This recent article was brought to our attention today since it mentions PTF’s 100 Foot Diet Challenge that was launched back in January.

It Will Take a Lot More Than Gardening to Fix Our Food System
By Stan Cox

A nationwide grow-your-own wave would send good vibes through society, ripples that could be greatly amplified by community and apartment-block gardening. But front- and backyard food, even if everyone grew it, would not cover the country’s produce needs, much less displace our huge volume of fresh-food imports.

Not even a poke in the eye

I’ve played a part in the promotion of domestic food-growing, and I now I seem to hear daily from people who believe that it’s the best alternative to industrial agriculture (as in, “I’ll show Monsanto and Wal-Mart that I don’t need their food!”). Even though most prominent home-lot food efforts, like the “100 Foot Diet Challenge“, also try to draw attention to bigger issues, the wider message can get lost in the excitement. Whatever its benefits, replacing your lawn with food plants will not give Big Agribusiness the big poke in the eye that it needs, nor will it save the agricultural landscapes of the nation or world.

…. Ironically, it’s that great troublemaker Voltaire who has too often been trotted out (and too often misquoted) as an advocate of withdrawing from the tumult of society, into tending one’s own property. Voltaire was indeed a gardener, and he did end his most famous novel by having Candide, after surviving so many far-flung hazards, utter those famous words to his fellow wanderer Dr. Pangloss: “We must cultivate our garden.”

Read complete article

Yesterday afternoon our family watched the French Documentary ‘The World According to Monsanto’ (we purchased a copy to host a film screening sometime soon, more on our reactions in another forthcoming post) and it would seem that such subversive growing efforts are needed more than ever.

Besides, who’s to says one can’t grow all that one needs for a complete diet?

Cultivating Our Garden
Biointensive farming uses less water, land, machinery, and fertilizer
– and more human labor

by John Jeavons

Biointensive mini-farming techniques make it possible to grow food using 99 percent less energy in all forms – human and mechanical, 66 percent to 88 percent less water, and 50 percent to 100 percent less fertilizer, compared to commercial agriculture. They also produce two to six times more food and build the soil.

Biointensive mini-farms require much less area to produce the same yield of crops, so the nutrients contained in one person’s wastes can be applied in a more concentrated way. This enables the nutrients to be fully effective, and high yields can result.

Because of this higher productivity, Biointensive practices could allow one-half to three-quarters of the world to be left in wild for the preservation of plant and animal diversity.

It has been said that Biointensive practices might make it possible to grow food for all the people in the US in just the area now used for lawns. This possibility could mean thriving agriculturally self-reliant cities with ‘green belts’ to produce all their food.

Voltaire in Candide suggests that if we each tend our own “garden,” the entire world will be transformed. In the process, all of our work will be filled with meaning. In this way, we will “grow people” who possess a whole new understanding: that we must grow soil rather than crops – create rather than consume. When we do so, the harvest for our nourishment will be abundant beyond our greatest expectations!

Read complete article

Or how about this article titled ‘The Man Who Would Feed the World’

“It takes about 15,000 to 30,000 square feet of land to feed one person the average U.S. diet,” he says. “I’ve figured out how to get it down to 4,000 square feet. How? I focus on growing soil, not crops.”

….And Jeavon’s method is about more than dirt-under-the-nails farming; he has 30 years’ worth of data to back him up. Each edition of “How to Grow More Vegetables” contains more statistical data than the one before: In the latest edition, for instance, you can calculate the precise number of beet seeds you’ll need to grow 30 pounds of beets, along with the protein and calorie content, space requirements, and the percentage of the harvest (i.e., trimmings and inedible portions) that can be returned to the soil as compost.

While this approach may be an interesting experiment for a university student, it could be a matter of survival for people all over the world.

The counter argument has been presented. Care to weigh in?

No Comments

  1. Stacy says:

    I think the biggest challenge for those of us in urban environments is, as the last article emphasized, high calorie and grain crops. When I first started reading here, I carefully considered what your homestead continues to buy, and realized that composes the bulk of my intake. While growing vegetables would greatly increase my diet variety and nutrition value, ultimately it wouldn’t really cut into my grocery bill much. Those of us living on less than 4,000 sf/person (and my household certainly does – 5 people currently on a 60×150 lot) just don’t have the room to grow that much wheat, much less oilseed. Even your fowl feed to provide egg proteins/fats would be a concern on our lot.

