Header displaying a variety of vegetables

Food Independence is Possible, but It’s Much Harder Than You Think

It’s well into Spring in the United States and COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every facet of daily life. Children are learning from home, simple grocery runs have become and awkward dance with the devil, and the best and worst of humanity is on full display everywhere you look.

In two short months, our lives have been thrown into upheaval, but we’ve still had it relatively easy, because our food supply chain has remained running. The problem is that it’s been delivering food that was grown and prepared before the outbreak. The novel coronavirus isn’t going anywhere soon, and so social safety precautions are going to dominate much of our living landscape for the foreseeable future. This is going to impact every facet of our food web, from farming and harvesting to preparation and delivery. It’s going to do what it does to everything – make it more expensive, difficult, and slow.

Food supply has never been much of an issue for the global population. We grow more than enough food to feed everyone on Earth. Up to this point, starvation was largely a product of capitalism, with poverty and inequality being driving forces. People starve and die because it isn’t profitable to feed them.

Everything that was bad about our global food network is about to get worse.

The vagaries of agricultural supply and demand and the counterintuitive and sometimes cruel practices of agribusiness are larger than the scope of this article, but suffice it to say, there are a lot of good reasons to stop doing things the way we have been and instead focus on a web of small, local farming practices using permaculture principles.

Reasonably, people are thinking more and more about food independence. That’s excellent, and something we hold as a central tenet of Luciferian Dominionism; food is control. If you don’t control your food, you don’t control your life. Further, we can look at the ability to grow our own food as “flattening the food curve” for people who can’t. Every bushel of vegetables that you haul in leaves more for the very many people who can’t grow their own.

Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of people assume that there’s just 10 minutes of Googling they can do to find out what they don’t know, and in a few weeks they’ll have more food than they can possibly eat.

In many ways, gardening really is that simple; you put seeds in the ground, veggies come up. We’re so far removed from our agricultural roots, however, that most of us have no idea just how much food we actually need or what obstacles lie between that simple act of seed planting, and harvest day.

Requirements

You need three things to grow food: light, water, and healthy soil (you can skip the soil in hydroponic systems, but we’ll stick to traditional farming for now). Do you get a lot of rain where you live? Does your property get enough sunlight in enough places? Is your soil arable, or do you need to use containers and raised beds?

To know if you can feed yourself, you need to know how much space you actually need. There isn’t a single answer because there are so many variables between diets, climate, species and a ton of other influences. Intensive gardening John Jeavons suggests in his book How To Grow More Vegetables that a seasonal haul of soft fruits and veggies for one person’s needs might require 200 sq ft. while providing for one person’s total needs might require up to 4,000 sq ft. of growing space. That’s assuming conditions allow you to utilize the entire space, too.

American lawns average between 6,000 and 11,000 square feet (with enormous variability) but how much of that gets adequate light? How much is optimal for growing? Do local ordinances even permit growing (they should, and need to, but sadly homeowners association and petty municipal bureaucrats still reign in many places)? Most people just don’t have access to that kind of space even if they do have a lawn at their disposal.

By now, my push to organize around food and safety probably makes a lot more sense. While some committed individuals are able to do this by themselves under ideal conditions, for the most part this just isn’t something most of us can or should do alone, and definitely not at scale. Complete food independence is largely a pipe dream for most people in suburbia, and the challenge goes up by an order of magnitude in urban settings.

Fortunately, food independence doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. It isn’t about being completely dependent on the commercial food web or completely independent, it’s about doing as much as you can with what you have while working toward something better. By accepting that total independence requires a very specific set of circumstances, we can free ourselves to figure out what we can do. Food independence is a spectrum where some is better than none.

Light

Most vegetables need a good six hours – or even more – of direct sunlight each day in order to grow, ripen and reduce stress. Adequate light is the biggest challenge, in my opinion, because it’s the hardest thing to supplement artificially. You can pipe in water, and you can rejuvinate and fertilize soil. Yes, you can use artificial light, but that’s going to get expensive and complicated fast, and you pretty much need to build a project around that.

How much of your property gets that amount of sun each day? How much of your potential garden area gets afternoon shade during the hottest parts of summer? These are all questions you should answer during your earliest planning. Mapping sunlight is an entire science, and you can use good old fashioned observation (just observe your property at different times of day during different times of year and write down what you find!) or you can use a variety of tools to create a sun map.

A permaculture planning map including sun and wind patterns. Oregon State University

What you do doesn’t have to be complicated, but more data is always better where planning is concerned.

The most important thing is simply knowing the needs of the vegetables you want to grow, and choosing vegetables that are accomodating to what you have. A sunny apartment will be better for growing some veggies than a shady back yard while there are veggies that grow perfectly fine in the shade! The brilliant thing about gardening is that so many people do it, there’s an entire universe of information readily available, and the results are pretty pass/fail, so if people know what they’re talking about, they can generally prove it.

Water

For a small veggie patch, your garden hose is probably fine! But what if your hose doesn’t reach, or you’re dealing with a very large patch and efficiency becomes an issue? Is your climate dry? Wet?

Giving plants the right amount of water at the right time is something I’ve had to learn through practice, and I have to adjust slightly for each new plant I learn. The first thing I had to learn was to stop overwatering. From there, it was a matter of dialing in the sweet spot before dehydration sets in.

This is why I recommend as much practice as people can get before they actually have to depend on their crops. You can do everything right for most of a season, and just over- (or under-) water once. You’ll get the hang of it, but you’ll kill some plants in the process. Make peace with that now.

