When we ask the people we work with why they want to build an edible garden, they often say they want their community to think deeply about the following question: “where does food come from?”
This is a very important question to consider. Especially when:
- Roughly half of the adult population in the US suffers from preventable diseases – many of them diet related (CDC)
- Less than one percent of US population is farming (EPA)
- Abut 15% of the US population suffers from food insecurity at some point throughout the year (USDA)
- More than 10% of the global population is undernourished (WFP)
- One quarter of the food calories produced globally are wasted (WRI)
But does growing an edible garden really teach us where our food comes from when only a fraction of the food we consume – at home, at school, at work, on the go – actually comes from our home, school or community gardens?
Learning where our food comes from is just not as simple as growing your own breakfast, lunch and dinner – which is clearly impractical for most of us these days anyway. However, an edible garden is an incredibly effective learning tool that can be leveraged to create significant impact on the health of people and planet. In our view, this is how it works:
1.) In the garden we become aware of the seasons – shifts in the weather and climate, the migration of birds, ladybugs and butterflies, and the ripeness of certain fruits and vegetables. Being aware of the seasons teaches us to be more thoughtful consumers – buying foods produced closer to home, supporting local economies, and reducing “food miles.”
2.) By discovering the sheer joy, pleasure and satisfaction of eating fresh, seasonal food – and sharing the bounty with neighbors, family and friends – we develop lasting relationships with food, each other, and the natural world, for generations to come.
3.) Perhaps most importantly, gardens inspire our curiosity. The very inquiry into food and where it comes from helps us to make informed decisions about how to most thoughtfully nourish ourselves and our communities.
The very point of an edible garden is to connect us – to natural cycles, to one another, and to big questions about the world around us and how we fit into it. Growing food is really just a delicious bonus!
Food for thought
Here are a few of the questions that have surfaced through our work in creating and sustaining edible gardens in diverse communities over the last decade. May they inspire and challenge you, your family, and community to create your own garden and your own process of inquiry into the “where food comes from” question.
- Where and how is the food I eat produced?
- How is the food I eat transported, processed, packaged?
- How are the workers who grow, harvest, pack, and ship the food I eat treated along the way?
- What percentage of the population in my city/county/state/country are full-time farmers?
- How are the animals and animal products I eat treated, cared for, or slaughtered?
- How can we ensure the preservation of genetic diversity in our food system?
- What crops are “in season” in my local region? Where can I find these foods?
- How does what’s growing in my garden compare with what is available in local farmers markets, supermarkets and corner stores?
- Which foods am I willing to forego when they are not in season in my area?
- Which foods do I HAVE to have, even if they are not in season in my area?
- Do I know any local farmers and food producers? What are they producing this time of year? Which varieties of crops are they growing?
- What does “gleaning” mean? Do farms in my area offer gleaning during certain times of year?
- What are some foods that I could easily preserve for use throughout the year by canning, dehydrating, sun-drying, salt-curing, etc.?
- How and what did my ancestors eat? What were their most cherished food traditions? Does my family still eat these foods and practice these traditions?
- What are my favorite meals to make and share with family and friends?
- How can I create community through food?
- What was life like before agriculture?
- How has the human diet changed over the last 10,000 years?
- How many people do not have enough food to eat in the city/region where I live?
- How many people suffer from hunger in the world?
- Why is 25% of the food produced in the world wasted?
- What does it mean to “vote with your fork”?
- What are the native plant and animal species in my local area?
- How do changes in weather and climate patterns affect my garden and the ecology of my region?
- What is the name of the watershed do I live in?
- How much water do different crops need to grow? What about animals?
- Where does water go when it goes down the drain, down the driveway or out of the garden?
- What are the beneficial insects/animals in my garden? What do they do that is good for the garden? What can we do to encourage their presence here?
- What are the primary pests in my garden? Why are they a problem? How can their populations be kept in check using non-chemical methods?
- What happens to my food waste when I am finished with it?
- What is soil? What makes good soil? How do we go about creating or rehabilitating damaged soils?
- How can we design a food system where plants, animals and humans thrive?
- How can we design a food system in which water, soil and natural resources are preserved for generations to come?
- How can we capitalize on renewable energy in gardening and farming?
- How can we use technology (both high and low-tech) to improve energy efficiency, water efficiency and production in agriculture, while decreasing carbon emissions?
- What kinds of models can we build to inspire innovation towards sustainable food production, distribution, waste reduction, etc.?
- How can we develop sustainable local foods systems in places where people do not have enough food to eat?
Health and Wellness
- Which foods have the highest levels of chemical residues on them, which have the least (see: Dirty Dozen)?
- What does it mean to “eat the rainbow”?
- What are my favorite whole grains, fruits and vegetables to eat?
- What would happen if I ate meat 3 or less times a week instead of every day?
- What are my favorite recipes to make for friends and family?
- What are the least expensive healthy foods I can buy to feed my family?
- How do I read a food label?
- Does gardening count as exercise?