The Liberty Garden – Sowing change, building community

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Victory Gardens

1930s Victory Garden

Given that I was born in the early 1970’s (man, that was a looong time ago) I don’t know how the concept of a “Victory Garden” made it’s way into my psyche. Somewhere along the line however, whether it was talking with my grandmother, day dreaming in grade school history or watching Bugs Bunny, I became aware that in WWI-II era America (also the UK) there was a powerful government-driven push for folks to plant and maintain a garden. The US experienced some food and fuel rationing during those times, but it appears these ubiquitous, decentralized gardens accounted for a significant amount of the nutrition for many during these very difficult times.  Said another way, these Victory Gardens appear to have made a real difference and helped a lot of people.

Fast forward almost 100 years since WWI and we see the axiom of “the more things change, the more they stay the same” made all too true. We still have a need for a decentralized, ubiquitous garden infrastructure, but the reasons are different.

Turning Oil into Corn

When Nicki and I were staying in Nicaragua a few years ago we were talking with a taxi driver who was driving us back to the airport. He’d lived in the US for about 4 years but found our pace of life too boring and headed back home for a little more risk and adventure. While he was telling us this story we drove past a motorcade of 8 coffins from people killed the previous day in a truck vs motorcycle accident (3 people on the motorcycle, 5 in the truck). Adventure indeed!

At some point in the drive I reflected on how good the meat quality was in Nicaragua. It was fresh, grass fed and had amazing flavor. Our driver nodded agreement and then drifted into some obvious internal reflection (which was dodgy considering the insane traffic conditions we were driving through). As he came out of his reverie, he said “Yea, in the US…they feed the cattle CORN, Right? How do they do that? It would be so expensive!”

Ah, great question, terrifying answer. “How” we corn feed our livestock herds is by a system of anti-market based subsidies and the use of oil that has a remarkable political and human toll associated with it. The net result is a system that is not sustainable without the inputs of limited resources such as oil, and the food that is produced is not as healthy, clean or ethical as it could be.

3 cows

Cows eat grass.

Cows Eat grass. Unless this gets me fired.

This whole topic is almost comical in how it’s treated. A recent piece that appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education (which was picked up by the Utne reader, among other outlets) tells the story of Ricardo Salvador who was passed over for a faculty position for proclaiming the heresy, “Cows eat grass.” The Dean of the School of Agriculture stated that she had “no opinion” as to the question of whether or not cows have evolved to eat grass.  If we can’t say what cows should eat is it any surprise that we get such push-back about what people should eat?

The solution starts with you.

Tomatoes

Something that seriously chaps my hind-quarters (notice I did not say fanny? I now know that means something entirely different in the UK and Australia) is when people point out a problem, offer no solutions, and just hand-wring and hen-peck. I’m not a fan of that. I like personal accountability and making actions support rhetoric. “The System” be it food, medicine or educational will not change until we force it to change, and that change will NOT happen from the top down.

The Liberty Garden

What I’m putting forward as a seed of change is the idea of a Liberty Garden. I like the concept of Liberty in this case as it applies to both personal and societal freedom, that is derived from our actions and intentions. To support the Liberty Garden concept we will roll out new features to the site that will include resources on starting and maintaining gardens, finding and joining CSAs (community supported agriculture programs or farm shares), supporting and promoting farmers markets, and creating social connectivity in these endeavors. Hopefully this all dovetails into the physicians network and we are no longer beholden to “The System.”

The long view:

DIY compost bin

Help people to grow their own food, provide better options for those who can’t or won’t, help these folks make delicious, nutritious meals that are biodynamic and drive local economies.

Create a physicians network steeped in these concepts to help people where necessary, and create academic programs to educate the next generation of researchers to drive this message of Ancestral Health beyond the Lunatic Fringe (that’s us).

That’s the plan. There are many resources already in place and other people who see the benefit for this work. Check out the Wired Magazine piece on the urban garden.

Watch for posts in the upcoming weeks here on RobbWolf.com about how to find and join a CSA, how to find clean, humanely-raised meats, how to get your own garden going – whether you’ve got an acre in the suburbs or an urban apartment balcony, and more.

