The Revival of the Family Garden

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Our family owns a modest home in a small rural community. We possess 1/16th of an acre and every inch of soil is precious to us. Day-to-day life can be tough in our community. It is a dinosaur in some sense of the word, a blue-collar factory town. Opportunity is rare in the form of corporate commodity, but in Sidney, New York, families are creating their own opportunities simply by digging in the rich soil found in their own backyards.

Bee hard at work in our sunflower patch. Pollinators are an integral part of our garden plan.

Our family, in many ways, is similar to most people in that we live paycheck to paycheck, and we have to get downright creative to put healthy meals on the table. We are also a bit different from the general populace in that our family of five, soon to be six, homeschools and, by doing so, we basically survive in a two-income world on one income. 

My three oldest children hard at work in the squash patch.

This brings me to our family gardens. People garden for any number of reasons. Some people tend a plot of land for health and recreation. Others pick up a shovel and spade to develop or strengthen their connection to the Earth. Self-sufficiency and economics are two more of the countless reasons families create gardens. One of the motivations for our gardening efforts is that we are simply trying to put food on the table.

I have a habit of constantly trying to figure out how to produce more food in our tiny space. I spend all winter staring at the layout of the yard developing new ideas. Some plans are far more realistic than others, but I have considered it all. Everything from clandestine chickens to vertical rooftop gardens, honeybees to meat rabbits, the list is virtually endless. Some ideas have proved to be quite successful, such as embracing the three sisters’ idea of corn, squash and beans while others ended up in the scrap pile.

I do not pursue or, at least, think about all of these options because I feel that what my family has is not enough, but rather to use what we have in a manner that provides the most efficient return possible. In fact, we are extremely grateful for the small piece of property we have. We have friends who rent and have no space to speak of. We have family members whose soil has been destroyed by industrial pollution and rendered useless. Others are just simply not in the sort of shape to tend a garden. It is easy sometimes to ignore how lucky one is to have access to fertile soil.

The rewards of our hard work. 

Our garden, our property, is sacred to us. We have a very holistic approach to gardening and livestock. Next to nothing is wasted on the plate or in the plot. The long-term health of our animals, gardens and bodies is the goal. But, in the meantime, our family needs to eat regularly. More importantly we need to eat well. I will be the first to admit we have to buy fodder at the grocery store for our stomachs on occasion, but we are making a real attempt to provide for ourselves as much as possible. Each year we are more successful in regards to self-sufficiency. That is not to say that we do not experience failure, but these shortcomings, if properly embraced, provide knowledge for future success.

We are always inspired when we interact with other families in our community who are living a similar lifestyle. We find they are raising hens for eggs and broilers. They are growing vegetable gardens, berry patches and orchards. They are canning and preserving their harvest. They are exploring the potential income of their chosen lifestyle selling honey, eggs and produce from their gardens all while teaching their children the priceless life skills of self-sufficiency and responsible land stewardship. Growing or raising your own food is knowledge that will always come in handy and yet will never be taken away from someone once they have gained that valuable insight.

Anyone who gardens knows that each section of a plot can contain a different growing environment than that of a neighboring patch of soil. I believe it is similar in respects to the family garden. Every family’s journey for self-preservation is unique. Each family has its own technique or family secret in regards to growing a specific item. The garden and the adjacent property are only limited by the imagination of the seed sower. Yet within this unique and individualized framework is the collective and brotherly spirit of harvest. The end goal is the same – to put food in the bellies of those whom you love most and to see your family’s pride and perseverance on display on the dinner table. To acknowledge that, regardless of how cruel the economy may be, supper time always provides a pleasant and festive atmosphere.