Friday, January 4, 2013

New Years Resolutions for Urban Homesteaders

Please join me again tomorrow morning at 8:00 on WNOX-FM 100.3 for "Garden Talk" with Dr. Sue Hamilton, Director of UT Gardens. I am filling in for the regular co-host, Andy Pulte. We will be taking phone calls from listeners, so give us a call!

Win a Free Subscription to Tennessee Gardener!
Email me with your best garden tip for 2013 and win a free one-year subscription to Tennessee Gardener. All entries must be received by January 31, 2013. A total of 3 winners will be announced in early February.

Popularity of Urban Homesteading Increasing
Our numbers are growing. Every day, as I drive around the area, I see evidence of the popularity of homegrown food and backyard farming. Gardens appear where none were last year. Tomatoes line the front walk, where petunias once bloomed. Herbs spill from fourth story balcony rails. With the launch of our Sustainable Suburbs project in 2013, we hope to introduce more people to the techniques they need to live in a saner, greener, more sustainable way, without giving up the comforts of life in the suburbs. The way we see it, suburban sprawl is a fact we will have to live with for the forseeable future. Why not encourage suburban sustainablity by all available means, whether that be conserving water with a rain garden, to replacing lawn with productive plantings, to using solar garden lighting? And the techniques that work in the suburbs can be applied to urban living, also, with appropriate modifications. For example, the urban grower will have to rely more on the farmer's market, due to limited growing space, but he or she can still take advantage of techniques like home food preservation. All it takes is the desire and a little thoughtful consideration.

The biggest impact any of us can make on our carbon footprint is to use less energy. This means not just using less heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, or limiting the number of trips we make in the car. It means we must learn to think about how our actions affect energy use on a larger scale. One of the biggest sources of energy use in our daily lives is the production, shipping and marketing of food. Every pound of food you obtain close to home is a pound that did not have to be shipped, stored or processed. Therefore, the first two resolutions we recommend are:

1. I will eat more like a hunter-gatherer.


2. I will shop more like a hunter-gatherer.

Human beings have been hunter-gatherers for about 97 percent of our time on the planet. Our bodies are designed to utilize the nutrients obtained from consuming a wide variety of fruit and vegetable foods supplemented by relatively small amounts of meat. Even if you don't grow much yourself, keeping this principle in mind should lead you to the local farmer's market, and to local producers, instead of purchasing processed foods designed for a long shelf life. The "hunter-gatherer" approach should also encourage you to utilize in-season foods. January and February are tradtionally the most difficult months to grow food, but they are great times to enjoy last season's preserved produce, and to savor storage-friendly crops like winter squash, sweet potatoes, root vegetables and nuts.

For the carnivore, slow cooked dishes featuring grass-fed meats or wild game are always appropriate for winter meals. Modern techniques are bringing pastured, all-natural or organically produced meats to virtually every urban center. We are fortunate to have several producers in the Knoxville area.

Our third resolution is meant to encourage the inexperienced to start growing food:

3. I will grow at least one thing to eat this year.

Even if you begin only with a pot of parsley, I predict you cannot limit yourself to only one crop. Pick something you use frequently and that everyone in the household eats, and grow it. In a pot or in a plot, it doesn't matter. You'll get all the great benefits of gardening with minimal expense and effort, and the satisfaction you will feel will boost your confidence as a gardener. So take the plunge.

If you are a gardener with experience, you will like our fourth resolution:

4. I will grow food more efficiently by planning better, using non-traditional garden spaces, and better succession cropping.

The bane of every food gardener is the unwanted surplus. Refine your plans so you produce what you need without too much excess. Online planning tools can be a real aid to vegetable garden design. Investigate the possibilities. Also, make arrangements early in the season to donate excess produce so you will know what to do with food you end up not needing. lists places to donate by city. Here is the link to the list for Knoxville.

And finally, remember that our planet is experiencing an extinction crisis, mostly brought on by human activities. Grow something this year that helps your local ecosystem, such as nectar plants or host plants for butterflies, or add some native wildflowers to your landscape design. That thought leads to our final resolution:

5. I will remember that I am part of the larger planetary ecosystem, and will act accordingly, as the responsible and intelligent creature that I am.

Here's hoping everyone has a great gardening year in 2013!

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