The Importance of the Family Garden

"If you grow a garden you are going to shed some sweat, and you are going to spend some time bent over, you will experience some aches and pains. But it is in the willingness to accept this discomfort that we strike the most telling blow against the power plants and what they represent." ~ Wendell Berry~

As I have noted in the past our family owns a home in a small rural community. We possess 1/16th of an acre and every inch of soil is precious. Things are tough in my community. It is a dinosaur in some sense of the word. It is a blue collar factory town. Opportunity is rare in the form of corporate commodity but here families are creating their own opportunity simply by digging in the rich dirt in their own backyards.

Our family, in many ways, is similar to most people in that we live paycheck to paycheck and we have to get down right creative to put healthy meals on the table. We are also a bit different from the general populace in that our family of five, soon to be six, homeschools and by doing so we basically survive in a two income world on one income. My wife works extremely hard to provide for us but as we all know things are not easy out there.

This brings me to our family garden. People, our family included, garden for any number of reasons. Some for health and recreation. Others to develop or strengthen their connection to the Earth. Self-sufficiency and economics are two more of the countless reasons families create gardens. One of the motivations for our garden is that we are simply trying to put food on the table. Nothing fancy here at the end of the day. Break your back and break a sweat so that in return our family eats healthy and consistently on a limited budget.

I have a habit of constantly trying to figure out how to produce more food in our tiny space. I spend all winter staring at the layout of the yard developing new ideas. Some plans are far more realistic than others but I have considered it all. Everything from clandestine chickens to vertical rooftop gardens, rotation planting to meat rabbits, the list is virtually endless.

I do not pursue, or at least, think about all of these options because I feel that what I have is not enough but rather to use what I have in a manner that is the most efficient possible. In fact I am extremely grateful for the small piece of property we have. I am very grateful to have a garden of my own. I have friends who rent and have no space to speak of. I have family members whose soil has been destroyed by industrial pollution. Others are just not in the sort of shape to tend a garden.

"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet and learn to be at home." ~Wendell Berry~  

Our garden, our lawn, is sacred to me. I have a very holistic approach to gardening and livestock. Next to nothing is wasted on the plate or in the plot. The long term health of our animals, gardens and bodies are the goal. But in the meantime my family needs to eat. More importantly we need to eat well. I will be the first to admit we have had to buy fodder at the grocery store for our stomachs on occasion but we are making a real attempt to provide for ourselves as much as possible. I could not do this without our precious 1/16th acre. I could not do it without the helping hands of my children nor without my wife and the sacrifice she performs Monday through Friday to allow me the option to work in the dirt for our food.

I am inspired when I interact with other parents close to my age in my community. Parents are raising meat birds and layers. They are growing massive vegetable gardens, berry patches and orchards. They are canning and preserving. They are exploring the potential income of their chosen lifestyle selling honey, eggs and produce from their gardens. All the while teaching their children the priceless life skill of self-sufficiency. Growing or raising your own food is knowledge that will always come in handy and yet will never be taken away from someone once they have gained that valuable insight.

Anyone who gardens knows that each section of a garden can contain a different growing environment than that of a neighboring patch of soil. Less sunlight, more breeze and wind. Poor soil, rich soil and so on. I believe it is similar in respects to the family garden. Every family's journey for self preservation is unique. Each family has their own technique or family secret in regards to growing a specific item. The garden and the adjacent property is only limited by the imagination of the seed sower. Yet within this unique and individualized framework is the collective and brotherly spirit of harvest. The end goal is the same. To put food in the bellies of those whom you love most. To see pride on display at the dinner table. To acknowledge that regardless of how cruel the economy may be supper time is always a pleasant and festive event. Regardless of how tight your belt may be.

"We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist." ~Wendell Berry~    

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here


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