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MOF&G Cover Winter 2005-2006
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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 2005/2006Bunker Editorial   
 Editorial – A Garden in Every Yard Minimize

By John Bunker, MOFGA President

Garfield and Venette King live in downtown Fort Kent. They are retired. Every September when I take a trip north to explore the gardens and orchards of Aroostook County, I include a visit to their Page Street home. Sometimes Garfield takes us on a fruit exploring trip into the surrounding countryside.

Just as often, however, we spend an hour or two exploring their yard. That’s how long it takes. Their lot is roughly 150 x 125 feet. Subtract the house, the driveway and the neat, trim lawn, and you have about 1/3 of an acre. This past fall I took a partial inventory of the plants they’ve been growing. Beside the driveway is the vegetable garden, about 30 x 125 feet. Interplanted with the vegetables are rhubarb, asparagus, blackberries, raspberries, highbush blueberries, grapes, various ornamentals and a dozen fruit trees. More blackberries and fruit trees pepper the back yard. Sweet potatoes grow beside the garage door. A small nut collection features two large butternuts, a large black walnut, some hazelnuts (“squirrel food”) and numerous seedlings of various sizes in pots.

There’s also the 50-year-old red oak that Garfield planted from an acorn he collected off the sidewalk the day he graduated from the University of Maine. And there’s mountain ash, hawthorn, lilacs, crabapples and more.

The Kings live in a mini-paradise of their creation in the middle of town. Who would have thought you could do so much in such a tiny space?

I recently learned that Russia – not generally considered to be a bastion of independence – has created a magnificent system of small gardens. Virtually 100% of rural Russians have a home vegetable/fruit garden. Over half the Russian city-dwellers do as well. The rural gardens average 1/2 acre; the urban gardens average 1/10 acre. These tens of millions of tiny plots provide Russia with over 40% of its total food, including 92% of its potatoes, 77% of its vegetables, 87% of its berries and fruit, 59% of its meat and 49% of its milk. With the exception of animal products and grain, most Russians are feeding themselves almost entirely from their own gardens. These “dachas,” as they are called, are all organic and hand-cultivated. Not only that, most of the gardening is done on weekends and after work. The whole system is almost too incredible to believe. Russia is a nation of gardeners growing their own healthy food. (See “Ecofarming and Agroforestry for Self-Reliance: Small-scale, Sustainable Growing Practices in Russia,” by Leonid Sharashkin, Michael Gold and Elizabeth Barham, Proceedings of the 2005 Association for Temperate Agroforestry, at www.cinram.umn.edu/afta2005/pdf/Sharashkin.PDF.)

According to John Jeavons’ 1974 book How to Grow More Vegetables, one person should be able to grow all his or her own produce on 1000 square feet. That’s just a little bigger than a 30- x 30-foot garden. Rodale’s 1961 classic How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method suggests that a little more space is required, but still only 1/10 acre can provide enough vegetables and fruit to feed a person for a year. Two close friends of mine are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their Mormon literature encourages them “to grow all the food that you feasibly can on your own property. Berry bushes, grapevines, fruit trees. Grow vegetables and eat them from your own yard. Make your gardens neat and attractive as well as productive.”

Food security is a growing concern these days, as is recognition of the many advantages of eating locally produced food. Not so long ago, Mainers produced virtually all their own food. Maybe again. Like Garfield, Venette, the Russians and the Mormons, maybe it’s time for a garden in every yard.


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