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Towards Sustainable and Self-Sufficient Food Growing

People who do not currently regard themselves as poor, who can afford to buy fruit and vegetables, are increasingly finding some produce becoming luxury items. Farmers have to pass on their increased costs to the consumer. Corporations are always “improving” seeds and want to be paid handsomely for their efforts—more handsomely than any farmer ever is—and water restrictions, droughts, and climate changes are making food crops scarcer and more expensive.

During 2001, the hottest summer in 95 years in the part of Australia where I make my home, zucchinis and cucumbers doubled in price, tomatoes and celery almost doubled, and potatoes went up by a third. Only onions, lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli remained the same price, but were smaller and fewer. Patty pan squash, prolific in the garden, went from $5.00 to $7.00 a pound (in Australian dollars)—by 2006 it was $9.50 and garlic stood at $10.00.

In the recent past people grew their own vegetables to avoid toxic sprays on their food, to get that lovely freshness and superb taste of a sun-ripened tomato, and because it saved a little money. Now it's becoming more serious.

In 1996, the USDA reported that a “conventionally grown” apple could test positive for up to 14 different pesticides, and that 73 percent of all conventional produce showed significant pesticide residues. The Australian Government Analytical Laboratory reported organically grown vegetables can contain an average of up to 10 times more nutrients than chemically fertilized vegetables. These facts are disturbing, but pale compared with other major forces that threaten our food supplies. We must start taking responsibility for producing some of our daily food.

Hunger is caused less by failure of food production then by failure of distribution, interruption from wars and regional conflicts, political chicanery, robbery, or plain apathy. Now distribution is being interrupted by the withholding of viable, reproducible seeds and exacerbated by years of drought. It would be foolish to think that a famine periodically happens somewhere else and could not happen where we live.

Even though the world has space, much is not arable. Underground water resources are being overused and rivers have stopped flowing. Alarmingly our wildernesses have shrunk and our forests are still being axed.

However, there is one place that can still be a biodiverse wilderness. That is our garden. Not just the backyard—that utility area for bins, barbecues, dogs, kids, and the washing—but the front yard, side yard, and the strip along the driveway: all are private domains. Privacy and wilderness are important to you. To almost walk into a giant spider web hung with dew on a path between two shrubs, to see brilliantly colored beetles at work, to find stick insects, lizards, frogs, and tiny birds skating between plants you have given the freedom to reach for the sun, is hugely satisfying and elevates the spirit. The only wilderness you can access daily, whose gates do not keep you out or charge a fee, is your garden. Make it beautiful. Make it a place of increase. Your own wilderness can feed your body and soul.

—from the first chapter

“Soil enriched by organic matter is the foundation of a healthy food garden that produces vegetables and fruit of high nutritional content. Compost gives plants the opportunity to graze about with their roots for what they need, just like chickens are healthier when able to scratch around an orchard for grass, worms, and herbs than when they are fed a scientific formula.”

—from Part II: Growing and Enjoying Your Magic Square