Might be time to grow more food at home

The coronavirus outbreak raises a question that 21st century Americans haven’t thought much about: Can we take well-stocked supermarket shelves for granted? One friend in Cobleskill reported this morning that pickings are slim in his Schoharie County community. Another, Scott Kellogg, the education director of the amazing Radix Ecological Sustainability Center in Albany’s South End, wrote yesterday that it would be “prudent for us to scale up local food production as much as possible,” given great uncertainty of what the months ahead will bring.

We don’t know the extent of stress that current circumstances are putting on the nation’s food production and distribution system. We’re certainly not the folks to guess how long the concerns around the virus will last. And truth be told, we don’t produce that much to eat in our school gardens; we focus on kids’ experiences, which is not necessarily the same thing as productivity.

Still, questions about food supplies and consideration of what we can put on our own tables seem from our patch of dirt well worth exploring. For one thing, even if the coronavirus disappears tomorrow, global climate change, exploding species extinction and other stresses associated with burgeoning world population are not going away. In addition, mountains of research tying wellbeing to contact with nature argues for measures that will get us outside more under any circumstances. And then, it’s really worth knowing that we can put a good deal of our own produce on our dinner plates.

Consider, for example, the handiwork of another friend, Cremilda Dias, who has been harvesting spinach in her Albany backyard for the last several weeks (photo above taken today). She planted it last fall and simply left it alone over the winter. So back to Scott Kellogg’s call for action, how much can we grow for ourselves? Well, more than most of us could possibly imagine.

The length of our growing season isn’t defined by the last frost date in the spring or the first frost date in the fall. It’s defined by our understanding of which plants thrive in what conditions and how modest protections from the elements can make huge differences.

We would submit, however, that an even more compelling reason to scale up local food production is the positive jolt it can give to our sit-in-a-chair-and-look-up-at-the-board educational offering. It would give urgently needed boost to hands-on, active and experiential learning, so necessary for learning to be more meaningful than so many students think their schooling is.

–Bill Stoneman

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