The Environment: Not just for Lefties

I had a pretty nice piece appear in the local independent news paper, the Chico News and review. The fact that my Paleo piece ended up in the “Greenways” section really got some folks riled up as you can see from this letter to the editor:

Putting an article on the “Paleo” diet [“Old is new again,” by Christine G.K. LaPado] in your Greenways section makes no sense. It is bad enough that claims are made without a shred of scientific evidence, but to associate this with “sustainability” is absurd. The environmental impact of a wholesale shift from grains and legumes to meat and fish would be catastrophic.

I have news for Patrick Newman (who wrote that letter to the editor) which is likely to bum him out: Market conservatives (Libertarians) are entering the food-fray and the goal is not Planet of the Vegans.

How can you help?

Container gardening - nasturtiums & chives

We would like to roll out a really great Liberty Garden section on RobbWolf.com. Here’s what you can do to help:

Tip us off. We’d like to do a regular feature on Liberty Growers on the blog. We’ll interview local farmers, those who have sustainable growing practices, humane animal husbandry, farmers markets who are doing it right, local biodynamic and organic educators, folks like that who are of a like mind. We need your help finding these people. Do you know of a great sustainable source for fresh veggies, humane meats, clean food? Fill out this form and let us know.

Be part of the community. We’ve started a new section on the forums all about gardening and growing food. Do you have a little grower’s know how? Please go there, answer questions, post topics, show us pictures of your garden. Contribute!

Be a ContraCulturalist. Are you an experienced gardener, farmer, or animal grower who’d like to really pitch in and be a mentor for others who are just getting started? We’ve got some ideas down the road that we might want your help with. If this is you, let us know so we can call on you later down the line.

Give it away now. Grow too much food for you and your family to eat? Bummer! What on earth will you do with it? Hmm, how about give it to your neighbors, a homeless shelter or similar program. Help and change start at home. If you value this stuff, you can make it happen.

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  1. Chelsea W.
    January 31, 2011 at 4:58 am

    Im super excited about this! I’ve got the farmers market and bulk meat buying down, but last year I planted almost 100 square feet of plants and killed nearly half of them. The other half never bore anything edible or got eaten by deer. Garden FAIL. I got one zucchini out of the whole mess.

  2. paleoish tom
    January 31, 2011 at 5:39 am

    Robb,

    I’m definitely with you on the Liberty garden. In fact, my last weekend’s WOD was to move two bushes to a new area to make room for a vegetable garden. I was thinking how beneficial my squats and dead-lifts helped me to wrestle out two overgrown bushes without injury.

    I’ve also been saving seeds of my favorite vegetables and putting them in my left over prescription bottles. I’m hoping to run out of prescription bottles in the near future (if you know what I mean).

    My thoughts on the garden are more perma-culture based. I’m a conservative as well and my conservative mindset is not big agriculture but sustainable conservation.

    I’ve gone from gardening for looks to gardening for looks and function. I put nothing in my yard anymore that is not edible.

    I’m looking forward to the posts on this section and I’ll share my photos and stories as my garden takes shape.

    Thanks,
    Tom
    Douglasville, GA

  3. LeonRover
    January 31, 2011 at 5:44 am

    I lived in London in ’70’s–’80’s and the use of allotments (allocation of growing plots) for vegetable growing was still a strong movement, spreading to the “alternative lifestyle” segment of the young middle class, while being abandoned by the young working class. This style was gently satirised in the BBC comedy sitcom “The Good Life”.

    As far as cattle are concerned whatever happened to the dwarf cow breeding program, which breed could be raised locally by what used to be referred to in Ireland as “smallholders”?

    Nice post.

  4. Liz
    January 31, 2011 at 6:25 am

    This is perfect, and so timely. I’m pretty deep into this movement (thanks to Robb, Rut, Sisson, etc.) and I sometimes still can’t believe it’s “fringe” stuff. This is exactly the direction the Paleo movement needed to take – personal, sustainable, individual responsibility. It’s not just about picking the right foods at the big-box grocery store, but becoming more connected to the processes and efforts that bring these foods to our table. Thanks Robb!

  5. Tim Huntley
    January 31, 2011 at 6:37 am

    I have been a lurker for the past couple of months (with an occasional comment on the blog), but this post hits my “sweet spot”. I have been eating a Weston A. Price diet for about 4 years, and have done away with the grains as of a few months ago.

