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  • Eating off the Grid

    By Warren M Myers


    This paper presents a route for individuals and small families to - sustainably - produce the majority of their own fruits and vegetables. Considered are modules of fruit and vegetable production which can be combined and multiplied for personal preference, but which are each very easy to maintain.

    As a side benefit of efforts to produce an individual or family's vegetable needs also comes pleasant landscaping, shade, reduced mowing, simpler weeding, and future alternative uses for the plants, modules, and trees.

    I hope to show that such a modular system would greatly benefit many suburban and rural families, and is even extendible on a small scale to urban dwellers.


    Does growing your own food have to be difficult and time-consuming? Mel Bartholomew, a retired efficiency engineering expert, has devoted over a quarter century to the proposition that it does not. In his seminal first book, Square Foot Gardening, he outlines an intriguing proposition for food production, which I am going to summarize and expand upon here. Instead of focusing on traditional growing methods, Mr Bartholomew looked at what people did for house plants, patio planting, etc, and extended it to fruit and vegetable gardening.

    Very few people who have house plants would think of growing them as farms do corn - in long rows to be harvested by machine. Traditionally, gardens and farms have looked very similar, at least in most countries. Vegetable, flower, and fruit plants are grown in rows. For a farmer or gardener who wishes to consolidate planting and harvesting efforts into a few short - but busy - times of the year, and who wants to use automated ways of turning the earth, such as plowing via animal- or tractor-drawn tools, planting in long rows is natural. However, for small-scale growing, or for growing with a staggered harvest, this method doesn't work well.

    Mr Bartholomew modularized gardening down to a fundamental unit of measurement: the square foot, and then worked back up to growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables that many people are interested in growing for themselves. One primary improvement that he made in his system, which I have modified slightly for this proposal, is the concept of growing vertically. Vines grow up quite well, if they are given something to grab onto. Adding to this the ideas of complementary and opportunistic gardening, I am proposing a way for suburban and rural residents to grow much of their own fruit and vegetable needs easily.

    Growing your own food has many benefits beyond just saving money at the grocery store, too. Gardening forces people to get outside and do at least some physical activity on a frequent basis, gives the grower a sense of pride, and can spruce up the looks of their property. If a little care is taken in planning the garden, the complementing and contrasting colors, textures, and aromas act to invite people to look at the garden. This is true of both the gardener and passersby. In combination with applying many of Mr Bartholomew's principles, can be the strategic locating of fruit- and nut-bearing bushes and shrubs which may also act as wind breaks and shade sources. From personal experience, a well-tended garden is always enjoyable to look at.

    One point Mr Bartholomew makes in both of his books, and on the Square Foot Gardening Foundation website, is the locality of production afforded by growing your own food. This is emphasized in the book CA$H From Square Foot Gardening, and is a major selling point for the foundation's work to spread sustainable development around the world. By growing your own food, you know what you're eating, the quality of the plants, safety of any fertilizers, and whether or not pesticides have been used, and what kinds they all were.

    In keeping with most nutritionists' recommendations to consume lots of fruits and vegetables, growing your own food will encourage the grower to eat what he's grown, and to share it with friends and family. Eating a home-grown salad is almost always an enjoyable experience, often leading to discussions about what was grown and why.

    Continue paper or appendix.