This is Episode 1 of our Vlog, Food for Thought. This episode is titled, “Food Security During Times of Crisis.”
This video discusses the use of an old urban gardening technique, self-watering containers made from 5-gallon buckets, as a means of ensuring food security for individuals, families, and communities regardless of the economy and condition of the commercialized food supply.
The Learn & Grow Educational Series was created according to best practices in educational program design to teach people everywhere how to grow food anywhere.
References: Compost Tea vs. Leachate – https://thesquirmfirm.com/leachate-vs…
Transcript of Audio from Video:
Note: The paragraphs of the transcript are numbered for reference in your comments/questions. For example, “In paragraph 7, you state … My question about that is, …?”
- Welcome to Food for Thought, a vlog published by the Learn & Grow Educational Series. My name is Anne Zachry, and I’m the creator of the Learn & Grow Educational Series. Today’s vlog is titled, “Food Security During Times of Crisis.” In this post, we’re discussing strategies that people can use to keep their families food secure in times of shortage and scarcity.
- I created Learn & Grow using best practices in educational psychology to teach children, their families, and their communities how to become more food secure and less dependent upon the commercialized food supply, no matter where they live. That hasn’t changed since I first created Learn & Grow’s evidence based curriculum.
- To be honest, it was a combination of worrying about not being able to afford groceries for myself and daughter at the time, combined with concern over a catastrophe that could collapse the economy and leave the grocery stores empty, that prompted me to start my own self watering container garden. I created Learn & Grow to share this easy and affordable gardening method that can be used almost anywhere with others, so they can become more food independent as well.
- And now here we are in the middle of a global pandemic in which the shelves are bare and grocery stores around the world as people sit at home and avoid gathering in public places like grocery stores to avoid spreading disease. Not to be sassy, but I saw this coming and, to everybody who thought I was a zombie apocalypse doomsayer when I first started the garden, I say, “There’s no joy in being right about this.”
- I’ve already been down the food crisis road before, in a manner of speaking, with our audience in Venezuela. Learn & Grow was started in 2013. In 2016, the Venezuelan food crisis hit and the traffic on our website from that country suddenly went crazy. I was looking at the backend stats for our site and saw the sudden increase in traffic from Venezuela and was, like, “What the heck is happening in Venezuela?”
- One search of the internet later and I knew what was happening. Learn & Grow was providing guidance to the world’s first web enabled starving population. They had access to the internet, but no access to food. At first, people in Venezuela who had the means started ordering food from Amazon, but when that started not to work out, anymore, people in Venezuela turned to the internet to learn how to grow their own food as soon as they possibly could because they knew it would take months before they’d have crops they could eat and they needed to get started right away. Some people panicked because they had no open ground for growing.
- Once I realized what was happening, I spent about $20 on Facebook ads to push our instructions specifically to Venezuela with powerful results. That was one of the best $20 expenditures I’ve ever made. One gentleman in Caracas sent a very emotional direct message on Facebook to us thanking us for sharing our instruction because he lived in a penthouse with nothing but a concrete balcony and didn’t know what he was going to do until he saw our self-watering container solution in our Facebook ad. I learned the power of social media marketing to push instruction rather than sales from that experience, and have used that knowledge to continue promoting our instruction, which is what I’m doing, here, again.
- I already manage my food like today could be the last day I’ll ever be able to go to the store. When this pandemic hit, I already had staple ingredients that I could use to cook a whole bunch of different things from scratch, particularly in combination with things I’m growing in the garden and eggs from my laying hens. I don’t live large at all but I commit what resources I am able to keeping the garden and the chickens going, because they cost less over the long term than buying groceries.
- As long as I have access to the chickens and garden, I can last for a while without going to the store. Dried beans, brown and wild rice, quinoa, flour, sugar, baking spices, oils, and vinegars are included in my cabinets. Cheese, butter, goat milk, half-and-half, and meat are also mostly store-bought at this point. I buy meat in bulk, vacuum seal and freeze a bunch of it, and only keep what I intend to cook soon in the refrigerator.