    For the past 5-6 years I have been working to restore an acre of worn out soil into something that produces high quality food for my family and 20-30 customers. In the past week, I spread over 50,000 lbs of compost in preparation for the growing season.

    So, thanks for bringing attention to this topic Robb. I will register for the forum and hopefully share some of what I have learned.

  6. Garth
    January 31, 2011 at 7:06 am

    What about deer and other wildlife? We’ve tried to grow food in the suburbs here, but everything gets eaten when it isn’t even ripe yet. Fences don’t work that well. I know the primal solution would be to start hunting, but alas, this is the suburbs.

  7. gilliebean
    January 31, 2011 at 7:47 am

    This is so perfect and so timely! This is real radicalism – going back to the way things were hundreds of years ago in the places where it worked! I’m all for supporting sustainable humane animal husbandry and local, seasonal veggie-eating. Excellent and exciting thoughts here Robb. Very cool.

  8. Harmony
    January 31, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Growing your own is a great idea but it isn’t near as easy as it sounds! Deer. Rabbits. Ground Hogs. Drat that you can’t shoot ‘em for eating your garden UNLESS they are in season, well maybe not ground hogs, but you get the idea! Unfortunately hunting season and growing season do not coincide! Then there are those pesky insects, fungus, and all sorts of other ways nature shows us who is boss. Oh and don’t forget your soil is alive! If it isn’t alive it won’t produce the nutrient dense foods you want. But wait what happens when the zucchini starts producing? That is the time when you start planning your night time drive-by zucchini distribution! Why night time? Because all of your “friends” run away when they see you coming!

    The local foods movement has come back with a vengence only seen by aphids. Farmers markets have sprung up like mushrooms after a warm rain. And so have the websites. Go to http://www.localharvest.org or http://www.eatwild.com for a couple of connections to local foods.

    As the co-founder of a producer only farmer’s market in Virginia I loved seeing the connections being formed between producers and consumers. The community that was built as the result was absolutely wonderful!

    Thanks so much for adding this piece to your website!

    • Greg Gagnon
      February 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm

      Where in VA? We are in Fredericksburg and looking for new sources.

  9. Bryan L
    January 31, 2011 at 10:09 am

    This could be great. I mainly just lurk on forums, but this is perfect for me. We’ve got the compost. We’ve got a tilled area from last year’s (failed) garden. Time to get off my butt and get it going.

    Other possible areas for forum expansion: 1. Raising your own grass-fed cow or two. (Other raise-your-own-cow resources I’ve found online aren’t quite on-point for all of us.) We could start with, “How do I clear 30 years of briar growth out of my fenceline without burning down the whole county?” 2. Egg-laying and meat chicken info.

    “Liberty Garden.” I like that.

    • Allan Balliett
      February 20, 2011 at 6:15 am

      Bryan- Maybe I’m being too literal, but your question about clearing fence lines demands an answer!

      What’s funny for me was that 30 years ago when I moved out to the countryside from Federal D.C., I asked some of my office buddies to come out one Saturday and help me clear my hedgerows.

      Know what they said?

      “I’d Love To, but on Saturday, I go to the gym!”

      I never could convince those guys that a work out doing actual work could be just as valueable as working out on equipment! ;-)

      The important answer to your question, though, is this: What are your brambles? Mulitflora rose? Berries? Honeysuckle (some freaky thorned type?) Any of those are best removed RIGHT NOW, when the leaves are off and the ground is SATURATED.

      I’m sorry, I dont have the name of it, (WEEDWRENCH!) but there is a big heavy tool you can buy for less than $200 that will grab those brambles (this time of the year!) and pull them out roots and all! How satisfying!

      However, are you sure you really need to remove the brambles? SOmetimes, they make a better fence than what your fence may have become in time!

      Bewarned, though, we found out the hardway: grass fed beef will wade right through a bramble fence!

      Good luck and contact me a http://www.freshandlocalcsa.com if you have more questions! -Allan

  10. Bodhi
    January 31, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Right on Robb, count me in on the Liberty Garden.

