A Fall sunset in California's Central Valley (photo: P.M. Lydon, Final Straw)

What Would Happen if We all Grew Food?

A Fall sunset in California's Central Valley (photo: P.M. Lydon, Final Straw)
A Fall sunset in California’s Central Valley (photo: P.M. Lydon, Final Straw)

I’d like to start off with a story about a woman I know who works full time, takes home a below-median income, and raises two kids in Silicon Valley. This woman also has an organic garden in her tiny back yard, partially for her own enjoyment, and partially so she can afford to eat good food.

Every year, her tiny part time garden produces far more than she needs. She shares the excess, and I mean huge excess. She shares peppers and lettuce and lemons and cucumbers and spinach and beets and all else with dozens of people. This full-time worker, part time farmer produces more food than her and her friends know what to do with.

And her story is not unique.

Let’s pause here to think about what this means for a moment, about this woman, her part time passion, and how much she and those around her receive from it.

Now, think about this single instance of plentiful food, and multiply it across your block. How many people could all the empty yards in a suburban block feed if they were put to use growing food?

Now multiply that across your neighborhood, all the empty yards, lawns, abandoned lots. How much of a bounty in food could you have?

Now think further, across your entire city, your entire region. Imagine yards and blocks and rivers and valleys filled perennials, fruits, berries, filled with lush vegetable gardens.

Yoshikazu Kawaguchi at his home natural farm garden in Nara, Japan (Photo: P.M. Lydon | FInal Straw)
Yoshikazu Kawaguchi at his home natural farm garden in Nara, Japan (Photo: P.M. Lydon | FInal Straw)

A silly agrarian dream? The United Nations Doesn’t Think So, nor does its Food and Agriculture Organization, or decades of research by Rodale Institute, or the millions of Regenerative Farmers, Natural Farmers, and Permaculturists who are working today to feed most of the world.

The Myth that We Need Industrial Agriculture has been debunked, and the only ones who are holding onto this myth, are the industry giants who helped create it.

Ecologically speaking, we have the ability to grow much of our own food while also enriching the land around us, assuming we understand and follow somewhat seasonal diets; biologically speaking, this way of eating can contribute great benefits to our body’s health; psychologically speaking, the garden is therapeutic, our minds are put more at ease and operate more clearly and peacefully after time spent working in the garden.

Again, replicate this view across your neighborhood, city, and region. How different does your world look? More peace? More good food? More neighborly neighbors?

Rice harvest instruction at 최성현 Seonghyun Choi's natural farm in South Korea
Rice harvest instruction at 최성현 Seonghyun Choi’s natural farm in South Korea (photo: P.M. Lydon, FinalStraw.org)

Not only is there a benefit to the human world, but there is great ecological benefit to our earth as a whole. Through regenerative growing methods such as permaculture and natural farming, the process of growing food – and flowers and shrubs and trees alongside – is also a process of regenerating land and wildlife in our cities, and a process of reducing the need for destructive industrial agriculture.

Once more, replicate this view across the land where you live; envision the process of making humanity more healthy and peaceful, and making our earth more beautiful, more healthy, and more resilient at the same time.

When you see the reality of how our current food system works – and how it works against health, peace, and resilience at every turn – you begin to wonder how we were ever tricked into believing that we need industrial agriculture. Or pesticide. Or synthetic chemicals. Or a food system where global distribution is the rule and not the exception.

Rural Korean supermarket (photo: P.M. Lydon, FinalStraw.org)

This view of industrial agriculture as our savior has of course been debunked both by scientific and anecdotal evidence over the past several decades. So one wonders, why we are still operating our food systems in such a way?

The real reason why we need GMOs, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and industrial agriculture is because it increases profit, scarcity, and control of food as a commodity. Make no mistake, there is little to no benefit for us as individuals in this reasoning, and myriad pitfalls.

The real reason we need GMOs, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and industrial agriculture is, by any measure of social or biological wellness, a lie; one invented and carefully maintained to benefit a few very wealthy people.

Show the heads of the food industry that you know the truth. Grow a garden. Show them your power.

Garden vegetables (photo: Suhee Kang, FinalStraw.org)
Garden vegetables (photo: Suhee Kang, FinalStraw.org)

Show careless profit seekers the truth. Share your bounty freely with your friends and neighbors. Show them your compassion.

Show those who seek to hold the keys to a basic human need, that you won’t abide by their treachery to the human race. Show them your awareness and your strength.

There is hope for the world, and it lies in your awareness and actions, and also… in your gardens.

Patrick M. Lydon
Co-director, FinalStraw.org

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Resources and Further Reading

Health Benefits Bloom By Digging in the Garden – USA Today

Small-Scale Traditional Farming Is the Only Way to Avoid Food Crisis, UN Researcher Says – YES Magazine

Dr. Vandana Shiva on Poverty and Globalization – BBC

Genetically modifying and patenting seeds isn’t the answer – Guardian UK

The More Beautiful World: Chapter 29, Evil – Charles Eisenstein

6 thoughts on “What Would Happen if We all Grew Food?”

  1. This anecdote about a gardener supplying an excess of produce (fruits and veggies), says nothing about the ability of gardeners to provide their staple foods (carbs, fats, and proteins).

