Every survival/prepping website and book has some section on growing your own food during a SHTF event. There are ads for seed companies showing a person pushing a shopping cart down isles of empty supermarket shelves and the caption reads something like “How are you going to feed your family?”. And even one of the seed companies is now running an ad on a popular conservative TV talk show with images of a beautiful house with a garden in the backyard that produces baskets of awesome looking veggies.
Powerful imagery indeed.
But let’s look at it from a real, practical point of view.
Farmers, be it a family farm or professional/career farmers, work long and hard hours every single day to product food. It isn’t a hobby or merely dropping some magic seeds in a pot and out sprouts a food tree.
Stop and consider the sheer amount of land needed to product a years’ supply of food for 1 person. According to various sources opinion is it takes anywhere from ½ to 40 acres of land per person to produce a life-sustainable crop. And you’ll probably want to plant even more for possible trade surplus, animal feed, and just precaution against unforeseen short falls in the harvest due to insects, disease, bad weather etc (more on that later).
Much depends on your growing region, climate, how much variety you want/need etc.
The quality of the land you expect to farm plays a lot into this. Just because there is soil doesn’t mean it’s good for growing all types of vegetables and fruits. And it’s important to keep in mind that much of the soil in and around urban areas is heavily contaminated with lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals (as well as chemical toxins) that render it unsafe for growing human (or animal feed) food – not to mention where can you find ½ to 40 acres of open land near an urban area?
And if you’re thinking of “container farming” just imagine the number of containers you would need! (as well as the soil)
Similarly a clean water source is vital. You can’t rely on Mother Nature to provide rain every day, especially in the beating heat of the summer. Just a few days of no rain during the middle of summer would destroy most crops.
Which leads to the very real possibility of crop failure. Could be drought. Could be unseasonable weather. And, presuming a real rustic existence, most likely you’ll be planting without the benefits of modern herbicides and pesticides. So the natural predators of plants will likely ravage your crop further reducing your yield.
There is the issue of nutrition too. You can’t survive for the long term on just corn or wheat or rice. Vegetables and fruits have to be carefully balanced to get a decent spectrum of vitamins and other necessary nutrition vital for human health.
And there is also the reality that is takes time to plant and grow the crop. What do you eat until then?
You also need to consider the reality of securing of your crop. This is especially important in urban, near urban, and suburban areas. You have likely seen articles over the years about inner city gardening and farming in vacant lots as part of a community revitalization program or community alliance program. A good social program idea no doubt. But if this is the kind of real daily food source someone is expecting maintain during an SHTF event, just imagine the security nightmares of protecting such open areas and lots! These kinds of community gardens can (probably will be) quickly looted for whatever food can be found. Protecting it will either be impossible or pit neighbor-against-neighbor in violent confrontations. In less dense urban settings (near urban and suburban) it’s easy for your neighbors and passers-by to see into most people’s yards. Rows of corn or stakes for beans can easily be identified and noted for raiding. Even in rural areas with a big spread of growing land either covert or mass raiding of your crop is a possibility too, especially as people fan out from more densely populated areas looked for easier sources of food. In either of these scenarios are you prepared to protect your food source? The answer isn’t that easy.
This article is not in any way meant to discourage someone from trying to growing their own food. Even without an SHTF event growing your own food is fun, educational (especially for children), and if successful can certainly help offset at least a little of the grocery bill. But I believe too many people are under a false impression of being Farmer John and living off the land during an emergency. It is far from that simple.
These are very valid concerns about urban/suburban farming. It will take a hell of a lot of land plus water plus herbicide plus fertilizer plus fuel to support a modern human. You will work all day just to stay alive. Me, I live on .25 acres and have a wife, dog and two cats. If we have to survive on what I can grow, we will be dead.
If the stuff really, really, hits the fan, my hope is that my stored food and water will last a while and that I can defend it long enough for most people to clear out. Of course, the population will decline as starvation sets in. Then, maybe we can start farming our yard as well as our departed neighbors’ yards. This will take a community and a water supply. At some point, society must reform itself or that plan won’t work either.
In the mean time, I will grow to supplement my food supply as well as have some fun!
It also bears saying that people who only have seeds stockpiled will in no way be prepared for a true SHTF situation. Gardening takes a long time to produce edible results ( at least 90 days from seed) and is difficult in good times like we have now. Unless you take the time to learn how to garden now you will not be prepared for gardening when times get tough. Crops get diseases and insect damage all the time and you have to know how to deal with that as well as know what crops to plant together to get natural pest defenses in place that work without going to the store for a bag or a bottle of chemicals.
I started my first garden about a month and a half ago and it is not an easy thing to do. I am doing it because of financial issues that have cropped up and will continue to get worse as the year plays out. So remember that this is not just for a SHTF or WROL situation. It is a good thing to do for the here and now. You will learn a practical skill and save money in the process. After all, knowing how to survive a bad future scenario is of little use if you don’t set yourself up to survive the here and now.
@Jim-Bob — I routinely tell people that if they think they are going to grow a garden they need a MINIMUM of one years worth of food stored. What if the SHTF happens in November and you live in the North East… Um, your S.O.L. This is all assuming, as you mentioned, there is no disease, etc. that any of the vegetables get that year. Not for nothin’, but I know a couple years ago, everyone that I knew that grew tomatoes in their garden had problems with half their crop.
My thought is this. Grow to store, rather, grow to jar and can so that you have it for the winter and longer term storage. This way you can have what you grow literally for a couple of years before you have to use them or continue rotating them out… Great post @ST