This is my first post this week. Have I died of starvation or blown all of my food stamp budget on an ice cream and cake bender?
Instead I have been in Chicago all week and have been busy with meetings and visits to discover the world of food stamps in a very big (and very cold) city. More of that in the next post.
First, I want to clue people in on a ‘secret’ project I have been working on in my own little Area 51 behind our house.
A project which will change nutrition as I know it. A project that will help me meet the challenges of living on food stamps.
A vegetable garden.
Here is an unassuming wooden bed that has remained empty since we moved into the house a year and a half ago. Ignored and unloved. Even weeds couldn’t work up the energy to grow in the thing.
All that changed when I was paid a visit by a man with the greenest of green fingers, Oscar Carmona, manager of the Foodbank’s Grow Your Own Way program.
Oscar has been a tireless promoter of the simple virtues of growing your own food and the benefits this brings families. He is the owner of the Healing Grounds nursery in Goleta, and you can always see him at the downtown SB farmer’s market on a Saturday morning looking cool in his wraparound shades and selling seedlings.
The ‘Grow Your Own Way’ is a beginner’s program that helps encourage and provide training for people to grow more of their own food. Growing food is not something that can only be done by people wearing open-toed sandals or who have big backyards.
The idea with GYOW is that this is the program for people who are convinced they cannot grow anything beyond their own toenails. It is for people who are convinced they have no space whatsoever to grow food. In other words, it is designed for people like me.
We start with the belief that anyone can find a place to grow. A plastic bucket on an apartment balcony – fine for some cilantro or a tomato plant, a raised bed made with old wood and plastic on a piece of cracked concrete.
Vegetables are a vital part of our diet and fresh produce is the most expensive element when we hit the supermarket, so by growing a little bit of produce yourself, you can make a big impact in your health at minimum cost. You also get the freshest food possible, not something that was shipped from hundreds or thousands of miles away
I don’t want to get all zen here, but nurturing something and watching it grow and then having it nurture you in return is also good to combat stress. And remember even if everyone else in your life is sick of listening to you, your plants never will be…
We have started a ‘seedbank’ at the Foodbank where free seeds will be made available to families in need. Currently these are available through our Healthy School Pantry program and Brown Bag programs, but we hope to have it more widely available (all seed donations taken).
Because my food stamp challenge only lasts a month, Oscar helped me out with some seedlings, so that I could skip a couple of weeks in the process.
I was also lucky to have two helpers in two of my beautiful daughters, Mia (18 months) and Lili (15 – 16 in August – she’s constantly checking that I still remember her birthday, as if alzheimer’s is going to strike me at any moment). Both girls took to the task of planting the seedlings with gusto. Even Mia realized intuitively that there was something special about planting something in the ground and watering it.
We planted primarily different types of greens for salad (arugula, butter lettuce etc) as well as cilantro and two types of Kale. (You can’t escape Kale at the Foodbank, believe me).
We live in Santa Barbara County, with an amazing growing climate. It’s hard to mess it up here, and even if you do, you can check in regularly with GYOW to get help and advice.
To get the fresh vegetables is wonderful. Almost as important is the feeling that you are directly involved in generating food for yourself. If you are going to a luxury market or a free food distribution, you are still relying on someone else to provide food for you. Eating something you grew yourself gives you a satisfaction and energy that neither of these places can provide.
Just what I need to sustain me, living on food stamps!