3 hour of labor for one pound of wheat grown and threshed and cleaned to be ready to use. SO, for 50 pounds of wheat, which is what I use for a year that would be under 17 hours. Not bad actually. There was nothing in this short article saying it couldnt or shouldnt be done, just that he isnt doing it anymore. 17 hours a year is not alot of time for that many calories.

I cant remember or find my list now, but it is something like each week would need to be lets say 2 pounds of potatoes, 1 butternut squash, 1 pound of wheat, 1/2 pound of dried beans, 2 quarts of milk ( some of which is converted to homemade cheese, I also am working up planting forage for the nigerian dwarf goats) dried fruit and other fruit products like wine and jam, 1/2 cup of olive oil and yes I have olive trees planted. SO, it is a process but an interesting one. And I also think that even if you truly cannot grow 100% of food that all efforts are helpful to food security and should not be put down as the title of this article does

I have grown things and run the numbers and I am very unorganized so do not have the numbers at my fingertips but growing enough calories is doable even by an older lady like myself.

His aurgument seems to be that it is cheaper to buy it than what he thinks our time is worth which is a completely different aurgument.

I have had a HORRIBLE gardening year, parents in the hospital constantly, driving to help, on the phone constantly etc.... and since I can actually go to the store at this time, and I have practiced growing food for many years, I was able to prioritize the old folks. I partially planted, missed deadlines, planted months late, planted very little, etc..... and I somehow harvested 50 onions, most about 1 pound in size ( so only 1/3 were planted out, and planted WAY late) I just harvested 25 pounds of potatoes, same issue, half set out, late, etc.... The garden is full of perrenial walking onions and a few types of greens ( malva, wild radish, wild mustard of course but lots of Magenta Spreen lambsquarters, which I am eating daily) and fruit ( apples, pears, raspberries, wild blackberries, grapes, persimons) that I did not plant, prune or water AT ALL. Plenty of tomatoes are out there too, they are easy. Yes, I am buying grains though right now as I did not get the dry corn or beans planted. But, I have done it many times.

I have done the calculations on how much room would grow calories enough for me, and what that means my diet would need to be. Then, I practice both ends of that, so I practice eating those types and varieties of food, even if I am buying it while scaling up the garden, and then practice growing those types of food that do well here, meet the calorie and nutritional needs and that I dont mind eating and teach myself to eat new foods, like winter squash, I did not eat winter squash prior but I have been practicing and learning how I can and will eat it as it is a good source of both calories and nutrients.

mountainmoma's picture


Interesting take on yields and work needed. None if it seems too bad as a future place to be, but as all things, this is a learning process, this report shows the first 2 years of them trying to grow staple foods.

which is the real reminder for us all, to practice now, it takes years, even if we do it on a small scale, we will learn how and can scale up in unused community areas if we need to

David Trammel's picture

I saw that too and thought it a good break down of the expenses of a small subscription farm, aka one where you sell shares (a percentage of the harvest) as seed capital.

David Trammel's picture

Greer would spank this writer for his obvious binary thinking. Either we depend on industrial agriculture or we depend on our our gardens, when the choice of having a garden is never about either/or, its about what benefits having a garden brings to enhance your Life.

First it cuts back on the amount of food you require from the System. If your garden provides just 10 percent of your total food intake, that means there is a bit of buffer in the system now. Shortages can occur and prices can go up without seriously effecting you.

Second, staple crops sometimes are the hardest to grow in small scale. Grains, rice, beans and potatoes benefit from being grown in large acres and that keeps the price low. It also means that there is a huge supply out there. Regional disruptions can often be mitigated by foreign producers.

Third, smaller gardens are usually used to supply a person/family with the luxuries of the food table, not the staples. The things that take a staple like boiled potatoes and makes it a good meal. Herbs and garnishments, or small portions of a favorite side dish. I grew squash for the first time this year because I noticed that when I made a big container of steamed and spiced veggies, mostly potatoes and onions, I like to throw in a small squash, or a handful of beans, maybe some Brussels sprouts, or one ear of corn. My three plants did that, providing me with one or two squashes a month to add to my diet.

Finally, the author left out what is to me the primary reason to have a garden, "Quality of Life". Being able to come home after a long night of hot sweaty stressful work, go out into my small garden, take off my shoes and socks, relax and just watch Life go on in the garden, is almost priceless.

Justin Patrick Moore's picture

Thanks for this take on the article David. You brought up a lot of good points.

The midwest weather had a definite effect on my gardening this year (and the squirrels who ate our zucchini). But, I did get a bunch of beets. Not enough to feed me for a long time, but I roasted them and put them out for a party we had and still had enough to snack on for the rest of the week. There would have been enough to put into a beet/red cabbage & ginger kimchi I'd planned to make. As a condiment it would have gone further.

