NB: “When I first contacted Mel, little did I know that I was going to become a Sustainable Food Activist. For the last 40 years, Mel has been working on producing a huge harvest in a small Square Foot Garden. What began as a gardening hobby soon developed into a mission to end world hunger. Mel is still working and was kind enough to send a message via the readers of Sustainable Food for the Globe!”
Mel Bartholomew, Originator and Founder,
Square Foot Gardening Foundation
“I would like to tell you about what I see for the future. Are we all going to starve? Are we going to die from contaminated food from our present food system? I don't think so -- not either one of those things.
However, I do have a vision of how we can solve world hunger. And quite easily too. Probably at half the cost of what we're spending right now to send food overseas and feed all the hungry around the world. We're going to try something so radical, it'll be laughed at to start with. It's a very simple thing - you know how practical I am. The answer is to show everyone how to grow their own food! Ha. Who could imagine that? That’s too simple an idea, but it can work!
First I made a list. How do we grow our food now? How do we transport it? How do we buy and store it? I followed the food chain from the farmer planting the seed with his machinery to you sitting at your table eating it. A couple of years ago, I made a video presentation titled, "The radish that traveled 3,000 miles". I did this for an organization that was promoting Square Foot Gardening as a practical and easy solution to world hunger. They are into health foods and conscientious eating habits, so Square Foot Gardening fit right in.
Well, it turns out this radish that was grown in one part of the country was harvested and then transported to another part of the country to be packaged. Then it got shipped to another part of the country before it was shipped to the neighborhood market. The final step was little Suzy and her mother getting into their car and driving to the store, spending time and gas looking for a parking place. Finally standing in line to buy this particular radish!
How Square Foot Gardening Works
Let's just jump right into the solution to this absurd waste of time and energy - the Square Foot Garden. You can put your 4X4 - or 3X3 for children- on a tabletop or on a wheel barrel if someone is handicapped. You can put it on the ground, on a patio, on a rooftop, your porch or a deck. We even had a family in Utah put one on the carport roof. It was out of the way, didn't bother the neighbors, and got lots of sun! One person can plant, in their 4X4 lot -- that's just six inches deep -- enough produce for a large salad every day.
As soon as one area is harvested, we add one trowel of compost, mix it in and replant that square with a different crop. That's crop rotation. You don't have to read a book about crop rotation, just follow the simple steps of Square Foot Gardening to never replant the same thing in any square twice in a row. You'll probably want to change what's in your salad anyway. Some skeptics say there isn't enough room for that much food in a 4X4 foot space. But there is. We've done it. Many times over.
How's your arithmetic? In every garden there are 16 square feet. Each square foot can grow from two up to 16 of whatever plant you want. You harvest one thing at a time. One leaf here, one pea pod there, one bean sprout. On average, you'd have 120 things to put into your salad bowl. We're also learning how to grow in the winter time.
Creating homemade compost is inexpensive, easy, and it helps the environment
Kids are going to be picking up poop with sticks and putting it into a box. So, no harm there. But what happened before they picked up? A domesticated animal, say a donkey or a cow, walks along the side of the road and has to poop. So it does. What happens to that manure? It lays along the side of the road until it rains. When it rains, the rainwater washes downhill. Where it's washed into a stream or a gully or a river. Downstream is a town or a village where people bathe and get their drinking water. Think what we've just accomplished by having children picking up the manure and using it in their compost pile.
At the same time, we teach them to pick up all the garbage along the roadside. If you've been in any poor country, you know the roads are a mess. Debris from civilization is laying everywhere and they don't pick it up. But we're going to change that. So on the list you're making, I hope you see what kind of other improvements can be made just because we're planting a little garden in each home. Pretty soon, kids will be following the animals around with their scoops at the ready! (Maybe not. A bit of humor there!)
Families, once they've learned to build a compost heap using scrap material which is everywhere in the world, can be growing much of their own food. Another point is that the fathers, who are doing the work on the compost heaps, will find that they can sell their compost. There's always someone with money who wants to start their own garden.
So even before you do your garden, you can have a cash crop (compost) to start your garden and save you even more money.
How to end food scarcity: Every family should have a square foot garden
That's my vision for helping the world's food shortage. Everyone, every family, should have a Square Foot Garden. I don't care what your excuse is or where you live. In Haiti, the people complained, "We can't keep the goats out of our gardens". The next day, I showed them how to plant the gardens on their roofs - in Haiti, all the roofs are flat. If you can walk on your roof, you can plant your garden there. A simple solution to a bad problem. Some people complain, “We don't have any room or any tools”. You don't need heavy tools, just a hand trowel. Nobody's walking in your garden, so the soil isn't being compacted. In developing countries, we just use a stick to stir up the soil. It's only six inches deep.
Once you learn the system, make your list of all the advantages for the things that were a problem before, and suddenly you’ll begin to see how this could have far-reaching benefits whether you live in the USA or any other country. The food that people buy has to be shipped there. It has to go by truck or a train or a wagon. Traffic is a problem. In the cities, roads are clogged not only with trucks making deliveries but with people driving to stores to shop. A lot of time and effort is saved with that garden just ten feet from your door.
Urban gardening, roof gardens and food deserts
I've got a plan for urban areas where many people don't have space to garden. Well, there's always some open land but you do have to be careful. There was once a house there that may have used lead-based paint which now may be in the soil. We have a solution for that. We aren't going to plow up that soil. With Square Foot Gardening, we lay down a weed mat so they can't come up and your roots don't go down! I've laid out a plan for planting on flat roofs. Building owners can rent out rooftops where gardeners can grow their crops. These gardeners can even sell their harvests to local restaurants or at a farmers market.
Poor people or people on welfare can learn to grow crops on municipal property or at local churches. This could be especially beneficial in those "food desert" neighborhoods where good produce is scarce. All they need to supply is the labor. They then could take the food home or take it and sell it for a bit of income.
Share your knowledge with others; one person CAN make a difference
Well I've seen this work all over the world. We have a big project in India where a man named Father Abraham carved out 20 acres on the side of a mountain, terraced it off and planted a lot of three-meter gardens. They now have so much produce that they started their own farmer's market. So now the community has enough food and some even have income from their efforts. These benefits can be reaped everywhere.
“Schools, churches, and clubs can all work getting people to grow their own produce. They'll be eating healthier, organically grown food, and making a big difference in their own lives, their communities, and in the world.”
~ Mel Bartholomew
I could go on and on about the advantages of this plan but I think you can see them. We're not talking about emergency situations here.
We're talking day-to-day living and we're going to teach people how to grow their own food and harvest their own crops. I hope first you'll try it and then encourage those around you to do the same thing. Let's teach the children right from the start where food comes from and how really simple the process is. They'll be happy and healthy all because of your efforts.”
This chapter is excerpted from “Sustainable Food for the Globe – Everyday People Producing Food in Abundance,” by Norma Burnson. This book is now available in our online store and it is highly recommended by Mel! In the book, discover how everyday people are making a difference, right where they are in their own communities, to create a more sustainable earth. Interviews with scientists, food waste experts, horticulturalists, inventors, gardeners and visionaries make the book a must-read for all who are concerned with protecting the environment and the earth for future generations. By reading what others have already accomplished successfully, you will glean hundreds of ideas for how you, too, can implement local programs to fuel the movement worldwide for sustainable food for the globe. This book gets two thumbs up by Mel and SFGF.