By Cam Mather
My garden is a daunting thing at this time of year. In fact I often stand looking at it in stark terror, the way that I would look at the prospect of crossing one of those decrepit rope bridges over a gorge of sharp rocks while being chased by zombies.
It never used to be this way. I think it’s a combination of factors this year, but mostly the weather. We basically had rain every day in May. And lots in April too. My sandy soil, which can look like a desert during an August drought, has been saturated. The lower part of my garden near the dug well is basically a quagmire. It’s like quicksand and I worry that my boots will be pulled off my feet when I try to walk through it.
Even the upper parts of the garden that usually dry out quickly have been too wet to inspire me to plant. Plants need some sun, and heat, and got next to none of it in May. So while I usually start planting as soon as I can in the spring, this year it was so wet I was afraid the seeds would rot.
At this time of year everyone that I meet asks, “So have you got your garden in yet?” It’s usually non-gardeners who would ask this, because they view rain as something that requires you to take an umbrella to work as opposed to something that can prevent you from getting your vegetable garden planted.
At the beginning of March our kitchen was taken over by the new three-shelf grow light and seed table. We just moved the grow light to storage in the barn since at this time of year we move our seedlings from the back porch to the back lawn and then back to the porch on cold nights. Our nights here are still as low as 7 or 8° Celsius (40°F) so I’m still keeping my heat-loving plants like peppers, eggplants, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, inside. I have planted some tomatoes under cloches but I’ve discovered after many, many years of gardening that even if I put a few tomato plants in early, they produce ripe tomatoes at about the same time as the plants that I put in later. I think the reality is that they just need a certain number of heat units to mature so you’re not much further ahead putting them in earlier.
There is still an enormous amount to be done otherwise and I’m overwhelmed. When I spend the whole day in the garden on the weekends I start to feel like I’m making progress. But during the workweek when I get out there by 6 am and have to stop at 9 or 10 am to head to my home-office to work on the computer, I feel like I’ve hardly made a dent. That’s when I ask myself, “If I worked in the garden all day, every day, how much money could I make?” Unfortunately I realize that at my scale it would be very difficult to support my meager lifestyle by just growing food. I would really have to scale up the gardens to the point where all the cleared land around the house was in production. It’s a huge task, especially without a tractor. And a tractor would cost me $20,000 or $30,000. I’d have to sell a lot of garlic to pay for a tractor.
Then I would need to find a way to sell it. I could go the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) route but the question is how many people could I get to join and what could I charge? There are a number of them operating in Kingston but it’s almost an hour’s drive, so the economics of that is questionable. I could try to get local people to join a CSA but there is a much smaller population within an easy drive and many have their own vegetable gardens. We will be selling in town on Saturdays but right now that’s an unknown commodity in terms of what we’ll be able to make in a day.
To a certain extent I believe with growing food I’m in the “go big or go home” zone and being a fair drive from a reasonable population center, it seems I’m still advised to not quit my day job. Not that it’s a real job. Running your own electronic publishing does not guarantee a paycheck. Not in this economy anyway.
I have thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment and sophisticated software to lay out books and produce DVDs and to do websites, so this is where I should be concentrating my efforts. But my heart’s not in it anymore. I still believe in spreading the word about renewable energy and living sustainably, but what I really want to do when I grow up (i.e. now) is to earn a living growing food.
I think this is kind of unfortunate. I believe our society is misdirected in terms of who gets rewarded financially. The most important people in the economy are caregivers who look after children and people who grow food, and most often the people who perform these jobs receive the lowest pay. Who does get paid well in our society? Guys (people) in suits. People who don’t DO anything really. They push paper around, or bits of digital information on a computer. Any business has an impact on the planet; so the people we pay the most, tend to have the greatest impact. They make “stuff”. They sell “stuff”. They mine stuff from the earth and take from nature to make that “stuff.” And pretty much all of it is “stuff” that we can do without. Food, like air and water though, we need.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, “Oh woe is me, wannabe farmer who can’t figure out how to make enough money while growing food.” I am extremely grateful to even own the land and have the luxury of dreaming about such a prospect. I just know how much easier it is for me to earn an income on a computer. And safer. I’m not at the mercy of the sun and wind and insects and commodity prices. Or raccoons when the corn’s ripe.
I believe this paradigm is about to change though and peak oil is bringing it on. You can’t pick up a paper without reading an article warning about how much food prices are going up. And in the process farmers are making more money. And there’s a real movement with many consumers to want to know where and how their food was grown, and to try and eat as sustainably as possible. And that just makes it that much easier for young, smaller scale farmers to make a go of it.
So be advised that come the third week of July I’m going to be turning this blog into one big advertisement for our “mail order garlic”. You can think of it as a contribution to the “Cam Mather attempt to make money growing food project” and you will get some of the most delicious and amazing garlic in return! I grow great garlic. I take infinite pride in it. We process every head with love. It has countless proven health benefits like lowering your cholesterol, and best of all, you’ll feel good, helping out that wannbe farmer who lives off the grid in the woods in Eastern Ontario fulfill his love long dream. I don’t want a sports car, I don’t want to walk to Manchu Pichu, I don’t want to go Disney World, I just want to grow food.