Our tomatoes are plentiful, and as you say, one less thing to depend on the System for. If/when I learn to can the tomatoes can be turned into sauces for the winter.

The hot peppers we started never took off, perhaps due to all the rain. But if I'd had a batch, they would equal another condiment: hot sauce, or dried to use later. And yes, the fresh herbs always make a great addition to the kitchen.

Even though we couldn't live on our garden patch, another cool thing was: our grandson Lucas helped us start the seeds, and when they were sprouted and it was time to plant, he helped us put them in the ground. That was a highlight of it for us this year. And on subsequent visits he's gotten to see how the plants have fared.

David Trammel's picture

How do family farms survive this?

The Average U.S. Farm Is $1,300,000 In Debt, And Now The Worst Farming Crisis In Modern History Is Upon Us

"We haven’t seen anything like this since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Leading up to this year, farm incomes had been trending lower for most of the past decade, and meanwhile farm debt levels have been absolutely exploding. So U.S. farmers were desperate for a really good year, but instead 2019 has been a total disaster. As I have been carefully documenting, due to endless rain and catastrophic flooding millions of acres of prime farmland didn’t get planted at all this year, and the yields on tens of millions of other acres are expected to be way, way below normal. As a result, we are facing the worst farming crisis in modern American history, and this comes at a time when U.S. farms are drowning in more debt than ever before. In fact, the latest numbers that we have show that the average U.S. farm is 1.3 million dollars in debt."

I've been reading Chaucer's People

In the late 14th century the ration for a working person was 2 or 3 lb of bread and almost a gallon of ale per day. I can say that grains make up a large part of my diet, whether it's corn grits, rice, whole wheat or oats. I heard that one of our food banks ran out of bread last week and a caring person passing thru the building went out, bought 30 loaves of bread, and brought them back to the food bank. I think the author of the article was pointing out a hard truth. Your one garden is not going to be all that helpful--it can be destroyed or stolen, but a network of community and individual gardens will get the community through. And building that network has to begin now. I have lost count of the number of urban farms and community gardens in town. The WIC office in town offers fresh vegetables grown onsite to their clients and a local hospital has two onsite gardens where patients can sit for some peace and quiet. The dietitians use the fresh produce in nutrition classes.


lathechuck's picture

At Fountains Abbey, visitors can grind wheat into flour just as the monks did. In the monastery, a pound of bread was the daily ration, and that seems about right for a 2000 kcalorie diet (not living "by bread alone", probably). I wonder whether that might have had something to do with the establishment of the "pound"? If you knew that you needed to feed 20 monks for a month, it's easy to bid on 600 lbs. of wheat. Of course, it's also the weight of a pint of water, but what's the natural significance of the pint?

lathechuck's picture

Some people (like lawyers) count the labor in the garden as an expense, relative to more profitable activities they could be doing, others (like me) count the labor as a benefit, relative to more expensive leisure-time activities I could be doing. I've heard that there are people who will travel and pay good money just to lift and lower iron weights, indoors, in the company of strangers. I lift and sift soil, outdoors, in the company of songbirds, squirrels, and neighbors, and then I get to pick free food. It doesn't seem like much of a choice to me. I may not get a lot of food, but I do appreciate fresh greens and herbs in my Saturday morning omelets, and week-night salads. And here it is, late March, and I still have two good looking butternut squash from last year yet to be eaten.

I'll misquote Oscar Wilde here.
Those lawyers know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

I like hobbies that save me money. Food gardening is really good for that, and the food it produces is better than the conventionally-grown I'd be buying at the grocery store.

In harder times, I figure I could probably buy mostly grains and pulses and get most of my fruit and veg from the garden. Could make the difference between an inadequate diet and an adequate one. Even last year, I think I ate better during last spring's supply disruptions than I would have otherwise, and having the garden gave me useful something to do other than worry.

My garden can't fully feed me, but it can be really useful even without that.

That is certainly what I have found as I have gardened along. I get quite a bit of my food from my garden, but certainly not all of it. What I do get is top quality and a fair amount of satisfaction from having grown and processed that produce.

I look at a lot of food gardening as supplemental. It's not your main meal (although it can be).

But at a minimum, you can grow greens and herbs to provide variety, seasoning, and needed vitamins and trace nutrients. Even in a window sill, you can grow some added greens.

After that, you learn to grow, preserve, cook, and eat a wider variety of garden truck.

about food gardening. It probably changes with very large food gardens though, or once you start adding animals. I know my mom and partner grows a lot more food than I do. They still buy quite a bit, and do a lot of trading with other gardeners. They don't keep animals, but they trade produce, microgreens, and seedlings in return for eggs, and sometimes milk and meat or tree fruit. You could probably do a lot that way, if you really had to.

I'd like to grow more, but too much aggravates my health issues, so I try not to overdo it and haven't gone to the same extent as my mom. Still, planted a peach tree this year. A couple of years down the line, that should be a good thing.