In the spirit of honesty, I should point out here at the very top of this column that I’m one of those people that believes EVERYONE should be growing food in their yards – coronavirus or not. To me, there is simply no more fundamental and useful a life skill as knowing how to grow your own food.
But I get it – the way life is set up for most of us, even if there’s interest there’s just not the time – there’s work, getting the kids to school and extracurricular activities, worship . . . to say nothing of actually cooking food and other household chores.
Health officials are warning Americans to stay home for the foreseeable future and to practice “social distancing” for who knows how long. Suddenly, you find yourself cooped up at the house trying to pass the time – maybe even with a gang of children who may be on a never ending Spring Break.
So if you need some reasons to stop binge-watching Netflix, get outside and get your hands dirty, I’ve got eight of them:
Food security: Let’s face it: COVID-19 has driven some people into a panic, fearful that supermarket store shelves will be barren, and there will be no food to eat. I don’t think it will come to that, but perceived food insecurity makes people do strange things.
But if you’ve got your own food growing in your own yard, it will give you a sense of peace as others are losing their minds. And even beyond that, knowing that you know how to do it will feel even better. Just remember to can and/or freeze some of your harvest for the cooler months.
The Great Outdoors: Here’s a headline you might have missed over the past few days: Spring officially started on March 21. Meaning that despite the coronavirus and the occasional severe weather event, we’re in for some truly wonderful weather to be outdoors – which also happens to be the season to sow your crops. You can practice social distancing and still get some sunlight – from the safety of your own yard or porch.
Putting yourself to work: Some experts are predicting a staggering loss of jobs because of the coronavirus. Hopefully, you aren’t on that list, but if you are, you can immediately put yourself back to work – in your garden. Think of it this way: You work to earn money. You earn money to buy food for yourself and your family. Even if you can’t “earn money” because of a tight job market, your garden can still literally put food on the table – and if you’re really good at it, you can grow some for sale.
Teachable moments: If you have a student at home, you’ve likely been thrust into the sudden responsibility of home schooling – meaning you’re looking for creative ways to keep them interested and engaged in learning. The good news? Gardening can help teach science, math, biology and more. Not to mention you can nurture their curiosity, imagination and the confidence they’ll build when they actually bite into food they grew! Look online for guides and resources to make gardening both fun, instructive and most importantly, tasty!
Family bonding: I still have fond memories of multiple generations of my family sitting around a bag of purple-hull peas, shelling them together and laughing. One thing the “shelter at home” orders are doing is quite simply putting families in the same space with huge chunks of time together. You might be surprised at how you can bond with your significant other and/or your children while working side-by-side to literally feed your family.
Maybe you were one of the people who stocked up on toilet paper for the COVID-19 pandemic. Or maybe you just want to not senselessly toss empty teepee rolls into the trash. Well, with a few quick cuts and folds, you can easily reuse that cardboard cylinder as a planter. Check it out:
It’s inexpensive. Sure, you could spend a lot of money getting your garden started, but there are all kinds of tips and hacks that can get your started for little or nothing. For instance, don’t throw away all those empty toilet paper rolls you hoarded from the dollar store! A few strategic cuts and fold and you’ve got a biodegradable seed pot you can put right in the ground when ready! Seeds? Generally, you can get a pack of seeds for under $2 . . . or you can just set some aside from the fruit and veggies you regularly buy. Easy peasy.
Starting small. Maybe you don’t have a large yard. Maybe you don’t have a yard at all. You can still grow surprising amounts of food in containers on a small porch. Some restaurants routinely discard plastic food buckets. Or you can use coffee canisters. Milk jugs. Two-liter bottles. Point is: Not having space or a yard isn’t a real obstacle if you really want to try this thing.
Easy-to-grow staples. But what to grow? It’s entirely up to you, but I recommend staples that are fairly easy to grow. Why easy-to-grow? So you can experience the win of nurturing something from seed to harvest to plate. And by growing the foods you eat every day, you’ll see and taste the practical benefits of home gardening sooner – especially when you don’t have to buy those items at the store.
Think onions, garlic and leafy greens like lettuces, greens and spinach. Squashes and peppers (mild or hot) are also good ideas. Potatoes and sweet potatoes can be grown in bins that enable easy harvesting. And if you’re courageous, tomatoes and cucumber can be challenging, but WOW they taste great coming out of your own garden. Which brings us to one last reason to grow your own food – three, actually:
Growing your own food is cheaper, healthier and tastier than the alternatives! So take advantage of social distancing and get up close and personal with your food!
Are YOU a gardener or urban farmer in Memphis? Do you know one? Do you have a specific question or problem with your garden that you need help with? If you answered yes to any of those, email me at [email protected]!
(Lee Eric Smith is an NNPA award-winning columnist and co-founder of Abundant Earth Global CDC, a nonprofit aimed at blending eco-friendly home construction, urban farming and waste-to-energy production to regenerate neighborhoods. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @l3esmith.)