Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Guest Post by Michelle Mather
This year, for the first time in the 13 years we've been living here, we actually had a crop of strawberries from our own garden! We've been trying to grow strawberries for years. We would buy a bunch of plants, prepare the soil, plant them and dream about the delicious strawberries that we would be enjoying in a year or two.
Inevitably though we would get busy with other things and the strawberry patch would be neglected. The weeds would take over and we would forget to water and our strawberry plants would wither away before ever producing any fruit. It was frustrating and no matter how often we planted new plants and committed to look after them, time after time we ended up with dead strawberry plants.
In the last couple of years Cam replanted our berry patch and enlisted my help to keep an eye on them. We both dutifully weeded and watered as necessary and Cam put down a thick layer of straw to help keep the weeds down. This year we enjoyed quart after quart of delicious strawberries and we have a renewed sense of commitment to continue to nurture our strawberry patch.
Near the end of the strawberry season, when our patch was no longer producing, I happened to be in our local grocery store and noticed that they were selling local strawberries. They were also selling strawberries from somewhere in the U.S. for less than half the price of the local ones! Needless to say the local ones looked and smelled so much better that I gladly paid $4.50/quart and bought two quarts.
A woman standing next to me was also looking at the strawberries. She said "Isn't it horrible what they are selling these local berries for? It's robbery!"
I turned to her and asked "Have you ever grown strawberries?" She said "No" and so I assured her that I had been trying to grow my own for years and so I had a good idea of just how much work is involved with growing them and that I was thrilled to be able to buy some, at any price! She didn't respond but just hurried away and probably assumed that I was the local crackpot!
I think too many of us are so removed from the origins of our food that we just don't have a clue how lucky we are to eat as well as we do! Until you have spent some time planting and weeding and watering and protecting your crop from bugs and wildlife, you will never know just how much time and effort and hard work goes into producing food.
Last Saturday Cam and I set up a stand in our local town to sell our excess produce. We always grow way too much and we've always just given it away to friends and neighbours. This year we decided to sell our excess. We enjoy growing food and it will be nice to earn something in return for our hard work. But as I stood in my pea patch, rubbing my aching back, I was thinking about what price I would be able to get for my peas and realizing just how undervalued food is. If we kept track of the time spent growing our various crops and then factor in the time spent harvesting, packaging and selling them, I am sure we would be appalled at the abysmal return on our investment. Luckily we aren't in it for the money and gardening has always been something that we both just enjoy doing.
The other thing that amazes me is how little of our disposable income we spend on food here in North America, especially compared to other countries. There's a great chart here;
that compares the percent of household income spent on food consumed at home, by various countries in 2006.
Americans spend roughly 6-7% of their disposable income on food. Canadians spend a bit more - roughly 9%. At the bottom of the chart you'll find countries like Pakistan where people spend almost 46% of their income on food! What a huge discrepancy!
Too often I overhear people at grocery stores grumbling about the price of food. I don't think we know how lucky we are!
Photo by Michelle Mather.