"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Sunday, October 25, 2009

We'll Work For Food

The southeast corner of our food production facility in early June

It's really pretty amazing how much time and effort goes into raising one's own food, vegetables that is. Take the common carrot for instance. We painstakingly plant thousands of seeds a few at a time in mid-April being careful to do so while the weather cooperates so the tiny seedlings are not washed away by harsh weather. Then there are always those few that need to be replanted for reasons usually unknown.

When June rolls around, we proceed to carfully thin and weed them for the first time. We weed and water, weed and water, continuously nurturing them until the end of August at which point there is often some rain and our constant battle with the weeds has been won...leastwise temporarily. We can then take a short breath before diving into the late September harvest, which requires us to pull, sort, and box them up for storage. A few months into storage they need to be checked. Is the soil damp enough for them? Are there any bad ones that might spoil those layered underneath? Carrots are a bit of work and they are also one of the most carefree crops we grow.

May carrots poking through the earth in our slightly raised beds

Same carrots, over five month later. We love the Lunar and Belgian whites.

So considering the amount of effort involved, why on earth would we choose to grow our own food rather than buying it from the stupermarket or better yet eating out at a restaurant or local fast food joint? Simple, we do it for the immense satisfaction of knowing that what we are putting into our bodies is of the highest possible quality. We do it for the pure pleasure of playing some small role in the development of these extraordinary edibles that nourish us body and soul. But mostly, for the empowerment that goes along with knowing that we can feed ourselves without relying upon others, having long since lost faith in the so called powers that be to do so for us.

My question is, why on earth wouldn't you want to know how to feed yourself? It's really not how much you grow so far as having the knowledge to do so if you ever had to.

Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.

Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.

Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War's annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.

-- Thomas Hardy

Is Thomas Hardy right, will simple daily tasks and passions outlast all else, or have we already forgotten how to fulfill our most basic needs? Surely as long as we live agriculture will continue, but in what form?


Anonymous said...

Mr. H.,
I love the look of the Belgian whites although I've never tasted one. Your thoughts are right on-It's funny how you think it's not worth growing carrots because you can get them so cheap from the store-we thought that too for a long time on many vegetables then we realized the taste is just superior when it comes from your garden.
Then of course you always learning something new when you garden-some one can tell you how to do it a another better way and you can't wait to try it!

inadvertent farmer said...

Now that is an impressive harvest of carrots! I totally agree, why not put the best into our bodies...besides the exercise does us good too! Wonderful post...Kim

Ruralrose said...

Beautifully put, you should write to be published!

Silke said...

What a beautiful post, Mike! And you are so right. We don't currently grow all the food we eat, but I think we'd be able to do so if need be. And with Daniel's knowledge of plants in the wild, we'd be good foragers as well. I do admire all of you who do grow your own food!! I am glad you are sharing your knowledge on this blog!! :) Silke

mostlypurple said...

I grew a handful of chantenay this year and was floored with how sweet tender and flavorful they were. For next year, I plan to have one whole raised bed dedicated to carrots. Mine will be on a much smaller scale (3' x 8') than yours obviously, but with dedication and passion on par with what you convey in this post.

Mr. H. said...


I avoided growing white carrots for many years, for some silly reason I thought they would be of sub-par flavor. Boy was I wrong, they are delicious, even the big ones. We grew a full spectrum of colorful carrots this year and the two whites, my chantenay, imperator, and new to our garden parisian market carrots were my favorites.


Mr. H. said...

inadvertent farmer,

I agree, one of the the best parts about gardening besides the nutritious food is all the exercise you receive.

Mr. H. said...


One never knows what will come with time but for now I am happy to just publish a post now and then.

Mr. H. said...


I think you and Daniel would make out really well if need be. You already have the hardest part (for some people) down. You enjoy eating a wide variety of delicious nutritious foods.

Mr. H. said...


