Sunday, May 28, 2006

Growing All One's Food on as Little Land as Possible

(This was originally written as a post to the RunningonEmpty2 mailing list:

Growing All One's Food on As Little Land As Possible

A great challenge for 2006: Learn to grow a person's entire diet on as little land as possible *sustainably*.

Specifically, this means growing the necessary compost crops to maintain fertility, as well as so called 'calorie crops' (to supply calories and protein), plus veggies, plus even a very small income if desired.

John Jeavons' outfit (Ecology Action/Bountiful Gardens) has published a book and research booklets on how to do this, and evidently they have actually done it too.

I have a few of their research booklets. One of the booklets gives information necessary for the full-scale whole-diet plan (which takes 2100 sf per person, btw, in one of their plans, and 3000 sf in two of their other plans - the Mexican and Kenyan models). The diets given are spartan, but one could always grow more veggies, salad stuffs, and herbs to supplement the basics. All necessary nutrients are included (there are charts so demonstrating), although certainly there will be some disagreement in certain areas (people doing hard physical labor will require more calories, etc.)

The booklets assume that you have read Jeavons' basic book,'How To Grow More Vegetables, Fruit, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine'. The entire diet described was grown sustainably on 3000 sf (at most) which is less than one-tenth of an acre and, although this amount is exclusive of space needed for paths between beds, many, many people in the USA, Canada, Europe, in fact all over the world, have at least this very small amount of land available for their use, very often more.

Three of the booklets give all the information needed to grow a small-scale trial model (100 sf) of an entire diet. That's only 10 x 10 feet... (Details of the booklets and how to obtain them are given below.)

The idea of the 100 sf plan is to grow a small-scale model to learn how to do it in general, and how to grow each plant in particular (and to learn how save the seeds and increase soil fertility with compost crops). Then it could be scaled up if needed. The first year probably wouldn't meet the goals: it would be a learning experiment after all.

I like the idea of the small scale model very much. I probably cannot do it myself (although I'm considering giving it a try), because my resources of energy and physical ability are really *extremely limited* now, and I need to devote all my gardening efforts to growing our veggies, fruits and salad stuffs. We rely upon the garden for these, it's necessary. If we don't grow them, we cannot eat them. We cannot buy any comparable garden produce locally either. By contrast, it isn't, at present, necessary that I grow the compost crops or the calorie crops.

But I'll bet a lot of people *could* do it.

Note that the research booklets contain all the information necessary for *experienced gardeners* to do this: they are not a 'how-to-garden course'. [Again, having read Jeavons' basic book 'How To Grow More Vegetables, Fruit, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine' is assumed. This book is available here:]

Here are the essential research booklets with all the necessary information, plus some others: .

If this URL doesn't work for you, go to then click on 'Books' from the left-hand menu, then on 'Ecology Action Research Papers'.

Booklet 14: The Complete 21-Bed Biointensive Mini-Farm
John Jeavons, 1986, (This is really essential.)

Booklet 15: One Basic Mexican Diet
J Mogador Griffin, 1987, (Not essential but interesting, worth having.)

Booklet 22: Grow Your Manure For Free
John Jeavons & Bill Bruneau, 1989, (Not absolutely essential, but a good idea to have it.)

Booklet 25: One Basic Kenyan Diet: With Diet, Income & Compost Crop Designs in a Three Growing-Bed Learning Model
Patrick Wasike, 1991, (Not essential but interesting, worth having.)

Booklet 26: Learning To Grow All Your Own Food: OneBed Model For Compost, Diet and Income Crops
Carol Cox & Staff, 1991 (This one is *essential*, this is the scaled-down version of Booklet #14.)

Also, of possible interest:

One Circle, How to Grow a Complete Diet in Less Than 1000 Square Feet, Dave Duhon & Cindy Gebhard 1984.

This book demonstrates how to grow a person's entire (very spartan) diet in less than 1000 sf. It was actually done for a year by a grad student (of course!). I read this book (as a library copy, I don't own it) and found it very confusing - it's pretty dense. (I could figure it out if I needed to, though.) I should also warn you that doing this - in this small a space - is pretty much a full-time job. But still, you might glean ideas from the book that you could use.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Coffee Yogurt Story: A Parable

I couldn't sleep last night, one of those tossing-and-turning nights! And I was thinking how to say something I want to say here. I'll tell it as a story.... the first part is true.

My mother had rigid likes and dislikes. It had never occurred to her that one can change one's likes; she seemed to regard them as a given, something dropped from on high. (Within very broad limits, you really can change your likes and this gives you a degree of freedom not enjoyed by those with rigid likes.) I could never convince her that it was possible to change her likes.

Coffee yogurt: Mother liked Dannon coffee yogurt. She
would not eat any other brand of coffee yogurt, she would
not eat any other flavor Dannon yogurt, she wouldn't eat
homemade yogurt. It had to be Dannon coffee yogurt or no
yogurt at all.

This was quite a nuisance; often the stores didn't have any.
When we did find it, she'd buy as many as 20 Dannon coffee
yogurts: then it was a hassle to find room in her refrigerator for them. Often she did without yogurt.

