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GROWING YOUR OWN FOOD
CAN BE VERY PROFITABLE

You (hopefully) know already what your grocery/restaurant bill amounts to annually. I'm going to make a calculated guess that a family of two adults and two children, a teenager and a grade schooler,spends $4,000 a year for three-fourths of all their purchased food. Iuse the three-fourths calculation as the amount you could reasonably produce yourself. I have found no way to grow Tanqueray gin martin is,for example.

You can raise three-fourths of a family's supply of fruits and vegetables on one -fifth of an acre. Actually a good French Intensi vegardener could do a lot better than that. Assuming that you spend $500 a year on these two items, that puts an acre's worth of garden at about $2,500, which is how I arrive at the figure in the opening paragraph.

If you have another two and four-fifths acres on your property, bringing your total to three acres, you can turn them into a mini-farmand raise most of the beef, pork, chicken, eggs, and milk for your family if the soil is fertile and you are skilled in the farming arts. Three acres would then produce the $4,000 that you are now spending for food that you could raise yourself. And I'm sure that for most families the savings would be even greater. Further more, I know from experience that an operation like this would produce a surplus of eggs, milk, tomatoes, apples, squash, and other foods that you could sell to neighbors.

There are, of course, expenses in kitchen processing and storage of these foods for winter use. A stove and refrigerator you will haveany way, but a freezer and canner will also be necessary, plus the gasor electricity to run them. Amortized over 20 to 30 years, these costs would amount to several hundred dollars a year. Also, if you get into livestock, you will have to figure the costs of sheds and fencing, a small riding tractor or walk-behind tractor and mower, a tiller, and other minor tools, all of which can be amortized over a lifetime. But hold those figures in your head while you consider the many other savings that do not appear on agricultural spread sheets.

What would you be doing with those hours you spend gardening and farming? Golfing? About $15 an hour, not counting the cost of clubs, right? Boating? Even a cheap boat will pay the grocery bill for ayear. Attending a professional football game? A ticket to watch the Cleveland Browns lose again costs $98, and don't forget the mileage to and from the stadium, the beer and hot dogs, and the ticket for speeding, which will cost considerably more than the game ticket. The point is that if you consider your "hobby" of garden-farming as recreation, it can save you one nice little compost heap of money. If your hobby otherwise would be rooting yourself to a bar stool, figure two nice heaps.

Show me your garden, and I shall tell what you are. -Alfred Austin

And speaking of compost, if you get into food production you can save the money you are now paying to have your leaves and grass clippings hauled away. These yard wastes become your principle source of mulch and fertilizer.

Nor is it facetious to suggest that gardening, as exercise and astension-reliever, promotes health. Some doctors encourage, if not prescribe gardening for that reason. Health-care costs being as horrendous as they are, gardening might just be the best investment you make in a lifetime. What are ten extra years of quality life worth to you?

Moreover, the extra-fresh, high-quality, pesticide- and hormone-free food you can raise yourself is also a wise investment in health, and therefore money. If you have read Modern Meat by Orville Schell, you may conclude as I have, that raising my own beef, pork, and chicken is the single most effective dietary rule of health maintenance. In fact, if you don't know how your meat is raised, vegetarianism might be an even better investment.

What is it worth to have something productive for your children todo the equivalent of the traditional farm chores so many of us remember doing? Yes, we weren't overjoyed with having to care forthe farm animals before and after school, but it taught us responsibility and it taught us caring. The animals had to be fed and watered everyday just like us. And many people discover that they actually like to do this kind of work. One of the sad facts of modern life is that, while children are given so many "experiences" today, one they rarely get is husbandry, and millions of people go through life vaguely discontent because they were born to be nurturing farmers and don't even knowit.

But chores won't teach kids anything if the parents don't work right along side them and convince them that this work is important and meaningful to the family's and the community's security. It might bewise to let kids sell the surplus and keep some of the money. They might learn something more valuable than that $100,000 college education you think they need.

And that suggests the really big payoff in raising some or most of your own food. Your backyard mini-farm can be a college education in itself, preparing you for a successful and lucrative business of market gardening or specialty farm prod ucts, or, in fact, any kind of food-production enterprise. Prevailing sentiment in our society holds that successful gardening and farming require a weak mind and a strong back. This notion is terribly wrong, particularly when it is extended to commercial food production. To grow for market, even just in your own neighborhood, requires a mingling of art and science that will challenge a genius. In fact, most of the people society considers geniuses couldn't do it.

Trying to predict the future is almost always self-serving baloney, but because of the very fact that the futu re usually surprises us, it might be well to consider agriculture today. All the learned think-tanks and universities and other armchair experts b elieve that farms will continue to get larger, indefinitely, which of course is ludicrous because that would mean only one huge farm eventually, and the old Soviet Union has proved conclusively that won't work. In fact, I believe just the opposite will occur. There will always be a few very large farms, butthe dynamic action of the future will be in an increase in small farms.That's what I hear now, out in the fields. Bob Birkenfeld, an extremely thoughtful Texas farmer of 2,500 acres and 2,500 stocker cattle just told me he believes he could make more net profit with a lot less stresson his home of 180 acres with family labor, and he is seriously considering doing just that. Ward Sinclair, who left a very successful career in journalism to become a full-time market gardener insouth-central Penn sylvania, tells me there is not a doubt in his mind at all that small-scale farming is already on the comeback trail, and he proves it every day.

There is yet another way that gardening and small-scale farming can become a lot more lucrative than the computer inputs reveal. By learning how to raise your own food, you provide yourself with invaluable information that you can then teach to others. My gardening and farming has enabled me to make the greater part of my living by writing about new food production ideas. And no matter what happens to commercial farms, this opportunity will only get better. Most of usare as ignorant of the manual arts as we are of nuclear physics. Fifty years from now, if not sooner, there will be a great demand for people who can show the rest of society, including the nuclear physicists, how to keep from starving to death.


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