It’s my opinion that while it’s fine to utilize the reach of your hose, you should make every effort to garden as off-grid as possible. Harvesting rainwater is a great place to start. Natural water use can also be maximized through the use of keylines, and even pressurized water can be used more efficiently with drip irrigation.

There is a lot more to learn about water than our space here will allow, but go into any gardening plan thinking about where your water comes from and how it’s moved around.

Soil

Soil is a living organism, and if it’s not, you have a problem. All six kingdoms of life can be found in a handful of functioning earth, and this delicate microcosm is the foundation of all life on Earth. Without healthy soil, we die.

Credit: Ecological Landscaping Alliance

I’ll be honest with you; soil health is a study unto itself, and the more you know about it and the relationship of individual plans to the soil they grow in, the more control you’re going to have and the more problems you’ll be able to anticipate and troubleshoot.

You’ll want to test your soil to know what you’re dealing with, and before you plant a single seed, you’ll want to head off any issues with grading or drainage. The last thing you want is to lose an entire crop after a heavy rain. You’ll probably want to use cover crops during off seasons to help protect your nutrients and minimize erosion.

Preservation

If you’ve been successful, you have plenty to eat during growing and harvest seasons, but what about the rest of the year? Waste is a thief, and what’s being stolen is valuable calories you need to live!

Of course you should plan to stagger your crops, and once you know you can grow and harvest, you can start gaming your planting cycles so that you control when things ripen and rotate crops so that you have year round harvests. But no matter when you’re harvesting, you should be looking to preserve everything you don’t eat for as long as possible.

Part of human success is that collectively, we got really good at this. Meats can be salted and cured. Veggies can be dried and pickled. There are numerous techniques, and different plants like different methods. Preservation can change shelf life. It can change nutritional content.

My advice is to just start somewhere. Decide you’re going to learn pickling, or canning. Look up preservation methods for the foods you intend to grow and start there. Don’t skip this step, it’s a crucial part of food independence!

Seed Harvesting

The best farmer in the world can grow a crop once, but it’s E.T.-phone-home the next season if seeds aren’t coming from somewhere. Buying seeds from the store is cheap and easy – for now – but true food independence means not relying on outside sources, and seeds are your most important commodity.

That means that you’re going to have to learn how to gather and save seeds from all those wonderful plants you’re growing. Don’t worry, once you know how it’s done with a given kind of plant, it’s usually easy. Families of plants might have similar collection methods. Research your plants and write down in a master seed harvesting notebook what to do for each one. You won’t remember until you’ve had lots and lots of practice.

And don’t worry, while Monsanto does own “Terminator gene” technology, it doesn’t employ it. Anything you plant should produce viable offspring. Monsanto fucking sucks, but not specifically because they’re using that. Also, few seeds are actually GMO – GMO’s aren’t inherently bad, but it’s good to know what you’re getting into.

Many seeds can be saved for 25 years or more if stored correctly. Consider starting a seed vault while things are still up and running, cheap and readily available! If you lose a crop there might not be seeds to harvest, and you don’t want your ability to grow corn to end there. Save what you need for next year (and then some) and put a little into longterm storage.

Pest Control

Last, if you do absolutely everything right, you’re still going to have a constant barrage of critters competing with you for your harvest. If you’re growing crops on a self sufficiency scale, you definitely can’t be out there playing man-to-man with Japanese beetles, you’re going to need a good zone defense. And you’re going to have to battle everything. The only things that aren’t going to come for your crops are fish.

Remember, we want self-sufficiency (and not killing our pollinators and the creatures who eat them), so reliance on chemicals is out. Fortunately, organic pest control is a thing. A combination of physical barriers, sacrificial crops, and biodiversity can go a very, very long way.

Once again, there’s a lot to know here, but the information is all out there. You’ll spend a lot of time worrying about this from your very first planting, so start reading. You can look up individual pests as they emerge on specific plants. You can study by region, or plant type. Try to become an expert in one creature or plant at a time, and best practices like planting diversity and pesticidal companion plants!

It’s Time To Let Go Of The Lone Wolf Fantasy

American idealism is rooted in individuality. Self-sufficiency is best. Never need anyone, never get hurt. Rugged independence.

Everyone dreams of being a lone forest witch, or a noble, aggressively-free homesteader, but here’s the thing: If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that unless you were gifted this ancestral knowledge from birth, this business requires a ton of specialized knowledge and work, most of which you probably have little to no experience with or background in.

And that’s okay! Let me save you some time. You’re never going to luck into this information. It is not going to come to you once you get serious. Start reading, start getting dirty and killing plants, and stop putting it off. That’s how you’re going to get there.

But you’re still not going to have the mossy forest cottage all by yourself, if you plan on living for any length of time. Even if you knew what you were doing, farming is exponential work. Even if you could feed yourself year in and year out, it would be just about all you did.

You can’t do it alone. You aren’t supposed to do it alone.

We didn’t evolve to be solo agrarians. Our whole evolutionary structure as homo sapiens has developed around the production of food. The way we have to farm effectively to thrive is why we have family groups. It has dictated everything about everything about human civilization and still does.

Complete food independence might be a lot harder than you thought. You might realize you’re more dependent on a fragile food web than you believed. That’s okay. This is an opportunity to move forward confident that you now know what you don’t know, and can learn and practice and make this an achievable goal – and bring you closer to people around you.