- When I have excess produce from the garden I dehydrate, pickle, freeze, or candy extra, or otherwise give it away. I regularly give away extra eggs when all three of my laying hens are producing I have almost three dozen eggs in the refrigerator right now.
- The gardening method around which Learn & Grow is based uses self-watering containers made from recycled or inexpensive food safe 5-gallon (or, 19-liter) bucket, plus a couple of other inexpensive pieces. Each self-watering container occupies 1 square foot (or, 0.3 square meters) of space, making them suitable for small spaces not typical for growing, like patios, balconies, paved lots, and rooftops. They can also be used indoors with growing lights.
- These containers are portable, conserve water, self-regulates the water to the individual needs of each plant growing within them, take up little space, and give the gardener total control of the soil quality. When you know what’s going into the soil, you know what’s going into the food you eat.
- By repurposing used food-safe 5-gallon buckets, which you can get from restaurants, bakeries, and delicatessens for free just by asking, you keep these plastics out of landfills. The average Panda Express in Southern California goes through a single 5-gallon bucket of cooking oil a day, and all that plastic just goes to the dumpster if someone doesn’t ask to take it off their hands.
- Often you can go to a restaurant, bakery, or deli that gets its food supplies in 5-gallon buckets, ask the person behind the counter if they will save the used buckets for you, and arrange to come pick them up once they’ve collected a few. I’ve done that with a pizza place in my local community before.
- The point I want to get across, here, is that in light of what is going on these days with economies collapsing or on the verge of doing so, and resources soon to become scarce because of a reduced workforce that can’t make new resources available to everyone fast enough, the importance of food independence has never been more clear to modern society. It’s time for the human species to remember that buying food in a store is a convenience, not a necessity, and that all human beings have the right, if not the responsibility, to grow their own food.
- I promise you that growing your own food in self-watering containers, while not entirely trouble free, is generally super easy. The challenges include making sure your containers are positioned where they get enough, but not too much, light for the types of plants growing in each one; making sure you have access to water to top off the reservoirs of each container; and making sure the drainage from the containers has adequate runoff from where they sit or catch trays beneath them to keep the drainage from the containers from getting on the area where they sit. The latter concern can be important for indoor and rooftop gardens.
- If you are concerned about food security for yourself, your family, and your neighbors, seriously consider starting your own self-watering container garden using our free instructions. It’s super simple and relatively low maintenance. Once you get everything planted, you’re mostly just refilling the water in the reservoirs as needed, occasionally fertilizing, possibly spraying organic bug treatments if necessary, trimming old growth, and harvesting food. You can reuse the same containers for years. Our garden will be seven years old in June 2020.
- We’ve moved it six times since it was first created and still have plants started in the first year that are still going strong in their original containers, our goji berry thicket in particular, which now gives us several crops per year of this incredible superfood that otherwise costs a fortune, all dried up like raisins at the store. I started it from seeds indoors and transplanted them into one of the very first containers I ever made. It took five years before it seriously started to produce, but it’s been a berry-making machine ever since.
- It just started to bloom right now, and the first crop is just a couple of weeks away. I’m all excited about it. It’s not that I didn’t spend money to get goji berries; it’s that the money I spent will give me goji berries several times a year fresh off the bush at no additional cost. The upfront cost of making goji berries happen is being defrayed over every crop the bush now produces. Eventually I’ll have to spend something like $8 to replace the five gallon buckets if I get new ones, but it will cost me nothing if I get used ones. I might as well spend the $8 on takeout Chinese food and hit the restaurant for empty buckets while I’m there.
- If you can incorporate these strategies into your lifestyle, it won’t be some huge endeavor like tearing up your backyard and putting in something that will leach water away in the soil and allow for burrowing pests to come up under your plants to eat the roots. We use earthworms and beneficial nematodes in potting soil to maintain a healthy growing environment for our plants. The nematodes eat the eggs of insects that lay their eggs in soil. This prevents the eggs from hatching, which prevents the hatched larva from attacking the roots of the plants as well as growing to maturity and spreading throughout the garden.
