Growing Protein

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner
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Protein is needed for growth and maintenance of your body. Meat, dairy, and eggs are terrific sources, but plants contain protein also. Of course, if you intend to get the bulk of your protein requirements from plants, you need to focus on the right ones. Beans, seeds, and grains are the concentrated plant sources.

Animal foods contain all the essential amino acids. Plants provide what is referred to as incomplete protein because they are missing some of the eight essential amino acids. Grains and beans might be each missing a few, but they aren’t missing the same ones. If you eat both grains and beans you will be getting what you need. It is important to eat a varied diet, anyway. Most cultures have traditional dishes that have grain/bean combinations, such as beans and rice, tortillas with beans, and cornbread and beans.

The Three Sisters–corn, beans, and squash–is a well know planting guild used by the American Indians. The beans grow up the cornstalks and the squash fill in below. If you eat the seeds of the squash you have even more protein. An interesting account of how the Hidatsa Indians managed and consumed these crops is in the book Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden. A modern account of how one woman does the same is Carol Deppe’sThe Resilient Gardener.

Sunflowers and peanuts will provide protein and necessary fat in your diet. Corn and sunflower stalks provide carbon for the compost, as does the straw from wheat and rye. Growing beans can put nitrogen into your soil to be used by the next crop. Growing grains in your garden is a good step toward providing for your compost needs, as well as filling out your diet. You can learn more from my DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden.  Read more about growing protein in your garden at Homeplace Earth.   

Adding even a little animal protein will enhance your plant-based diet. In The Resilient Gardener, Deppe recommends eggs. Eggs have everything you would want in a protein food. I know your goal is to provide your food without bringing in stuff, such as poultry feed, and poultry, the way it is currently being raised, requires a lot of feed. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Just yesterday I was at the Small Farm Family Conference in Danville, VA and heard Harvey Ussery speaking on Alternatives to Traditional Feeds for Small-scale Poultry Flocks. Harvey admits to not having all the answers, but he is exploring the questions. He talked of giving our birds the opportunity to get out and scratch around to harvest some of their own food. Of course, there are things we can do to make sure there is an abundance of that food–bugs and seeds–available for them to find. Have you ever noticed the wild birds in your yard snacking on seeds from the flowers that you never deadheaded? (That’s the reason I never bother deadheading my flowers). Letting some of your property go a little wild has its advantages. It seems that if we develop our landscape with permaculture in mind, with a good mix of trees (nuts) and hedgerows, in addition to our vegetable gardens, we can increase the food available to more species and ultimately enhance our own diets. Embrace diversity and you will find the possibilities are endless!

Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at

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