The Working Poor and Gardening

“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else's responsibility until I'm ready to eat it.” Joel Salatin,  Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

Over the years I have found that statistics can be easily manipulated to enhance the viewpoint of a particular presenter in an effort to sway their audience. Personally, I do not feel the need to show you the numbers in regards to Americans living below the poverty line. I do not believe that I need to provide you with brightly colored pie charts to include that often overlooked portion of our population, the working poor. I believe that our own daily experiences provides us with a stable platform to view the world we live in and for most of us if we are not living below the poverty line or are not working poor ourselves we know someone who is. Chances are as a collective we all know far more people struggling financially than we do individuals or families who are so well established financially that they do not have to worry about an unexpected bill throwing them into months of financial turmoil.

There are obviously varying degrees of poverty and suffering. Though my family lives on a tight budget we are fortunate enough to have purchased a home right before the financial bubble burst and we have a small piece of property to go along with it, 1/16th acre to be exact. Clearly, the option I am providing would be far easier if one has direct access to their own land but there are other options as well. One option is guerrilla farming and another is community gardening. Solutions are only as limited as ones imagination.

To the point at hand, food is security is a very serious issue in our country. I would like to suggest that more people consider growing their own food. Start small in an effort to gain your confidence. What a lot of people will find is that not only are they good at growing food but they will also realize that they enjoy the activity as well.

Start out by growing what you like to eat. Sounds like an obvious statement but it is far too easy to find yourself having unrealistic fantasies when staring at brightly colored seed packets in the local feed store. Another thing to consider is what grows well in your neck of the woods. Once again sounds fairly easy but there are only so many growing days when they are sandwiched between frosty spring sunrises and chilly autumn mornings. So for example growing crops that take over 100 days in New York State is really pushing the envelope some years. I would suggest inquiring with other gardeners in your neighborhood or even your local University’s Cooperative Extension for information on which crops grow best in your zone.  

Attempt to grow your crops as cheaply as possible. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in all the gadgets at the hardware store. Our shovels are used garage sale items. Our raised beds are built out of stones that were in the garden when we dug our original site, for the most part. In fact you don’t really need a raised bed; it helps but is not the difference between success and failure. Grow heirloom seeds. Once harvested you may not have to ever buy seeds again.  
Read as much as you can on the subject. Knowledge is power. Go to your local library and read everything you can get your hands on. Use the library's free internet and research the subject. On some level none of it surpasses hands on experience but it certainly helps in the long run.

Gardening on a small scale may not solve all of your financial woes but it provides a safety net of sorts. I regularly tell the story of how our first garden was more or less a hobby garden and then I suffered the misfortune of losing my job one month before our second child was born. The garden became a critical part of our diet. Add to that the fact that I lost a second job due to budget cuts three years later and you begin to get the picture. The difference was that this time I was prepared with a large plot of vegetables.

Gardens provide the working poor and those who are living in poverty an opportunity to gain confidence in their ability to provide for themselves. It puts the healthiest food possible on your table if you have the foresight to use holistic methods. It even saves you money. Seeds and starter plants are far cheaper than the grocery store which in turn allows you to put that money into other ventures where it may be sorely needed.

Gardening has been instrumental in our family’s success and happiness. It not only puts food on the table it provides a child or parent someplace to release stress. Try going into the family garden stressed over your bills. After a few minutes of pounding a spade into the dirt your worries disappear. Beneath the sound of car horns and unfamiliar voices you can detect the hum of insects and the songs of the birds drifting from branch to branch. The wind tickles your skin and you find the true melody of life deep within the dirt caked beneath your fingertips.

It is just a suggestion but as I mentioned earlier I believe that daily experience is our best example of success or failure and I can tell you from nearly a decade of gardening within the confines of a tight budget it was one of the most rewarding decisions our family has ever made, proving so year after year. 

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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