  11. Todd Raine
    January 31, 2011 at 11:17 am

    We are starting a 15×15 foot patch in the backyard here in Vancouver. Can’t wait to see what we can grow!

    you said, “Create a physicians network steeped in these concepts to help people where necessary, and create academic programs to educate the next generation of researchers to drive this message of Ancestral Health beyond the Lunatic Fringe (that’s us).”

    I would like to know more about this.

    Another suggestion – Create a network of chefs who subscribe to Paleo to help create more awesome recipes (the Paleo Cookbook is great BTW, but we need more), and dare I suggest, some Paleo restaurants??

  12. Jason Sandeman
    January 31, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I need a LOT of help in the garden. I am glad there will be the possibility of having people who have been there to help mentor. I have read a lot of books, but alas, I sometimes come up with nothing, despite having a sizable area to grow stuff in.

  13. Sarah la Rosa
    January 31, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    This is so great Robb! I’m all about supporting my local CSA and it’s where 95% of my veg/fruit comes from. (I’m an apt. dweller at the moment.)

    You’re doing some really awesome stuff and it’s so appreciated! Keep it up.

  14. Sinclair
    January 31, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Something we’re implementing this year is the square foot garden concept outlined in the book under the same name by Mel Bartholomew. Also, Eliot Coleman’s book, Four Season Harvest, is another great resource.

    Seriously worth a look.

  15. Katie @ Wellness Mama
    January 31, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I love this idea! We’ve been gardening for several years, but to connect this to the idea of liberty is wonderful. It fits well, perhaps even more than in the WWII generation.
    We’ve been producing a good majority of our own food the last few years, and getting the remainder from CSAs and farmers markets. We’ve thought about the idea of cows and chickens, but my husband is not overly excited about it yet. I’ll actually be posting my gardening plans, including natural pest control options, in the next few weeks myself.
    Thanks for another great post… can’t wait to see what is ahead.

  16. Matthew Myers
    January 31, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I heard a piece on Victory Gardens the other week, and was just talking to my folks about starting one back home. It’s a great idea that puts people back in the food chain instead of just going to a grocery store and having no connection to the produce they are buying. I’m gonna start one pretty soon myself. Looking forward to hearing more about this, as well as tips and tricks for gardening!

    Thanks Robb

  17. Trevor
    January 31, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Hey Rob,

    great piece. I attempted an indoor garden, since I live in an apartment last spring. Things didn’t go to well. The tomato and pepper plants never produced. The four species of lettuce grew but I over watered them.

    I would like to attempt, at least the lettuce again. So if anyone has any kind of knowledge on an indoor vegetable garden, I’m all ears.

    Trev
    Kitchener, ON

    • Robb Wolf
      January 31, 2011 at 6:47 pm

      I’m very excited about all this. We’ll see if we can get some lettuce going!

  18. George
    January 31, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Robb,

    Great post. Even though I have a foot plus of snow in the back yard I can already envision this summers garden. For the last four years I have grown a 30′ x 30′ garden. Plus two 4′ x 6′ gardens which included flowers and a herb garden. Nothing is more rewarding than growing your own vegetables from seed and enjoying the summer harvest. I look forward to the upcoming posts.

    Great job on the book.

    George

  19. Sarah
    January 31, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    http://www.survivalseedbank.com/

    Nice heirloom seed pack.
    This guy is a wee bit gung-ho, but hey, it’s kinda fun… and sorry there are a few bean varietals and corn, but mostly terrific open-pollinated super seeds of friendly vegetables.

  20. musajen
    January 31, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    I am stoked about this! I’ve attempted a garden for the last two years and have subsequently nicknamed my thumbs “the black thumbs of death.” The only thing that seems to thrive, for a time, is basil, but eventually the weather gets cold, I bring the basil inside, and it dies. I have a really small space for gardening and attempted container gardening last year (black thumbs of death reigned supreme) so, going to try again, hopefully armed with some great information form your site, and wind up with some actual produce this year! Genius idea!

    • Robb Wolf
      February 1, 2011 at 9:30 am

      My dear wife has killed even cacti…she needs this more than anyone!

      • musajen
        February 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm

        I’m starting to think word has gotten around and all plants lose hope and commit suicide after I bring them home… right before I can give them a long, slow, painful death.

