A three-season garden for food independence

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association
and Lin Vogl
Contributing Writer

Food prices are up and are expected to remain high. Some say a food shortage has caused the rapid rise in prices. But conflicting information exists. Sizable amounts of farmland have been taken out of production and have been set aside. Crops that formerly were used as food are now being used for fuel. Shipping food long distances not only adds to its cost, but also unnecessarily uses fossil fuel.

Families can affect one of these factors: high costs of shipping food long distances from crop to table. For years, we have supported eating locally, which has now become more accepted. One of the recent Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair keynote speakers, Alyssa Smith, spoke about her year-long experience with the 100-mile diet. At a recent Food for Thought conference, an area couple chronicled their year with locally-produced foods. Area organic farmers discussed their goals, methods and profits. Local restaurants advertise the fact their meals are made with primarily locally-grown foods.

Our concerns are not with keeping up with what is currently popular, but rather what our food needs are and how we can address them ourselves. Gardening and food preservation have been enjoyable constants in our lives, but our current efforts are focused on becoming more self-sufficient. With the increased desire to become more food independent, we are taking measures to increase our yields, the diversity of foods grown and options for growing.

We have chosen to eat organically out of concern for our heath and financial and environmental impacts. In our choosing to eat as organically as possible, we recognize we may not be able to eat whatever we want whenever we desire.

Our family has gardened for generations. Until this year, our gardens have been the standard growing season variety. But with food appearing to become scarcer and prices rising, people may need to consider three- or four-season gardening.

In addition to the solar greenhouse, we erected a 24-foot-by-14-foot-by-7-foot hoop house that is constructed of curved metal tubing covered by heavy plastic. Fall crops can be started in late summer, in fall for winter harvest, and in late winter as soon as the days are 10 hours long. This week, we planted 3-foot rows of winter-hardy crops: beets, carrots, parsnips, daikon and cherry belle radishes, red, yellow and white onions, spinach, kale, mesclun, kohlrabi, swiss chard and baby choy. While the temperature was chilly on the day we planted, two days later, the afternoon temperature inside the hoop house was 60 degrees.

With the hoop house in place, we cannot only enjoy an extended growing season for those crops we consume on a regular basis, but we will also be able to grow some of the crops we would enjoy having but have been hesitant to grow because of their need for a longer growing season than our region provides.

While it is easy to get excited about a future food bounty, we are realistic about what we can not only tend to, but also will be able to consume and preserve. Becoming food independent does not have to be an all-or-nothing venture—it is a growing and learning process.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the March 9-15, 2011, issue

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