Backyard Farming in the Global Economy

January 21, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Brad Moldofsky

Last year I enjoyed Marc Levinson’s book, “The Box,” about how the ubiquitous, uniformly-sized and shaped metal shipping containers kick-started globalization by making international cargo transport quick and simple. Today, everything from electronics, clothing and food to illegal immigrants and maybe weapons of mass destruction can be efficiently moved in these anonymous containers.

I’m less interested in the politics of agriculture than in the sheer joy of eating food I grow myself. But I see that locavorism is a tougher financial argument to make when nearly free shipping costs are factored in. As long as our oil-driven global transportation network functions smoothly, and we don’t factor in the hidden costs of keeping that oil cheap and continuously flowing, it’s cheaper for me to buy South American produce than to grow it in my Illinois soil. Of course, my backyard is covered in snow at the moment. But my hourly wage is higher than, say, a Chilean farm worker (or will be when I land a job). Thus the temptation of container-shipped produce in January is mighty.

So I’m starting a container of my own. I’ve recycled a plastic cube of drinking water by cutting it in half and punching a few holes in the bottom of one section. I’ve nested them so that I can fill the top tub with potting soil and have it drain into the lower tub. It sits now in a bay window and will host soon-to-germinate sprouts, which should enjoy the southern sun, as long as the evening cold doesn’t kill them. It’ll give me something green to look and distract my view of the snow-capped lawn as I imagine what spring’s new plot will look like.

As a preview of that, this is my plan for a new square-foot frame:


My kids loved last year’s potatoes, so I’ve got six square feet for them. The Brussels are my big challenge for the year: something I’ve never tried before. The kale is also brand new to our yard, but supposedly an easier crop to grow.

The old garden site is getting a rotation of all new veggies except for the peas, which enjoyed climbing the fence by the alley so much last year. The scale of these drawings is not perfect, so I don’t know how much of each vegetable I’ll actually get, but this is the first written plan I’ve ever had for a garden.


Now that it’s on a website, it’s official. I may make changes to my plan, but at least I’m starting with a plan, and we’ll see where it goes from here.