Mother was no fool, and she realized (I think) that this
made her dependent on many things all happening with no
mishaps: the package manufacturer manufacturing the
packaging and getting it safely shipped to Dannon, the
flavoring manufacturer making the flavoring and shipping the flavoring to the Dannon factory, Dannon making the yogurt (which meant that Dannon's machinery all had to function correctly), then the yogurt being shipped to a distributor, and the distributor shipping it to the Acme where we shopped. The supermarket had to order enough of it and on time. There were more links too which I haven't mentioned, and probably more I haven't thought of.

If just one link in that chain broke, Mother had no yogurt.
She was very vulnerable with respect to yogurt.

This is the true part. Now let's contrast my mother with a
few imaginary people.

Frances Flexible also liked yogurt, and she only liked
Dannon coffee yogurt too. But she had learned that she
could change her likes. Gradually, she learned to eat
several other Dannon flavors and to eat a few other brands
of coffee yogurt. She had to try each new yogurt flavor or
brand four or five times before really coming to like it.
She was still dependent on a lot of events not under her
control for her yogurt, but at least she had a much better
chance of finding yogurt than my mother did.

Sally Self-Reliant also started out only liking Dannon
coffee yogurt. Like Frances, she was flexible and learned
to like other yogurt. But unlike Frances, she really wanted
to be as self-reliant as possible; to break those chains.
She learned to make yogurt at home, and made it twice a week
(her family also liked the homemade yogurt). To flavor the
yogurt, she and her family planted rhubarb, gooseberries,
strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and learned to
grow them. She bought honey from a local beekeeper (for
sweetening the tart rhubarb and gooseberries). Since honey
keeps well, she buys a year's supply at once. She learned
to freeze and can the yogurt flavorings.

Sally has learned new skills. Her enjoyment of yogurt - and
that of her family - is now only dependent on two links
outside their control (instead of a whole long chain): that
she can buy milk and yogurt starter. The yogurt starter
lasts four to five months before she needs a new one; and
the milk can be bought locally. Sally can also ensure
against a temporary shortage of fresh milk by storing a
reasonable amount of non-instant dry milk from which to make
the yogurt. Sally doesn't have the facilities to have her
own cow or goat, and she's horrified at the idea of keeping
her own bees: but she has gone a considerable way towards
self-reliance. Her self-confidence has increased too.

Now we come to Fred Fearful: Fred is Sally's neighbor and
they are talking over the fence one day. The subject turns
to yogurt. Sally tells him that she makes her own yogurt
and that they grow the fruit to flavor it, etc. Fred likes
several yogurt flavors, but he won't try making his own: 'Oh
no,' he says 'I'm afraid I'd mess it up. I can never grow
anything anyway and I might let the yogurt incubate too long
or something like that.' Well, so much for Fred - he's not
going to be very self-reliant. Not when he is afraid to try

Next Sally encounters Pauline Perfectionist. The same
conversation ensues but Pauline's reaction is different.
Pauline listens carefully but she never tries it for
herself. Why not? She thinks it's no use because Sally
still has to rely on purchased milk. Pauline has let 'the
perfect become the enemy of the good'. She won't be very
self-reliant either. 'Letting the perfect become the enemy
of the good' is a very common trap and a lot of people fall
into it, by the way. Perfectionism is paralyzing; it stops
learning and doing. (Don't ask me how I know!)

All of these people, from my mother right through to Sally,
are dependent for their yogurt upon something happening that
is not under their control. But Sally depends the least upon
events not under her own control.

Sally also contributes the least to global warming and
pollution by cutting out lots of 'food miles'. There isn't
all that shipping hither and thither involved in her yogurt
(lots of gasoline or diesel fuel not used). Factories
aren't spouting smoke and particulates to produce her yogurt
and its flavoring and packaging.

The fruit that her family planted primarily to flavor their
yogurt is also enjoyed in other ways, and contributes to the
good health of the whole family. It also serves as 'edible
landscaping' and enhances their property.

And Sally saves a lot of money by making her own (I make our
yogurt and I reckon that it saves us about $450/year). Sally
uses some of the money she saves to buy a book on cheesemaking, a few gardening books, gardening tools, and
the 'More-with-Less Cookbook' (economical home cooking).

Sally donates the rest of the money she saves to her
favorite charity. The charity uses the money to buy a goat
for a family in West Africa. The goat supplies valuable
milk to the family, and the family gives the goat's first
kid to another family in their village. The second family,
in turn, will pass on their goat's first offspring - and so

Sally plants a vegetable garden next... and .. and ...I'm
sure you get the picture.

Sally makes mistakes too: all 'doers' make occasional
mistakes. Not everything works out as we have planned. But
for the most part, success builds upon success.

Would you rather be like my mother (rigid likes and
dislikes), like Frances (at least she likes several yogurts, but she is still heavily dependent upon a chain of events), like Fred (too fearful to try new things), like Pauline (paralyzed by perfectionism), or like Sally?

Which person do you think will face an uncertain future with the most confidence and grace? My money's on Sally.