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.
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.
Isn’t amaranth beautiful? I was so shocked when we started growing it – the colors are incredible.
Fern @ Life on the Balcony says
I don’t think growing your own wheat is all that practical. Even if you could grow enough to feed your family, how would you harvest it and grind it into flour? It would be easier to give up wheat!
To be honest, going truly local (i.e. not eating a single thing that was grown more than 100 miles away) is extreme to the point of being ridiculous. Where does it end? Are people only going to buy furniture that was made with trees growing within 100 miles of their home? Only buy computers manufactured within 100 miles?
I say “everything in moderation.”
I agree with Fern, it does get a little ridiculous. As one farmer at the market put it, “we don’t have to go back to living in trees” in order to make a difference, sustainability-wise. I’d be up for growing some quinoa or amaranth, despite a small space. They sure are pretty as well as nutritious!
I am disappointed by the reaction of Fern and Karen. People have become detached from the natural world in ridiculous and extreme ways, and it will take a ridiculous and extreme change in the way we think and live to re-establish heathy communities. I dont think that everyone will need to grow their own food, but the 100 mile diet is perfectly feasible. And yes, I believe that furniture produced from trees within 100 miles would be fantastic, maybe if we stopped buying garbage furniture from Walmart we would have less waste and better quality things (not to mention a reduction in the deforestation of third world countries)
Our family had one of the 200 shares in the grain CSA in Creston BC. I’ve always been a bread baker, this adds another element to it.
Grains and dried beans take a lot of space, so does corn. These are best purchased when dealing with the constraints of urban agriculture.
I am disappointed in our personal production of winter veg (carrots, potatoes, onions) this year. I’ve got plans in the works for next year!
Hey now, don’t knock it till you try it! Amaranth can be cooked like rice too. It’s got a bit of a smoky flavour, and it happens to possess one of the most complete proteins found in a single grain. And yeah, it’s darn pretty. Word to the wise, though: some species are pain-in-the-ars weeds.
But how cool is Saltspring Seeds for introducing us anyways? I say power to the greenthumbed, bullheaded gardeners who give this kit a try. I like a little spice called variety, especially where my veggie patch is concerned.
Wow, it really surprised me to learn how LITTLE room one would need to devote to wheat growing to provide bread for one’s family for a year. 3196 square feet? That’s about half the size of the city lot our first house was on. Obviously there’s the home’s footprint to consider, but if we had planted half of our backyard with wheat we could have hypothetically provided half of our bread needs for a year. I had always imagined one would have needed multiple acres to provide their family with enough wheat for a year.
I would definitely consider growing grains in the future, and thanks for the link to Saltspring Seeds – so many interesting things to check out over there!
I would LOVE to grow grains, especially amaranth! I think the prettiest I have come across is red garnet.(http://www.uharvest.ca/zenstore/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=23&products_id=278&zenid=a37ab0136c72a5130fcc1b1eeaffc5ef)
If this garden project of ours works out, this one is definitely going in ;)
Thanks for the awesome post! I don’t think many of us consider growing grains!
out of doors says
It might be worth it just to see the difference between the fresh and dried forms. I love farro, a so-called primitive grain. Maybe, like beans, new crop grains would be faster to cook and taste a little (for lack of a better word) greener.
WAy before it was fashionable, I grew my own dried beans (kidney and pinto). Did that for a couple of seasons and decided that I didn’t have time to grow those things that I can’t really make gifts out of (can’t think of anyone that would gush over a jar of dried beans). So, I buy my beans and grow the stuff to make salsa, blackberry jam and lavender sachets and other goodies. However, I still get the catelogs and think about growing beans again.
Craig at Ellis Hollow says
Anyone interested in raising grain on a garden scale should check out a book written by an old friend, Gene Logsdon, back in the ’70s by Rodale Press: Small Scale Grain Raising. Looks like it’s still in print, now from Chelsea Green: http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/smallscale_grain_raising:paperback
Andrea Bellamy says
Ayla = it is gorgeous. I guess that’s why it’s often sold as an ornamental. Look forward to trying some of the Urban Grain grown amaranth!
Fern – It’s not practical for me (or you) to grow wheat on the balcony, but I would at least try it if I had the space.
I also disagree that the local eating trend is extreme or ridiculous. It’s only been in the last 75 years that humans haven’t sourced their food from within 100 – or fewer! – miles. What’s ridiculous is still depending on foods imported across thousands of miles in this time of extreme ecological fragility. And yes, of course it would be better to buy only locally-sourced household goods, for similar reasons.
Karen – no one’s advocating going back to living in trees (although I have seen some pretty gorgeous modern treehouses that I’d be happy to call home!) – just a little common sense!
Craig – you said it perfectly. Hear, hear!
Cassandra – I’d be interested in hearing more about your experience in the Creston CSA. Thanks for leading me to your blog!
Fiddlehead – I love variety in my veggie patch, too. Saffron crocuses, shiitake mushrooms, soybeans, tomatillos: I love it all!
Zoe – that’s a good point. I was only thinking that it’s more than double the size of my home!
Laurel – you know you have to keep me posted if you do!
Out of doors – totally. I’ve never heard of Farro – is it good?
Bogie – I’d gush over homegrown dried beans! And I bet, with the new awareness of the goodness of homegrown food, others would too!
Craig – Thanks for the tip – I’ll check it out.
Red Icculus says
You seem to forget sprouts as a source of veg and protein. I grow my own grains and legumes in the suburbs and eat them for breakfast every day. It’s great!
I’ve grown amaranth for its greens (the young leaves are delicious) and because it is a really gorgeous addition to the vegetable garden. Due to a combination of laziness and ineptitude, I didn’t harvest the grain. But the birds loved it and I got plenty of volunteers the following year.
Ien van Houten says
Growing grains is one thing, processing them is something else. I have grown both Quinoa and Amaranth years ago, they are indeed beautiful. But it took me all afternoon to winnow a small amount of Amaranth. I ended up with just enough grain to stuff a small squash for Thanksgiving. The rest went to the chickens. There is something to say for professional farmers.