    I think a drastic shift in our consumption practices would be required. We need to look at how various cultures subsisted before introduction of major agriculture, and see if those techniques can be adapted to a small plot system. The book “Guns, Germs and Steel” takes a deep look at the impact of agriculture on ancient cultures, and mentions some about how those cultures thrived before it arrived. More recent cultures like those of Pacific Islanders (tropical or arctic) could also be a good source of alternative diet practices that could be adapted to decrease our reliance on typical grains and oilseed.

    One issue to analyze is the costs/benefits of a vegetarian/vegan vs omnivorous diet. Many animals are much more efficient than humans at converting naturally occurring vegetation into protein/fat sources than our own bodies are (good luck surviving on a field-fed bovine diet!) – it may be worth considering if there’s animals out there efficient at surviving on low impact native vegetation in order to provide dairy/eggs/meat to help fulfill the high calorie/protein/oil requirements of the human diet.

  2. Evelyn says:

    I is sad but true that we should get involved in changing our laws. we can grow most of our foods but not everything and people that have aninals know that they have to buy their food. I know most people do not want to get into politics but I think it is duty not a right if we love our country. We do not live inside our houses we live in a community. If we wouldn’t need a thing from outside it will be OK but that is not the case.

  3. PhoenixJen says:

    I think new technologies (Jeavons, Higa, etc) are coming on board fast in terms of growing food in a more healthful way – for humans, beasts and microbes/soil. I think it IS a radical, life-affirming and positivie action to grow as much of one’s food as one can.

    I’ve considered the Jeavon’s book and the “grain/starch issue” – and I’ve decided that a change in my diet is necessary. I’ve also looked around to see what’s locally available and free for the harvesting that may take some of the burden off me personally growing grains or starches. Fortunately here in Phoenix, we are blessed with Mesquite trees, the pods of which make tasty flour. So our “grains” are quite literally growing on the very trees that surround our homes, giving us shade and drinking our greywater.

    Viva backyard gardens!

  4. Anais says:

    Some very thought provoking posts. Thanks for sharing your two cents.

  5. Di says:

    I feel a change happening as more and more people become aware of the true costs of providing foods in the stores, so to that end rising grocery prices have done the human race a service. It’s time to become educated on the food that is on our tables, and what we are REALLY ingesting, and how unsustainable it really is at the current time.

    Also I finally got around to watching “the world according to Monsanto” and I’m disgusted, enraged and more determined than ever to make MY food organic. How dare one company make themselves the seed/food mafia (which is essentially the tactics they employ). I am also outraged that Americans as a whole have to seek out this extremely informative documentary, and that no tv channel will broadcast it. This needs to be available on the web for EVERYONE to view, free of charge, only THEN will people realize what is happening and how to change it. I can’t want to hear your comments on it.

    Di – off to buy more organic seeds, compost and some strawberry plants

  6. Anais says:

    Hello Di

    Thanks for weighing in on the MegaMonster Monsanto. This documentary is a must see (also check out the FUTURE OF FOOD – another great film)

    We are still smoldering over the viewing of the film. You and all trowel totting revolutionaries need to continue to food for food security.

    A music prophet has said/sung:

    “I can see the day coming when even your home garden Is gonna be against the law” – BOB DYLAN

    What can we do but save our seeds and grow as much food as we can.

  7. craig junkins says:

    Hey Everyone,…

    CHANGE! That is something that stands out for me.. As one of the articles presents..backyard gardens couldn’t replace all of our fruit and vegetable needs….absolutely correct…IF we continue to eat the way we do as a society. As you often point out, one change is to eat only in season, or preserve foods ourselves for out of season…change.
    Backyard gardening probably couldn’t be a solution for everyone. However, I’m reminded of a quote by Ed Begley, Jr. in “Who Killed The Electric Car”, and I paraphase here, something like…” electric cars aren’t the solution for everyone, if you have to drive over 50 miles a day, then they may not be for you. Therefore, they’re not for everyone….only 95% of the population.”
    I believe that the same kind of argument might be used for backyard gardening. Using the proper steps, techniques, and a CHANGE in our eating habits, there COULD be a major change in how and from where we recieve our food!
    I am still an active participant in the 100 ft. diet challenge, and am amazed at how much I can eat from my own area each week…I’m a believer!!
    Keep doing what you do, talk to you again soon.

