I think about food a lot. I like good food. I like to cook good food and I enjoy gardening and growing food. A major part of my income comes from growing food and I have spent many hours working on food issues.

Food is more than just the calories needed to sustain life. Food is cultural and social. Food is a major part of our economic system and world trade. Food is art. We eat when we are happy and we eat when we are sad. It is part of the celebrations of life’s milestones: we have dinners for baptisms, birthdays, weddings, and funerals. We take food to friends when they are grieving and when they are celebrating. Food has a part in every religion.

American farmers like to use the statistic that each of us feeds 155 people. I’ve never been able to figure out how that number is calculated, because only a small percentage of American farmers actually deliver food to consumers. Most of the crops and livestock raised in this country travels through many hands and over many miles before feeding anyone. Our crops aren’t even usually called “food,” they are called “commodities.” I’d hate to have to live on what many North Dakota farmers  produce. There are only so many dishes one can cook from soybeans, wheat and canola.

In spite of modern agriculture’s ability to produce more total calories than the world’s population needs for daily sustenance, millions of people go hungry every day. Those numbers are  predicted to increase as the world’ population continues to grow. Food insecurity, the ability to find enough food on a daily basis, is a growing concern. Feeding the future is a topic appearing with increasing regularity in major new publications, farm magazines, United Nations’ reports and non-profit organizations’ publications.

Global warming, depletion of potash and phosphorus mines, desertification and water access exacerbate problems of poverty and food distribution. It is hard to imagine how the world will overcome these problems.

The problem overwhelms me and I wonder how my grandchildren will deal with the many issues food shortages will create. And then,  my small garden begins giving me zucchini, green beans and more tomatoes than I can handle. The squash begins to creep across the lawn and the cabbages swell to the size of basketballs. While the productivity of commercial farms is admirable, the production of an intensively managed garden plot or even a container garden is astronomical by comparison.

In spite of the dry summer, I have only watered my garden a small amount. The mulch between the rows has conserved the moisture and controlled the weeds as well as provided much of the soil’s organic matter and fertility. The mulch kept the soil cool on the hottest days and warm on the cold nights.

Some of my heritage varieties wouldn’t do well being trucked for thousand’s of miles, but they handle being carried from the garden to my table just fine. Their taste is many times greater than anything I might buy in the grocery store and because they are eaten or frozen fresh from the garden, their nutrition is higher than their long-distance competitors.

If something fails in my garden, often my family and friends have excess to spare.

A garden is an amazing lesson in abundance. A garden gives me hope that the world can be fed. We just might have to give up the idea that it is up to us, American farmers, to feed the rest of the world and work, instead, to find ways to help the world feed themselves.

Copyright © 2013 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains