Growing Food- On a farm, in a garden or on the patio in Alabama
Types of growing (definitions):
Conventional – conventional growing practices usually entail those methods that include chemicals, synthetic pesticides, bug repellants and herbicides, fertilizers, and other products. Someone may often use these soil additives and sprays without considering whether they benefit or harm soil, plants or people.
Organic – organic agriculture is a system that avoids chemicals and artificial products. Instead, organic farmers select products that are naturally derived or biologically based in order to fight pests or fertilize their soil. For example, organic farmers use animal manure, cover crops and crop rotation, and compost to build a healthy environment rather than leaning on synthetic additives. This type of system moves us much closer to regenerating the health of soil, plants, and people.
Certified Naturally Grown – A system of growing similar to organically grown. Because of the difficulty of getting organically certified and the cost to some smaller farms and growers, many have chosen to be certified naturally grown instead. There is less paperwork involved, but the growers work hard to be open and state their growing practices. These growers also sign a statement saying they abide by organic growing methods.
Sustainable methods – This is a broad term, but ultimately, it is an ideology where growers work toward sustaining farms and communities, and they select resources that are more environmentally sound and good for future generations and the community at large.
Permaculture – permaculture is an approach to land management that adopts self-sufficiency and sustainable methods of growing food and living on the land. It is a whole-system approach that uses nature as a guide. One goal is to provide for oneself while using less energy and working with the natural ecosystem.
Regenerative – A quick definition of regenerative farming is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use and more.
Several of these definitions are intertwined with each other. At Agroshare, our goal is to provide education centered on creating a healthy and fulfilling life. To us, this includes regenerative health, regenerative medicine and regenerative farming and gardening practices.
Most people may not realize that there are over 43,000 farms in Alabama! This number encompasses about 8.9 million acres across the state. The average size is about 206 acres. The top 10 counties in terms of number of farms are Limestone, DeKalb, Cullman, Marshall, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Morgan, Blount and Madison. These are all in the northern part of the state. Many other counties have larger farms but are fewer because of their size. However, only a tiny number of these farms use organic, regenerative, or natural growing practices. We hope to connect you with the folks who do, as well as provide inspiration for growing your own food at home.
We don’t want to re-invent the wheel on this page as far as farming and gardening. Instead, we want to talk more about the reasons gardening is beneficial to your health, and strongly support you in your efforts to grow even a small amount of food. We will add many excellent resources to help you find how to become healthier through growing food. There are many topics we want to add, including those you see below. We also want to focus on how to accomplish the things we talk about, especially in the state of Alabama. We will address specific concerns and challenges related to farming in the deep South. It is vital for us to focus on how to help people in our local communities and strongly promote those people who are learning and growing food in newer, more productive ways.
One of our favorite resources for animal husbandry is Justin Rhodes and his website, Abundant Permaculture. The link will be in the resource section. He is not in Alabama, but he is in the South and has a climate similar to ours, perhaps a little cooler. Justin is a farmer/homesteader who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, and has worked hard to develop many excellent and inspiring videos and documentaries! He has a lot of videos on YouTube as well that we can also link to. He is my (Dr. Koe’s) hero and I see him as a mentor on how to be a humane homesteader! We will speak of him often here. We will also feature Alabama locals who are learning and employing some of the practices that Justin and Abundant Permaculture promotes.
Raising vegetables and herbs:
You can grow a small herb bed almost anywhere! Even in a windowsill. You can also raise vegetables on a patio or in a small bed outside the front or back door. Many people think you need a lot of land in order to grow your own food successfully. We want to show you how you can raise more food than you thought possible in a tiny space and with a minimal investment of time.
Raising fruits, nuts and seeds:
When growing fruit, we can grow the healthiest fruits, berries, across most of our state. I try to recommend mostly berries. Our bodies are not meant to consume fruit 365 days of the year, although we tend to believe it is very healthy to do so. There is a discussion of fruits (benefits, drawbacks, and how much sugar) on our food page. In Alabama, we are very fortunate to be able to grow blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. We can also grow mulberries and elderberries here. Depending on your zone, other berries may be an option as well. Raspberries are a little more difficult to grow, but we will have as much information, tips and troubleshooting advice as possible about growing berries.