  8. plantainpatch says:

    PhoenixJen really touched on an important point. Wild flours: acorn, cattails, crabgrass, clover, pine needles, phragmities, lamb’s quarters, amaranth, and on. I was shocked when I learned that I was surrounded with food and didn’t even know it. I haven’t fully incorporated all into my diet yet but am learning. We have a bounty around us and I was blind to it.

  9. Nuno says:

    Thanks for posting these articles!

    I cultivate my backyard for the incentive of contributing to the general well being and I think, as this sort of attitude becomes common and not an excentric concern of few , that it will eventually be one of the main movements against Big Agro.
    But I mainly do it because it makes me happy- it is really a selfish and essential pleasure to see things grow and eat them. So why not?
    A lot of people I know aren’t very much moved by the global warming argument but are very reactive to local air quality and oil prices for example.
    I believe big changes with great and benevolent significance almost never come from generalized self sacrifice and commitment but from economic or quality of life incentives- people are willing to change rapidly if that means they will be richer and\or live better.

    If the end results are good for all does selfishness really matter?

    Finally, people cultivate their backyards because they are reacting to the downright criminal behaviour of industrialized agriculture, they might do it for health or economical reasons or out of pure fun but what I believe is that this isn’t a trend, a lot of people aren’t doing it because its fashionable or hip or some sort of political statement- theirs is a simple and rational reaction.

    I am optimist because history shows the supremacy of causality. (we eat badly and we get sick and poor therefore we will eat better and save money)

    P.s. Everyone contributed to some great links -thanks for the Monsanto and Future Food Anais- already on my list and I would love to hear your reaction on the Electric Car one- we should play a game of Who’s Worst? (dibs on Big Pharma).

    Soooo here’s mine:

    A great lecture on what’s wrong with what we eat that will take you very little time off your day.

  10. Robbyn says:

    I think efforts are needed on both fronts…to combat back-door legislation and educate the public about exactly what Monsanto and other mega corporations are doing with not only backing big agribusiness, but in changing things genetically without any accountability, driven by greed and by seeding their special interest folks throughout the multiple layers of our government and worldwide. There are so many politicians, media giants and big movers with ties to Monsanto that it’s gotten downright incestuous, in a manner of speaking.
    Yes, we do need to be educated and aware, and to combat and counteract these rapid losses of our freedoms and our foods in every way possible!


    Do not underestimate the little guy. How was the mighty Goliath of old slain? By a single stone aimed well by the little guy, who defended an upright cause. It toppled the mighty warrior.
    I don’t believe this is merely idealism. It’s as relevant today as it was then, though for a time the majority might just stand around and quake with fear. We need to act rather than simply react. I watched the French documentary you posted here a month or so ago, and then posted the link on my site. I watched as others did the same. Had I seen the video two years ago, I may not have felt as personally invested in considering its powerful warning and implications as I do now. Why?

    Because we’re growing things ourselves now. Now it’s not just theory…it’s our reality. We are no longer detached from the dirt, the vulnerability to rain and sun and seasons. We are not content to trust some distant packaging plant to shrink wrap the contents of our dinner plate any more.

    Honestly, I think EVERthing possible should be done to reconnect the average Joe on the street with his dinnerplate in order to regain our independence. We ARE pioneers…backwards in time. Not all forward movement is progress…sometimes it’s relinquishment. As conveniences replaced necessities and we began to expect a lifestyle divorced from its most basic elements, we bought the illusion rather than remaining rooted to reality. Reality never changed…our perception of it became blurred, and now the general public’s perception of food is a gross caricature of its reality.

