Here’s a challenge more and more yard farmers are considering these days: Feed your family for a year on things you grow.
What exactly does that mean, though? Well, it could mean a number of things.
Some people attempt to go the pioneer route: Only eat what you grow. Obviously, this is pretty hardcore. Unless you’ve got space to raise livestock, this option means you’re going vegan. It probably also means you’re not going to be eating many carbs (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), unless you can grow enough grain to make dough with.
Other people go the route of only eating the fruits, vegetables and herbs they grow. This option means they can still purchase other things, like meat, dairy, bread, etc. This is entirely doable. Our family hasn’t quite made it to this point yet, but every year we’re getting closer and closer. What we aren’t able to grow, we try and buy from a local farmer. Unfortunately, our family is addicted to bananas, which means we still do have to buy some produce from the grocery store. But if you’re ready for a challenge, this is something that, with a little planning and sacrifice (and enough space), a backyard gardener in Metro Detroit could probably do. It would mean eating more things in-season, and also learning how to preserve foods (like corn or tomatoes or basil) so you could enjoy them in the winter.
The third option is something of a hybrid between the other two options. Basically, you eat only what you grow– or what you can trade for. I first heard about this in the Novella Carpenter book “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.” Ms. Carpenter, who lives and farms in Oakland, CA, spent a year only eating what she raised (in the book, she had chickens and other livestock, so meat and eggs weren’t a problem), but she also allowed herself to trade her garden bounty to get things she couldn’t raise. She was hankering for a fish dinner, for instance, and so she traded some of her produce to a local woman who caught and fried up fish and sold it out of her kitchen. The challenge, with this option, is obviously finding someone with something you want who is also willing to trade.
If you’re interested in growing enough food in your garden to feed your family, here’s some information on how much you would need to plant:
Asparagus: about 10-15 plants per person
Beans (Bush): about 15 plants per person
Beans (Pole): 2-4 poles of beans per person (each pole with the four strongest seedlings growing)
Beets: about 36 plants per person.
Broccoli: 3-5 plants per person
Cabbage: 2-3 plants per person
Cantaloupe: figure on about 4 fruits per plant (estimate how much your family would eat)
Carrots: about 100 seeds per person (1/4 oz would be plenty for a family of six)
Cauliflower: 2-3 plants per person
Collards: about 5 plants per person
Corn: start out with 1/2 lb. seeds for the family and adjust as needed
Cucumbers: 3-6 plants per family
Eggplant: 3-6 plants per family
Lettuce: 4-5 plants per person
Okra: 3-4 plants per person
Onions: 12-15 plants per person
Parsnips: 12-15 plants per person
Peas: about 120 plants per person
Peppers: 3-5 plants per person
Spinach: about 15 plants per person
Squash (including Zucchini): about 10 per family
Sweet Potatoes: about 75 plants per family
Tomatoes: about 20 plants per family
Turnips: about 1/4 lb seeds per family
Watermelon: about 1/2 oz. seeds per family
Obviously, you would have to adjust the list according to your family’s likes and dislikes, and substitute the “dislikes” with more of the “likes,” but as far as quantity, you would probably need to keep things pretty close to what is listed above in order to make it through the year.
Maybe you don’t have the space for such an endeavor, or the time and energy, but it’s still fun to dream about living more self-sustainably — like the pioneers did! So a fourth option may be to just pick one thing off that list– tomatoes, for instance– and vow that the only tomatoes you and your family eat for the next year will be the ones you grow. And if your tomato crop craps out? Well, let’s just say you won’t be having many red sauces on your pasta. But if it all works out, and your tomatoes produce enough to feed your family for the year? Mission accomplished, and pat yourself on your pioneer-like back!
If you live in West Michigan, we offer a garden consulting service, where a Master Gardener will walk you through the growing season, from planning to planting and all the way through harvest. Email Corey at Corey@GoodSweetEarth.com if you'd like more info on this service.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.