Would you grow your own grains?

Quinoa flowering, originally uploaded by net_efekt.

Saltspring Seeds is one of my favourite local sources for vegetable seeds, so when I heard about their Zero Mile Diet seed kit, I was immediately intrigued. What would go into a Zero Mile Diet seed kit? What would I want to grow if I were aiming to provide the bulk of my produce? I imagined my can’t-live-without-them veggies: tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, kale, potatoes.

Instead, when I checked it out, I found that the twelve seed packets that make up the kit don’t include a whole lot of veg. Grains such as quinoa, amaranth, wheat, barley and flax – as well as dry beans like pinto and kidney – represent most of the seeds. As the introduction in the growing guide included with the kit explains, “by combining [the foods in the kit] with locally grown vegetables, fruits and nuts, you could become close to 100 per cent self-sufficient in food.” Ah. I’ve been growing about this all wrong.

In my small space, I can’t realistically become completely food self-sufficient (baker and organic food campaigner Andrew Whitley estimates, for example, that I’d need to devote 297 square metres [3196 square feet] to wheat production in order to provide my family with bread for a year). So I focus on things that I love to eat, are fairly easy to grow, and provide a good yield in little space.

But as the Zero Mile Diet kit (and the experiment-turned-lifestyle that likely inspired that name) make clear, finding local organic produce when it’s in season isn’t really the problem. It’s the grains and beans and storage crops – the things that get you through the winter months – that I should be growing if I really want to eat local, year round.

amaranth, originally uploaded by angela7dreams.
But what if, like most of us city dwellers, you simply don’t have the space to devote to grain production? Would a few rows of wheat or a pot of quinoa be completely ineffective?
Amaranth and quinoa are “awesomely productive,” according to Salt Spring Seeds owner Dan Jason. If you don’t have the space for 50′ (15m) rows (about the minimum length you’d want to sow to get a decent yield) but want to try your hand at growing grains, one plant will produce enough grain for one fantastic meal (just make sure you savour it!). No, it’s not going to get you through the winter, but the greens of amaranth and quinoa are also edible, and the plants are attractive enough to tuck into ornamental beds. And compared to wheat, they don’t need to be ground down into flour for good eating.
Still, I think it makes more sense for small-space gardeners to focus on growing fresh vegetables in season. If you’re serious about eating local, find an alternative way to grow your own grains or source them from a local supplier. The Zero Mile Diet kit suggests that:
In an urban environment, you could sow these seeds with family, friends and neighbours as you convert lawns into gardens. One family might have a shady spot for growing greens or peas while someone else could have a hot spot for growing beans and soybeans. City blocks could garden together whereby many households could create a shared food harvest and thereby lessen reliance on food coming from elsewhere.
If you’re not growing them yourself or within your community, grains can be hard to source locally when you don’t live in a wheat belt. Your best bet, besides going right to the source, is to become a shareholder in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm that grows grains. In Vancouver, Urban Grains is in the early stages of development and hopes to be the first CSA to provide BC-grown grains to Vancouverites.They’re not accepting applications yet, but sign up for their mailing list to stay informed. In Canada, search for a CSA here; in the US, click here and in the UK click here.
Would you grow your own grains? Tried it and ready to report back? Let us know in the comments.

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