Chantenay's are one of our favorites as well. They make for an excellent storage carrot. It really is pretty amazing how much better a home grown carrot tastes in comparison to those dried up store bought ones.

Silke said...

Hey, I never thought about that...it's true, we like to eat healthy foods and we are always trying new dishes. Plus, we know how to put together ingredients. It didn't occur to me that this side of feeding oneself is important as well!
Also, thanks for your comment on my Joy Diet post! I appreciate it!! :) Silke

Stefaneener said...

Oh, I need to send you over to a rant made by a spinner I know. Let me find it. . .
Oh, here it is (I hope it loads for you) http://abbysyarns.com/2007/10/should-everyone-spin-another-yarn-manifesto

Anyhow, I grow because I can't not. It's as simple as that. Knitting I do because I love the product and feel proud of myself, spinning because it's fun. .. but growing food is as near a compulsion as I can get. The taste is pretty good, and I love not having to go to the store, or going and just looking at the kale, and thinking, "Got that. . . got that. . . don't need that. . . gee, $6/pound?. .. got that"

I was wondering yesterday, however, what it's going to be like when I'm 80 and have this huge garden. Let's hope for lots of grandkids!

Jo said...

I think Thomas Hardy is right. Simple daily tasks and pleasures will outlast, simply because those who partake in them (as opposed to people who let others do all for them) will outlast.

I think no matter how disconnected from the land 'agriculture' becomes, there will always be a subset of society that will insist on a more traditional means of growing food.

No matter how powerful Monsanto and their ilk grow, I doubt they will ever be able to patent dirt, water and sunlight. Okay, I hope they won't ever be able to...

It's me ...Mavis said...

The thing I have been struggling with this year is what to do with all the food I have grown. It's one thing to grow it, another to have the knowledge how to prepare meal after meal with homegrown veggies... I'm slowly getting the hang of it. It's amazing to me how far removed we have become as a society from getting our hands dirty and growing our own dinner. I don't understand why they don't teach "How to grow your own food" in school....It's such a basic idea. We need food to survive....shouldn't we be teaching children how to do that? Good post Mr. H!

Anonymous said...

I only grow some of our food but I have friends who grow all their veggies and fruits. I think they only buy grain, salt, sugar and a few spices. Very ambitious. It takes 2 people all their time from April to November. Processing and preparing for storage is as much work as growing, they say.

LynnS said...

Very nice post Mike. Those of us who have a passion have connected with that unfathomable energy that comes from little else. Then there is the tranquility that is achieved through total immersion in something of interest.

Produce gardening gives us the ability to provide sustenance. Growing our own quality foods, foods of our own choice, takes the passion and the tranquility one step further. No wonder we love every part of the process.

If more people grew some of their foods, I believe a number of people would end their depressive states and become more healthy. People have lost purpose, even though the answer is right there, within.

Diane said...

That is an extremely impressive garden and greenhouse! I'm really having some envy about now! If others haven't enlarged the photo, they must. What a great job you've done.

Naomi said...

oooh! I have carrot envy! We grew some very small, stunted carrots here not long ago - we really need to build a raised/terraced bed to get good roots in our clay and shale soil lol.

It will be some time before we are growing all our fruit, veges and herbs, but each season we learn more, experiment with varieties (not as much as you though), make mistakes and eat some rather tasty homegrown foods.

The best bit? So do our kids ;) thanks for a great post ox

Mr. H. said...


The nutritional aspect of gardening is what first drew me to it. It's much more then that now but our health is always foremost in my mind.

Mr. H. said...


What a great post at Abbys Yarns, I may have to learn to spin. Really, without the ability to make textiles we had better all start growing hair really fast if anything apocalyptic should happen.

I can't not grow food either at this point, it's a good addiction though. Don't worry, perhaps when you are eighty you will be like Helen & Scott Nearing and be eighty years young.:) That's my goal.

Mr. H. said...


I so agree with you, when it comes down to it there will always be those few that keep the old ways alive. I believe that some of us were destined to do so.