        • Robb Wolf
          February 1, 2011 at 2:19 pm

          HA! I say the same thing about nicki: Those plants you have in your basket are considering weed-killer or going home with you…”
          I think it’s hilarious, my wife…not so much.

      • Trevor
        February 1, 2011 at 8:35 pm

        Been there done that. I didn’t think it was possible. Apparently, cacti need sunlight. lol

  21. Shiva
    February 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Never planted a garden before, but always interested in doing so. After reading several books, I suggest beginners read about square foot gardening.

    They have a website at http://www.squarefootgardening.org

  22. Kim
    February 2, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I think this is great! I’m a gardener and aspiring farmer in Montana. This will be my first season offering CSA shares and a few other things, including meat chickens. My husband and I are also hunters and have a lot of fun filling the freezer every fall. Growing/harvesting your own food is an idea close to my heart. Kudos to Robb for bringing this initiative to the paleo community!

  23. Decker
    February 2, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    If you follow the thinking that nature contains the elements needed for good health and you want to garden, you may also lean away from chemical pesticides and GM foods, and lean toward an appreciation for heir loom fruits and veggies as they contain qualities that are weeded out by our determination for one convenience or another. note: predominantly ‘shipping’ seems to be one of the deadening culprits as it requires a VERY tough product that’s harvested early. Without getting into that too much, take a look at an heirloom tomato sometime. Most of them are like water balloons and ready to burst out of their skins in synch with the first tire-meets-highway imperfection.

    – this site is the very best I know of and where we get our (frequently tested for no GM) heirloom seeds for our garden (Baker Creek Seeds)
    http://rareseeds.com/

    Beginning gardening tip: don’t try to do too much in the first year. Build a 4×8 raised bed, get the right nutrients in it, think about someway to shade it in the summer if you live in some hot, awful place like Redding or Dallas, and be amazed at what that small garden will produce. [and if you want to start early (now) and/or take it through next winter – build a pvc canopy over it and cover it with plastic.]

  24. Tracy
    February 2, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    I mentioned this to Robb already, but just wanted to list it here in case anyone is interested…

    There’s a family in Pasadena that grows 6,000lbs of food on their little suburban lot and they’re very into being as independent as possible. They are vegetarians, but very knowledgeable about planting/growing food.
    http://www.pathtofreedom.org or do a search for the Devraes family.

    Also, we have a local sort of aggregator that you can order local, organic produce, but also grass fed dairy (incl butter and cheese), meats, and free range eggs, etc. You order online or set up a subscription and then you pick up your stuff at your drop off point on your drop off day. Just a business idea if your area doesn’t have one.
    http://www.isadorefoods.com

    I’m looking forward to whatever Robb comes up with here!

  25. Matt
    February 3, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Another great post following on the cooking / meat smoking post at the beginning of the year. I see an emerging theme: ‘self’ or community-sufficiency. . . reacquiring skills our grandparents used in daily life, but convenience and commodification have removed from current use. I’ve been gardening the past few years in some raised beds and it has become my second favorite thing to do (after barbecue!). There has been a definite learning curve and a few notable mistakes along the way, but food cultivation rewards both hard work and inquisitiveness. Neither of these are inaccessible traits. Cooking and growing food has become a great creative / spiritual / health source. Someone, somewhere is thinking, “what a Californian!” Amen!

  26. Turling
    February 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Excellent, excellent, excellent. We’re putting the fencing for our garden up at the moment. We have rabbits something fierce and I don’t want to get discouraged by the rabbits eating better then us. We’re going to start small. Hopefully, in a couple of years we won’t need to buy any produce from the supermarket.

    The hardest part I believe we’ll have to overcome is realizing that all fruits and veggies are not grown the entire year, especially tomatoes. Eating locally also means eating seasonally. Canning and preservation will become a must.

  27. Krys
    March 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    I love Amber’s DIY composter! Can you post the specs on it? It looks simple enough, but I just wanted to be sure. I plan on having a couple raised beds this year, eventually growing to a total of 10. Last year I did containers, and it worked out great. I may do some things in containers, but I really want to expand into a full blown garden.

  28. Thank you
    April 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Amazing post! The Liberty Garden – Sowing change, building community certainly makes my evening a bit better :D Continue on with the fascinating posts! Heed, Thank you

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