Finding Room to Grow Where the For-Profit World and Self-Sufficiency Collide

“When I grow up, I’m going to have a yard full of rocks.” My siblings frequently remind me of this childhood quote. I was one of four children who had a strong distaste for self-sufficient living because it seemed like all we did was work to maintain a large truck patch, orchard and animal farm. I made a decision to get an engineering degree and work my way up the corporate ladder so that I could buy everything I needed. After getting married, having a child and spending several years in the corporate world, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. My employer “graciously” provided me with an option to take a part-time position, lose my benefits, take a significant pay cut and still be on call each Friday when I was scheduled to take my mom to chemotherapy. I resigned.

Without a backup plan to live on one-third of our income, we made major life changes to reduce expenses and pay off debt. We made a goal to become more self-sufficient, and this included starting an eight foot by sixteen foot garden. Since our yard was basically grass growing on clay, the initial garden was pathetic.

After seeing my mom suffer and eventually lose her life to cancer, we were adamant about using only organic methods to grow food. We started composting, purchased loads of mushroom soil, and grew comfrey to make homemade natural fertilizer. In less than two years, the garden was flourishing and expanded to cover an area of approximately 1200 square feet.

We make sure to rotate crops since different vegetables take different nutrients from the soil. We let nature take care of pest control. There are hawks and stray cats that feed on rabbits, mice and voles. The birds eat most of the bugs, but sometimes we manually collect and dispose of squash beetles, Japanese beetles and cabbage worms. We have learned to preserve our food mostly through canning and dehydration. We also share with our neighbors that are unable to grow their own, especially three elderly widows that need both the food and an occasional visit to cope with loneliness.

Though we haven’t initiated anything in the community, we are actively promoting the idea of a community garden in our area. Our biggest challenge is helping people to see beyond “the work” and comprehend “the benefit” of responsibly grown food. The ample supply of organic vegetables and fruits benefits us both financially and from a health standpoint. We do not use any pharmaceutical drugs or over-the-counter medicines and recently started using the garden to make our own cosmetics, soap, Christmas gifts, and more.

We are grateful that we maintained a garden after I re-entered the workforce when my mom passed away several years ago. Due to a corporate restructuring earlier this year, I was unemployed for several months. But this time around, the impact was minimal thanks to the investment we made in organic gardening and self-sufficiency. Experiencing a second major job loss in under a decade reinforced the notion that big industry is unreliable in many ways. While we look for ways to become more self-sufficient each day, we balance this effort with supporting business to promote a healthy economy. There is always room to grow!


©, December 21, 2017

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