Act: Inspiration

The Year in Which I Grow Our Food: An Introduction

September 27, 2022

It started as a challenge, as well as a necessity.

I have been growing food for my family and myself for many years, at first only because I wanted us to eat better food, but then later because I could smell on the wind what was coming and wanted a bit of insulation against it. I had tinkered with food production for years — growing a garden, planting fruit trees, raising animals — all of which would yield quite a bit, depending on how much I put into it. But I could never put into it 100% of my time. So what would happen if I did?

As things looked to get much worse very rapidly a few years ago, I started to buckle down and focus on how to improve the systems I already had in place. Last year, when things really got dodgy and this year looked to be the start of things becoming terrible for the near future, I bit the bullet. I stayed home to raise the food we would eat. This little journal will be the accounting of what that looks like.

So…some quick facts to start with:

1. I am doing this almost entirely by myself. I have a family, but none of them are interested in doing what I do. My husband works. My adult children are in college. That leaves me and two Corgis to do all the work, and believe me, the Corgis are no flipping help at all.

2. I do this work by hand — I don’t have any equipment. Unless you count a wheelbarrow. (Do you count a wheelbarrow?) Oh, and a chain saw and some small power tools. No forklifts or backhoes, though. Me and a shovel.

3. I am a middle-aged woman. Honestly, this fact means nothing at all. Being a woman just means I’m a hell of a lot tougher than a man, and being middle aged just means that my back and knees hurt. I provide this fact in case you needed some creds. There they are.

4. Please note that I say that this is the year in which I grow our food, but I did NOT say that I grow ALL our food. It is out of the grasp of most of us to grow ALL our own food. Even if you have all the space, money, time, and equipment in the world, you can still have a bad year and things might die, leaving you without. I don’t have all the space, money, time, or equipment in the world, so it’s a non-starter. However, I can grow quite a lot of food, and make a huge dent in our grocery needs. That’s still very worth doing, especially nowadays.

5. I am not an expert. What I am is highly skilled, with many years of experience. I can do many things, and I can do them well (because of years of practice). Possibly others can do things better. Are they experts, then? I don’t know. What does that even mean?

6. I know that very few or none of you are going to stop working to grow your own food. I’m not trying to convince you to. What I am trying to show you is what is behind doing something like this — growing and making what you eat. This way, you might be inspired to try a little something. Then if you like that, you might do a little something more. Believe me; doing a little something now is a very, very good idea.

**In case you need a little extra convincing, or are afraid that this is very hard work: I have raised food for my family while caring for two small children, while caring for two small children and working part time, and while caring for two slightly larger children (who STILL needed a lot of attention and time) while working full time. Yes, it really can be done. I’m not the only one who’s done it, either. **

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And now some background info:

I grew up on suburban/urban Long Island, where I was not interested in plants or gardening at all until I became a teenager (I was a weird teenager, obviously), and then the bug bit hard. At that point I was relegated to houseplants, but I brought home many, made shelves for them in my room where I could, and just enjoyed being around them. Years later, I started gardening in earnest at our first house. I loved putting things in the ground wherever I felt like it, and watching them grow.

Fast-forward quite a bit, and I had been gardening everywhere we lived, and the edible food garden became an obsession. When the 2008 whirlwind disaster had departed, it left me with two small kids and a husband without his very lucrative job. Our house was sold out of desperation, and we had begun looking for another much smaller place to live. One with some property, though, that was the caveat. We had lived in houses with smaller pieces, but I wanted some land to grow some things and raise some chickens. When we found it, after driving the realtor completely insane, all I can say is that I stepped into the backyard, looked at the woods, and my gut said “Yup”. That was that. Luckily, the nondescript house was in pretty decent shape, because I hadn’t even bothered to look. We bought it, a little house on about 4 acres in a field of grass. However, it was bordered by two streams and woods all around. It was a place to start.

And start I did. Since that day 12 years ago, I have built two chicken coops, duck and goose housing, a greenhouse, two goat houses, a few arbors because they are pretty and I like hammocks, I hand-dug a pond (it’s small, don’t get excited), put in a large vegetable garden, planted an orchard, and gardened the crap out of all of that stupid grass. It is a very non-suburban home in what is a demi-suburban area, and it does provide quite a lot of the food we eat. Most of the land is not cleared, and never will be. I work with what is probably equivalent to an acre and a half of cleared land. Of this, most is gardened as permaculture. The vegetable garden is the exception to this rule. Due to heavy deer predation, it is fenced and orderly. The rest of the yard is a profusion of plants on top of plants on top of plants. It is either beautiful, or unruly, depending on your point of view. I can go either way, sometimes.

That’s my story. As I said, this will be a journal of what this year looked like/looks like when you try to produce as much of your own food as you can. It won’t go in any chronological order, but I’ll tell you what the processes looks like for the things I do.

Why read it? I’ve been told I’m funny. I know I’m very sarcastic, so maybe that works for you. In addition, you will get to see some cute Corgi pictures, and Corgis are adorable (though a HANDFUL). There you go, plenty of reasons.

Adorable Corgi picture #1. This is Elin.

See you next time!

Jocelyn Siegel

Jocelyn Siegel is a very small scale farmer and gardener who has been practicing for 23 years-12 in the home I am currently in. I use permaculture, companion planting, crop rotation, season extension, etc, and have many skills-gardening, cheese making, soap making, butchering, food preservation, and so on.

Tags: building resilient food systems, food growing, gardening, self-provisioning