    In this age of shock entertainment, our ability to respond to true crises has been dulled. Either we’re overwhelmed and feel powerless to address the world’s ills (since the world is as close as our TVs now and we can see the global picture right in our own homes), or we’re panicked and fearful, bordering on hopelessness, when the illusion wears thin and we see the consequences of having handed control of our food sources and choices to those who would feed us THEIR WAY.

    I recently went through a very low time, as I began understanding how polluted not only our food systems and governing institutions related to our food systems are, but also the very future of retaining creation in the way it was handed to us as stewards…when the very DNA is chopped to bits and inserted with un-like things, we humans who have no power as creators have tried to wrest this ability from God and instead dabble (for temporary profit) in hacking it apart and doing “progressive” re-arranging. I see the demise of the world as we have known it since creation.

    We SHOULD be shaken, angry, depressed, and driven to action when we realize these things. It’s a realization of how asleep we’ve been, and our need to retain the precious while we still can.

    What are we to do??

    A commentor on my site brought me around to what is the most basic truth. By our doing what is right and what we CAN DO, we DO change this world.

    I strongly object to anyone who tries to minimize or categorize the backyard garden/victory garden or any other such personal hands-on food cultivation as merely an environmentally-responsible trend that “green people” do. If terms such as “local,” “organic,” “sustainable,” “nutritionally dense,” etc are to be understood in any context other than that of a minority trend, they will only because the AVERAGE person is encouraged to interact with his own little square of dirt (in the ground or in a pot) personally. At that point, it’s no longer about simply eating better, or even bugeting better…it’s about watching and understanding what it takes to partner with a growing thing that brings gifts to the table. Once that happens, it’s personal…the taste tastes unlike anything in the supermarket…the awareness that there had to be water and sun and a balance of nutrients is no longer a lecture from a distant grower, it’s real to our backyards; the awareness that a few square feet can erupt into so much fruitfulness that we actually have to preserve parts of the harvest because of its over abundance leads us to hope, and the soil and the foods become part our everyday conversation.

    THEN we begin to understand!

    By the way, the folks who say you can’t raise enough food for yourself and plenty of others from some pots or plots are simply detached from doing so themselves on a personal level of dependence. They are still trying to solve the world the Big Ag way. The old saying about handing a person a fish, they eat for a day, teaching them to fish, they eat for a lifetime still holds true. There are so many, many ways to address regreening the deserts and growing things in every sort of climate. We just need to devote our energies and inspiration to RE-discovering the wisdom we handed off to someone else when we opted for Big Ag in the first place some decades ago. As we DO try these things, we find that God placed a great deal of wisdom right within His creation, and it DOES respond to some basic care…and rewards us with bounty and diversity. I believe there are more than enough resources to feed the world…or rather,for the world to be taught to feed itself. Only when we take on the feeding of our own families from right where WE are planted do we reclaim our freedom from dependence on any other “benevolent” big Ag food source.

    The backyard is our key to freedom.

  11. Anais says:

    Great and valid points Phoenix Jen, Plain Patch & Nuno

    Since Monsanto (as shown in the French Doc) is keen on taking over corn, soy, wheat, rice supplies it may be we have to return “wild grain crops” and forging for plant grains — even save heirloom varieties that are being lost at an alarming rate. In the 1900’s our grandparents ate a diet which consisted of $1.00 worth. Currently our diet now consists of .75 cents!

    Besides saving biodiversity, we’ll of course have to adjust our diet accordingly even rations perhaps like in WWII.

    Also purchase and grow for “alternative grain” crops like amaranth, quinoa, millet or “wild” ones like acorns, buckwheat – or even mesquite!

    One day we’ll have to boycott purchasing “typical” corn, flour and rice – protesting Monsanto’s control over our food supply.

  12. Anais says:

    Robbyn – you have hit on what PTF stands for and resonated it’s vision for these last seven years. AMEN and pass the seeds please!

