When I was growing up in North Alabama, there were two kinds of folks: city mice and country mice. Of course, “city” meant “town” and town meant Kroger. Even so, the sixties and the seventies still harbored deep echoes of an Alabama that farmed for its food–despite the Kool-Aid, Pop-Tarts and Hungry Man Dinners. Everyone had a cousin, grandparent or aunt/uncle who still grew tomatoes, cotton, or corn . . . it’s just in our DNA. And so, if you wanted to start a little garden for food, there was some elder hanging about telling you to pinch the suckers, add horse/cow manure, lay out marigolds, and the like. Those mentors are becoming harder and harder to find.
And that, my friends, is tragic. Last year, I grew too many of everything and went looking in my “country mouse” community for adopters of my babies. I was stunned to find that most had no idea how to grow vegetables anymore. Now, these folks are about as country as it gets–most of them in their forties and fifties–but did not know whether to scratch their watches or wind their butts when it came to growing food. Here is the irony: I’m a teacher. I hold a doctorate in philosophy and have taught English and Literature for the past eighteen years, and not nary a horticulture course was taken in the making of my career. The proper, scientific names for different varieties of plants is not in my lexicon and I have no business teaching soil, compost, or bugs. What I do know?
How to grow food.
And so, my first answer to “why micro-farm?” is simply: it is our heritage and we are losing the art. It’s our job to feed ourselves and we have forgotten how. However, there are other excellent, relevant answers! If someone has always done it better, I’m a big fan of giving props, so: check out THIS BLOG on the ins and outs of small, organic, sustainable micro-farming. It’s resource-rich and hits every point I have not done here. (Even has a cool graphic to plot and plan!)
I suppose I’m a dinosaur in that I only research horticultural methods as needed–and I certainly am not recommending that anyone start that way–yet, I’ve seen too many folks shy away from growing food due to a real lack of confidence or education. There are phrases and terms that can be daunting for country mice (hydroponics, permaculture, biointensive double-digging). But here’s the juice, y’all: my okra has stalks like tree trunks. My cucumbers just finished another round in late November. I break the rules, all the time, to get back to my ancestors’ innate farming methods (much to the horror and chagrin of most horticulturists) and it still works. I sing to my plants, baby their roots, refuse all chemical amendments, and still have a wall of canned veggies, tinctures and herbs at the end of each year. DON’T let yourself be intimidated! After all the hub-bub I read online about *not* allowing volunteer tomatoes to grow, mine were the most prolific and juicy of the team. Use that gut–it remembers. Why, I could never grow basil because I kept spacing the plants out according to the guidelines. The year I said “go for it” and scattered them close, I could not keep up with the harvest! Yes, yes. Science is helpful, wonderful, and magical.
But so are we. I don’t have to tell you, I hope, that gardening is the best therapy out there–and you get food! I hope I don’t have to tell you that medicinal herbology is wonderful, that our Native ancestors depended upon it, and that there is a reason it grows in dirt. For instance, my elderly Aussie has hip dysplasia and can barely walk. I went online, paid something outright inane for a turmeric supplement against my better judgment and my screaming bank account. He got better. But then . . . I harvested my turmeric, dried it, ground it and gave it to him. Now, he is trying to outrun everyone. Why do we turn to someone else for our sustenance?
Because. We think we don’t have time, we don’t have the knowledge, we don’t have the land. And most of these are false in the end. It’s my hope that even the most “black-thumbed” of my community will grow something perennial (asparagus, purple-tree collards, Egyptian onions, and more) just to get their bearings back as heritage farmers. It’s my hope that they will stop buying herbal teas that they cannot afford in lieu of growing a border of mint, lemon balm, or edible flowers. It’s like the judge reminds Michael J. Fox in “Doc Hollywood,” and relevant here: “you can’t pay me for a fence I build myself.” No, you can’t–not if that fence is a sustainable little plot meant for living well. No, you can’t. And if you could, you would be rich indeed.