- I use organic fertilizers in my self-watering container garden, feed my laying hens organic chicken feed, and occasionally use dirt with chicken waste and feathers in it from the bottom of the chicken pens as fertilizer. I have some green lentils growing in a container right now that I fertilized with chicken pen dirt, and they are the happiest, lushest, greenest lentils there ever were.
- We also have a vermiculture composter that uses earthworms to break down garden waste into fresh compost and leachate, which is basically the runoff of excess water that’s been put into the compost to keep it damp. Some people call leachate “compost tea,” but compost tea is actually specifically brewed, whereas leachate is just excess water runoff that passed through the compost and picked up particulate matter with bacteria on it along the way.
- Both compost tea and leachate can make great liquid fertilizers. The compost tea can have more aerobic bacteria, which are the kinds that promote healthy soil because of how it’s brewed, and leachate can sit stagnant for a while, which decreases the amount of aerobic bacteria in it the longer it sits. Leachate is most effective when it has not sat stagnant long enough for a significant amount of aerobic bacteria to die; they will thrive once they get into the soil. There’s a link below [the link is actually above this transcript] that explains the difference between leachate and compost tea.
- It isn’t just the fact that you can easily grow your own food this way. If you have kids, this is a huge opportunity to teach them by example about where food comes from. Chances are, they will want to get involved, and, to quote guerilla gardener Ron Finley, “Kids who grow kale will eat kale.” If you have kids in your life and they are old enough to understand that there is no food in the stores right now, growing their own food can give them the peace of mind of knowing that there will be food in the near future that they have made happen, regardless of whether food is back in the stores or not at that time.
- Going through a time of shortage is a rude awakening for most people, but the anxiety it can produce in our children is significant. This can become a time of trauma or a time of self-sufficiency, depending on how you handle it as a parent. If you’re raising children right now, my heart totally goes out to you having to parent under these current conditions.
- Giving them some sense of control over their access to food by having them grow something, even if it’s just a bucket full of carrots, will go a long way towards protecting them from feeling helpless and vulnerable. Teaching kids to solve problems rather than be victimized by them will help kids emotionally handle what is going on these days and make them feel safer about the future, should some more significant disruptions occur later on.
- This immediate COVID-19 pandemic is something that will eventually pass and cost us enough to appreciate the value of preparing for next time when it could be worse. Further, in the northern hemisphere, it’s just about Spring and the gardening centers are full of baby fruit and vegetable plants just waiting for new homes. Now is the time to start your own self-watering container garden.
- If you don’t have enough space to grow everything you want, you can coordinate with neighbors to each grow different things in your respective spaces and share with each other. An entire apartment building with balconies and/or available rooftop space could start a growing cooperative among its tenants using self-watering containers. A senior living facility could start a community garden in self-watering containers in its common outdoor area. The containers are the perfect height for sitting next to them in a chair on a patio to tend to them.
- An inner city school could start an indoor self-watering container garden in a basement with growing lights or outdoors on an unused area of paved lot. A community youth center could start a self-watering container garden in its outdoor area or on a local unused paved lot as well.
- Renters who can’t put anything in the ground without leaving it behind if they move, or whose landlords won’t let them plant in the ground, can still use self-watering containers. Homeowners can replace lawns and in-ground gardens with container gardens to repurpose used food-safe plastic buckets and keep them out of landfills, conserve water, control for burrowing pests, control for soil quality, automatically regulate soil moisture, and have the ability to move the containers around to adjust for lighting needs throughout each growing season or otherwise rearrange the garden as needed.
- We truly hope this vlog inspires you to start your own self-watering container garden and decrease your dependence upon the commercialized food supply. Please take advantage of our free online instructions on how to make your own self-watering container garden from our website and social media. Links are provided below [the link is actually above this transcript]. Please don’t forget to like this video and share it out on your social media.
- All the content herein is copyrighted by Anne M. Zachry, and used with her permission by the Learn & Grow Educational Series, a division of the Institute for Educational Equity, which is a nonprofit organization. All rights are reserved.