Long after Monsanto implodes upon itself, and it will, "simple" people will still be growing simple foods.

Mr. H. said...


If they taught "how to grow your own food" in school it would disrupt the whole consumer driven economy that many hold so dear.

You are right though, it most certainly should be taught in school. Like you said it is one of our most basic needs after all. I fear that the currant generation will be in for a rude awakening if hard times befall us. All we can do is continue to teach our own and any who will listen these basic tasks.

Mr. H. said...


Your friends are right it is very time consuming. We harvest most things in September and then spend the next two months processing them. It is truly a year around labor of love .:)

Mr. H. said...


So perfectly stated. Without purpose what do we have to live for. Money and things certainly are not the answer, and can only temporarily fill that void. We do indeed need a worth while interest, one that not only challenges us but also serves a useful purpose.

It always saddens me to see today's children immersed in video games and television, snacking on junk food as their minds and body's slowly rot away.

How could they not eventually end up in depressive states?

Mr. H. said...


Thankyou, we enjoy every minute of our whole food gardening adventure. Thanks for stopping by and I am looking forward to checking out your newest blog.:)

Mr. H. said...


A little bit at a time, more and more every year. I look forward to watching as you continue to develop your lovely grounds. What the children are consuming, both in knowledge and food makes it all worth while doesn't it?

Heiko said...

Mr H., do you find like I do, that you can really see evolution at work when growing carrots? I mean as soon as the delicate seedlings appear, I find that all the surrounding weeds spontaneously mutate to look just like carrot seedlings and you don't know what to pull, leaving most of them alone when in doubt.

It's like all the weeds get together under the surface saying to each other: "Hey, did you notice he's only pulling the fat ones out and leaving the little ones alone? Let's just send the little ones up and see what happens!"

Mr. H. said...


So very true. I have always wondered how the look alike weeds find their vegetable counterparts so readily. Like you said it must be some sort of spontanious evolution.:)

I look at it this way, the more weeds you have the healthier the soil must be. I just wish the vegetables would grow so easily.

el said...

Hardy was actually a fabulous poet. He kind of fell out of favor when, during WWI, he wrote a lot of antiwar poems and treatises, but personally, I also think war is pretty much a waste of effort too so I don't think he was terribly wrongheaded.

And as for the time spent gardening, well, damn, what would you rather spend your time on? Frankly I think I spend more of my time cooking (or rather preparing the garden goods for cooking) than I ever spend in the garden proper. And (as you know) I leave those carrots in the ground! Saves me time :)

Funny: we just went on a roadtrip, and I brought a cooler filled with our garden goods and yard meats so I could cook my friends some great meals. Still missed the garden though!

Mr. H. said...


You know, there are very few things I would rather be doing.

I had to laugh about you traveling with your food, we do the same thing. We took a trip to the coast a few years back and packed a cooler with food from our garden and made sure to get a room with a kitchen so we could cook. That was fun.:) "Have garden will travel."

WeekendFarmer said...

How do you keep rabbits, deer, groundhogs off your garden?

Mr. H. said...


It's hard to see in the pictures but all of our garden areas are fenced in with 7' fencing and chicken wire. Not even a cat can get into the garden uninvited. Every once in a while a moose will blindly stumble though the fencing or a deer will find a weak spot in our defenses but that rarely happens anymore.

WeekendFarmer said...

mmmmm moose! yum : )

Frugilegus said...

Missed this post before, but glad to find it. Agree it takes time and effort - but better to spend that time and effort on creating (rather than acquiring). When you say basic needs I read contentment and feeling in touch with the real world as well as the basics of sustenance. I think I find a much better perspective on the rest of the world from mud-level.

Mr. H. said...


Yes, creating or better yet working with nature as it really does all the creating. All we are really doing is lending a helping hand.

Like you said, mud and worms...the path to true contentment. Setting all the foolish things of man aside, the world really is just mud and worms.

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