In 2023 we grew more than 2500 lbs of food in about 5265 square feet.
This is less space then many backyards.
We accomplished this feat on land we just began to work, without any help from fruit trees or existing crops. If we could do this on a brand-new garden – what could be done on a long-term space?
Years ago, I interviewed the Helvenston’s – a couple growing food in the city. Instead of being praised, they were harassed!
We need to change our mindset.
We regularly read about how we don’t have enough farmland… yet we have tons of land being intensively managed for lawns and landscaping that could easily be converted to food production.
What Could Be Grown in a Small Yard? South Florida Edition
Down in South Florida, millions of people live in a climate that is wonderfully suited to massive food production. Rainfall is good and freezes are incredibly rare.
Coconut palms and mangoes grow readily and can basically be ignored after planting.
Yet yard after yard is covered in St. Augustine grass and ornamental landscaping, with the occasional inedible palm or toxic oleander.
Billions are spent on keeping up appearances, with elaborate sprinkler systems and ChemiGrass services coming by to spray poisons and fertilizers on the grass, and expensive lawn crews wheeling about on zero-turn mowers.
The owners of these artificial ecosystems spend their cash on their lawns and ornamentals, then go to the grocery store and spend lots more money on their produce.
Those payments could be consolidated if they only thought it through!
You have a tropical rainforest climate – why not use it?
Why not plant tamarind and starfruit, cassava and yams, bananas and plantains, acerola cherries and ice cream bean trees, sweet potatoes and dasheen?
Most of these are so easy to grow that it’s almost embarrassing.
You could be eating fresh organic food from your backyard on a daily basis for little more work than taking care of your worthless patch of St. Augustine grass.
South Florida could feed itself, but instead, it imports almost all of its food. Even small spaces can be very productive.
I’m not talking about trying to grow a raised bed full of lettuce. I’m talking about growing with the climate and planting the plants that love the sand, the heat and year-round growing.
I mention South Florida because it is familiar to me and it’s easy to imagine what could be done there, because I’ve done it, in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project.
What About Home Food Production In the Rest of the United States?
South Florida is by no means is it the only place that you can grow most of you local food in an urban setting.
Many communities in the United States are built on what once was prime farmland, later parcelled off and sold to developers. The ugly suburban sprawl of Laverne, Tennessee consists of endless stick built homes, covered with cheap vinyl siding, selling for far too much money due to the proximity to Nashville.
Yet if you bought one of these houses much of the soil beneath your feet is excellent for all kinds of crops.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, cabbages, not to mention chestnuts, mulberries, persimmons, pears, pecans, peaches, plums, apples, and blueberries.
Our two medium sized pear trees in Tennessee produced a hundred and fifty-three hundred pounds of fruit per year between the two of them, in perhaps six hundred square feet of space.
They grew beside the road at the edge of our property, and needed almost no care.
Why plant inedible ornamentals when you could plant food?
If you have less time, plant perennials, and especially trees, if you have more time, add annuals, if we put the same amount of effort growing food that we put into lawns and landscape, we could eliminate a large portion of our grocery bill. There isn’t a lack of land, there is a lack of will.
Your Yard Should Be an Asset, Not a Liability!
We no longer view the soil, particularly urban and sub urban soil, as an asset.
Our yards are liabilities.
Gardens and fruit trees are assets.
We have been trained to consume, not to produce.
We are big babies, suckling at the corporate teat.
Starting a garden or orchard is almost free, especially if you start from seed, barter for plants, or beg for cuttings.
I once took a cutting from a friend’s fig tree and rooted it. Two years later it was as tall as me and producing figs. Ten years later, it’s still producing figs.
Can you see how the soil is an asset?
If there is a societal break down, or even just some cracks in the thousands of miles of supply lines required to stock your local piggly wiggly, the lawn people are gonna be hungry.
People have all sorts of excuses as to why they don’t plant food.
Family-Based Agriculture is the Bedrock of Society
Modern Americans are fundamentally disconnected from the entire history of the human race. Agriculture is the bedrock of civilization, alongside the family unit. A man, a woman, their children and a piece of land for growing food. That’s the fundamental unit right there.
There will be a point when the current rich consumerist, modernist, individualistic paradigm will fail and local, family and community agriculture will reassert itself.
Now is the time to fill our backyards – and even front yards – with food so that we don’t have to scramble later.
And even if it takes a hundred years for the current system to fall, what do you have to lose?
You gain homegrown apple pie and roasted chestnuts.
And who knows? Maybe the ChemiGrass guy will get a job planting urban orchards.