  13. Ken Kunst says:

    Wow!…these postings/comments are at the heart of what matters most to human life:Food security, freedom, personal responsibility, and…dare I say, the pursuit of…a Life not so dependant on Monsanto, ADM, Mickey D’d’s, Wallmart and 7-ll. Cheap oil has gotten us to where we are at. Now we’re in a mess that can’t be readily “fixed”…so we do what we can with what we have.I feel a huge neccessity to be growing as much food as I can…and it has many obvious rewards. I realize I can’t solve these Macro problems in my tiny world, and indeed, I need to change some life-long habits, from energy use, to the kinds of foods I consume and how much I am dependant on the supermarket. We Americans need to learn to do with less, and yet I look around and find many people sleeping through all of these issues, and mildly, yet nervously complaining about the high gas and food prices. When I talk about why I’m growing so much in my backyard, and why I’ve helped organize a neighborhood garden, I stress the point that this is about FOOD SECURITY than merely playing around in some dirt!

  14. Kim says:

    Can anyone tell me more about using acorns for food? I have a large oak tree in my back yard and tons of acorns on the ground. Is it just certain acorns you can eat or all? Thanks so much and keep up the good work Dervae’s family. I read your journal almost everyday and am making several changes. Thanks again.

  15. Anais says:

    Hello Kim


    Here are some links to using acorns

    Hope this helps!

    Also, thanks for the positive and encouraging comments.

    See you along the path

  16. Janice K says:

    As for alternative grains, the Natives ate Amaranth, it is a VERY nutritional grain that grows readily in dry climates. how about buckwheat? And Millet? These are cover crops that aid other garden veggies. As for protein/meat, what about quail? They are much smaller, yet they produce one egg a day and are native birds (ok, I haven’t done any research on that part being legal) there are other quail which are domesticated, and they can provide meat and eggs. We need to look at our own diet and see if we can change ourselves to eat a sustainable diet.

  17. Shawn says:

    ACORNS! I have gobs of acorns, I thought they were only good to bring in the squirrels!

    Anais – I have checked out the links, and am planning on a fall harvest.


  18. Susan S says:

    I just finished watching the documentary; for those of you who would like to see it, you can find it in 4 parts on Google Videos.

    How amazingly frightening.

    I am more motivated than ever to continue expanding my garden as quickly as possible.

  19. Stacy says:

    An *excellent* reference on preparing acorns:

  20. Anais says:

    Great resource indeed. Thanks Stacy

  21. Wendy says:

    As many readers have already pointed out in response to Stan Cox’s article, there are many local alternatives to “agri-grains.”

    One other alternative is to dispense with the grains altogether, and use them as a “supplement” rather than a staple.

    I live on a quarter-acre suburban lot in the northeast, and I’m hampered by limited space AND a (very) short growing season. I have to make the absolute BEST use of my space, and that means that I can’t waste space growing something that doesn’t produce a LOT of food in a very small space. We depend on things that can be stored for long periods, and so root crops, rather than grains, make up a huge portion of our diet: potatoes, beets, rutabega, turnips, carrots, onions, garlic, parsnips, etc. These things don’t take up a lot of growing space, but have a very high yield, and they’re energy dense. Three or four small potatoes and a couple of carrots with 3 or 4 ounces of meat make a nice stew and can serve my family of five.

    Cox doesn’t seem to think that the agri-businesses need be concerned with us small-time suburban farmers, but my family’s diet is nearly 80% local – and the bulk of our diet during the winter is root and storage crops (like potatoes, rutabega, beets, apples and pumpkin) and during the summer we eat mostly we grow or get at the Farmer’s Market. Maybe he and the agri-businesses shouldn’t so quickly discount us ;).

    On second thought, do ignore us. I’d rather be off their radar anyway :).

  22. Evelyn says:

    Do not forget about cassaba “Yucca”. You can make flour from it and make pastries, bread and desserts. You can also fried it,use it in soups, with mojito on top. Use it like you use a potatoes.

  23. Anais says:

    yeah, for yucca. Forgot about that. Thanks for adding this prolific arid plant to the list.

  24. Anais says:


    Good for you and your family! You are the ones that are going to bring about homegrown food security – despite what others have to say!

  25. Jim says:

    I didn’t check out the validity of this statement but on Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds website they report that Iraqi farmers are not allowed to grow tomatoes from their own domestic seeds.
    This seemed a bit strange until i saw the Monsanto video; and it all falls in place. I really have to wonder what political party Monsanto models it’s policies after.

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