If you practice seasonal eating, there are many other great fruits that we grow and can eat in season. Muscadine, peaches, figs, apples are just a few that don’t require quite as many chemicals. There are organic varieties grown here in our state. See our Food Finder Map to find local resources!
Pecans are the Alabama state nut. Peanuts, while not actually a nut (they are a legume), grow widely here. Nuts are very healthy for us and are a substantial source of healthy fats. They are an especially affordable way to add healthy fat to your diet if you grow your own.
This is a much larger topic, but we can even raise animals in a small area in the backyard. Depending on your location and zoning restrictions, you may be able to raise rabbits, chickens, and other small animals for meat and eggs without needing an enormous space. We will talk a lot about raising our own meats, but we will also encourage learning through Justin Rhodes website, abundantpermaculture.com.
Raising bees and flowers:
This is another idea for even a small yard, although you may not be able to have bees in a patio garden! But anyone with a yard may have one hive. Even without keeping bees yourself, flowers are beneficial to a garden of any size. Not only are many flowers also medicinal as well as being beautiful (chamomile, lavender, echinacea, etc), many are edible, like nasturtiums and calendula. Also, they attract pollinators, and that increases your garden yields. In a small garden, planting things that work double-duty is a great use of a small space!
Barriers to growing your own food:
Just like there are barriers to eating well, when it comes to growing your own food, there are many challenges.
Space is the toughest barrier for some people.
We want to show people they can grow food in tiny spaces. We have talked to people who live in housing projects, in apartments and on small pieces of land.
Where I live, on a rural farm, there’s lots of space. However, having large pieces of land can sometimes be a barrier because we may try to grow too much and cannot keep up with the work that is required in larger spaces! We are going to show people how to grow in some tiny spaces over the next few months on this page, as well as on larger pieces of land. We hope to point people to the best resources for growing in any location or condition.
Knowledge, or lack thereof, about how to grow food is a barrier.
Knowledge may be one of the easiest barriers to overcome. There is so much information available now, including videos, books, articles, communities in your region or area, on-line classes and much more. So just getting started and trying to grow even one item can be exciting. Many people will say they don’t have a green thumb, but most likely it is just lack of knowledge that is easily fixed.
Time, for many people, is a barrier.
Time is definitely a struggle. Our lives our so busy and most people have to juggle many responsibilities including work and family. But on Agroshare, we will show how I, as a very busy family medicine practitioner, have been able to find time to grow a lot of food with a limited amount of time. I have done some videos to show how quickly I can get some work done and have an abundant harvest.
Energy/desire is a big barrier!
We hope to motivate people to create a desire to grow some of their own food. When kids get out there and learn to grow, they get really excited. We want to encourage everyone to grow something! We plan to add some inspiring stories as we go.
Why regenerative farming and gardening practices?
Regenerative agriculture promises to be a system that can solve many of our farming problems that have increased over the last 150-200 years. Our largest food producers are even looking at this type of system and how it may increase yields, cut down on soil loss and improve profits while delivering healthier meats, vegetable and fruits to all of us.
There is an influential book that embodies my life beliefs and goals, as well as my desire to work hard on what I do. It is called Food Fix by Dr. Mark Hyman. Not only does it discuss regenerative farming and gardening, it also examines the way our food system is so intertwined with our health. I will work hard to fill this portion of our page up with many ideas that can help our food system and our health through ideas presented in Food Fix. We want to present teach functional ideas and present workable plans that are specifically tailored to our unique set of challenges as Alabamians.
One important goal of our page is to raise awareness of the possibilities of improving all the systems we work with to be healthier and live longer. We want to be healthier in our older years and be much less frail and sickly.