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Local Bounty and Survival Gardens


We are well into fall -- in my mind at least, even though it's only the second full day of autumn. While most of the country had record-breaking summer heat, in fact, summer 2010 will go down in the books as the fourth warmest summer on record; we here in the Pacific Northwest enjoyed a milder sort. Many of my acquaintances have openly expressed their disappointment in believing we truly didn't have a summer at all. Precipitation levels reached nearly 200 percent of normal.

Due to this cool summer, many news articles in the home and garden sections of local newspapers are answering questions from concerned gardeners on what to do with their still green tomatoes. Well ... I also have green tomatoes that I can see in my tiny garden. But I'm not worried for I know from my Grandmother, an avid Eastern Washington gardener that I can line them up on my kitchen window sill and before long, will have succulent ripe tomatoes ... a nice reminder of the summer bounty.

But in the process of perusing this section of the newspaper, I came across a term I was unfamiliar with. Now that I've said that ... you will wonder where I've been for most of you probably have.

Survival gardens. And, being the history lover that I am, what peaked my interest was its comparison to the famous Victory Gardens during the world wars. Having several books on my shelf regarding Victory Gardens, and being a long-time admirer of the PBS series, I became instantly interested.

These survival gardens are gaining in popularity in not only the United States, but the world as well. For several reasons; primarily as a way to help cash-strapped families stretch their food budget during this recession, but they are also popular among survivalists and environmentalists as a resource for sustainability.

As Americans become enamored by growing backyard veggies and eating more locally grown food, experts are using this interest to promote and educate would be gardeners on the idea of survival gardens. The difference between regular backyard gardens and survival gardens is an emphasis on high yield produce grown in small spaces.

In fact, The Alabama Extension Service served over 900 families this summer by giving them free starter kits which included, non-hybridized seeds, plants, and gardening supplies. In addition, they supplied educational materials and expert help and advice. Because the agency was able to buy these supplies in bulk, it brought their costs down to just $16.84 per garden site.

"That should produce an estimated $400 worth of food, primarily items that are good for freezing or canning and that can tide you over for a while," said Tammy McDaniel, executive director of the Community Action Agency of Northwest Alabama.

Imagine if that program was repeated community by community, church by church. Truth ... many hands make light work ... and economic sustainability.

By Googling Survival Gardens, one finds extensive information on how to grow, what to grow, when to grow what ... etc. The bottom line is that one needs to concentrate on growing those stable vegetables that can proliferate in their area and that also can be preserved for later consumption. Items like squashes and zucchini come to mind. Local county extension offices can be of tremendous help in this area.

One website that the Alabama Extension Service recommends highly is Hometown Seeds. They have a fantastic array of choices for the home gardener as well as products especially designed for the survival gardener.

So many times I've thought of those families, my ancestors actually, who traveled and risked their lives to come west, to a new land, full of promise, full of adventure. I know they carefully saved and packaged their seeds so that they could start their garden once settled. Unlike many of our gardens today, theirs was essential to survival. Putting up food ... was essential to survival.

Our lives, in contrast, seem so much more secure, simpler really. Services are plentiful, resources are truly plentiful. While we debate the details of those resources for those hit hardest during these times, they are still in place. In contrast to the pioneers of our area, our survival doesn't really depend on ... us.

It does make one wonder how prepared we would be if our current economic recession actually became a ... true crisis. No food supplies, no grocery stores open with product on the shelves. What if our food supply became tainted ... poisoned?

Food for thought ... perhaps a little preparation ... a little knowledge ... some food preservation skills might be something to think about. And enjoy. For whatever the reason, be it economic, environmental, lifestyle choice ... or simple pleasure, may we enjoy the bounty God has given us.

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