    Most industrial farmers are not growing lettuce. They are growing corn, wheat, soybeans. They are growing hay and alfalfa. They are raising the animals we eat.

    Being food self sufficient is not easy, and the myth that it is needs to die.

    It is great that people can supply most of their own micronutrients. I think they can, and should, do so. If someone wants to devote the real time and effort (full time job equivalent) to raising all of the calories and protein for their family as well, more power to them. I aspire to such myself.

    Just do not perpetuate the myth that it is easy.

  2. Hi Steve. Let me start off by saying that it wasn’t so long ago in human history that almost all of us grew our own food. In that time, humans haven’t changed so much that we are just genetically incapable of growing food. We can all do it, and we can all benefit from it.

    I agree, Steve, It’s not easy. Especially when you have no help, you don’t know where to look, your seeds are junk, and you have never been taught how. But let me tell you why I choose not to stress the difficulty as a main point…

    If we think about our current system of food production, about industrial scale farms, about poisons and chemical fertilizers, we start to see that doing only what is ‘easy’ is a large part of what has brought us to where we are today. Our quest to make our lives ‘easy’ has not generally resulted in good things for our environment, and it’s coming back to bite us. How ‘easy’ will it be for our children to survive when you and I are long gone, if we’ve destroyed the soil. We’re moving that direction at a quick pace, and that future surely is not going to be easy for our children, or for us as we age.

    When you say ‘most industrial farmers are not growing lettuce’ I think it would be more accurate to say that almost ALL of our food is grown on industrial scale farms. None of that is good for the environment, let alone us. The biggest offenders are crops such as corn, and yet most of that is not grown for human consumption, it’s for ethanol and cows. That is a whole different issue, and one that is outside the scope of this article.

    So yes, growing your own food isn’t easy, being self sufficient is even less so. Yet the point of this article was not to say that we can be self sufficient, it was to show that we can take a huge burden off the earth and begin to regenerate it and ourselves by growing what we can locally. That is truth, Steve, and I hope you can agree that fighting against this truth is only going to hurt people.

    I am glad that you partake in growing your own food, and that you realize it is not easy. I do so as well.

    What I encourage you to do, is if you know about gardening or farming, to teach those around you, and instead of talking about how difficult it is, spread the awareness of how the hard work that you put in is unendingly rewarding in multiple ways.

    Every farmer and gardener I’ve ever met has talked of the mental and physical rewards that growing food brings, and how they far outweigh the difficulties. So, instead of the “this is so difficult” mentality, a “this is hard work but so rewarding” mentality seems far more appropriate to me. It will help those who are scared to start gardening, those who are scared because all they hear from others is how ‘difficult’ it is to do.

    It will help those who try a year or two years and have no help, and fail, and give up because it is too difficult, because they believe they don’t have a ‘green thumb’ like others. I think the sentiment that gardening and growing food is difficult is a huge barrier for people, and instead of enforcing it, we can help others learn, we can show that having your own garden is possible for everyone.

    So again, not long ago almost all of us grew food. We are all capable, and we can all benefit from it. Hopefully people like you and I can help this happen.

  3. I take issue specifically with the following quote:

    ” This full-time worker, part time farmer produces more food than her and her friends know what to do with.”

    She might be growing a lot of her own food by volume, but I think it is more honest to measure food by percentage of calories, and protein. She is probably growing only a small percentage of what she needs from that perspective.

    Even if everyone grows there own veggies, it does very little to dismantle industrial agriculture, which is what you seem to be advocating in this article.

    I am all for this, but I think it is important to realize that if we do dismantle industrial agriculture we will probably need to have a massive shift in the labor market, with probably 1 in 4 people (at least) being full time farmers.

    In my own life, I am addressing this by buying enough acreage to actually support my family with a wide margin of error. I am planning on having a diet of mostly perennials (nuts, fruit, perennial tubers, various “weeds” for greens). I have calculated my caloric needs, and the yield of my crops, and am planning accordingly.

    I used to be deluded into thinking I could “feed myself” from my urban backyard. I have realized that if I want to actually avoid supporting industrial ag, I either need to be a freegan (did that for a while, but it is still dependent on industrial ag, just does not support it), or move to the country and really grow your food.

  4. You seem to take issue with a lot! But thank you for you passion, Steven.

    I think that you, being a person who is working hard at trying to be self sufficient, might have interpreted that statement differently from what I intended. The statement meant to convey that the foods they grew were far too much for them to eat alone, which is true. I absolutely did not mean that they grew everything they needed to be self sufficient and then enough to feed a neighborhood!

    I agree that there absolutely needs to be a massive shift in the labor market, and as both of us noted, there will also be a massive shift in our diets. Yes.

    It is already slowly happening, a gradual shift and resurgence of people growing some of their own food, and sharing or trading much of what they don’t grow with others. Again, it’s not perfect, it’s not completely removing our reliance on corporate agriculture, but is it in the right direction? Absolutely. It is.

    I’m glad to see you passion Steven, and I hope you can share this passion with others. It would be great to hear your stories, and to share them as examples that might help others begin on this path.

    Kind Regards,

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