Revisiting the affordability of “Grow your own food!” ….

[previously on this topic : “Why “Grow your own food!” might not be so easy for poor people” ,Part 1 & Part 2 . Also: The Privilege of Real Food ]


My friend Amanda was nice enough to share this photo of her sweet new backyard mini-homestead .

Here’s what Amanda had to say about this:

So. Telling poor people to grow their own food. Nine chickens $55, coop $255, gardening soil which I mixed with 50% Florida dirt aka sand $15 on sale at Lowe’s. Three large bins (I had the others and I know people think I shouldn’t use plastic) 2 bell pepper plants, 2 zucchini, 2 cuke, 2 cantaloupe, 2 basil, 1 each oregano, rosemary, thyme, dill $91 all from walmart. I’ve got $150 in feeding/caring for the chickens so far as I had to buy feeders/waterers. I’ve ordered fancy ones now, but that cost is only the basic plastic ones I started with. The kind you refill by hand every day from tractor supply. I can’t expect eggs til June/July. I had on hand: a drill (tub drainage holes), shovel, truck to move things, easy outdoor water access, garden hose and space. Unless someone has easy access to basically all that stuff for free, there’s no way even feeding the chickens seems worth it if we are looking it at this like the “food stamp police” do. I’m in love with my little side yard, but as I’ve been working on it I’ve been very aware that there is NO WAY IN HELL I could have done this when we were on SNAP. Also, that low fence is needed to keep the dogs from stressing out the chickens and peeing on my plants. It was the cheapest option that would work for my big dog and was $85. That total space is roughly 17′ square.

I forgot the $80 in concrete from the trench I dug and filled with quickcrete to hopefully avoid that) or some virus or the plants die…. I mean, it’s in no way a sure thing (as y’all know)


I am so frustrated that I have to have this same conversation over and over again about poor people and gardening. It blows my mind when someone shares their story of food insecurity right now,real time ,”There is no food in my house”-stories and the best words someone can offer is, “You should start a garden.”

Right. Because when you literally have NO money to buy food, you can go buy seeds/plants, gardening tools,dirt,etc etc etc. And then when do you get to eat? I mean…if you even have a place to grow stuff. “But you can buy seeds and plants with food stamps!” Uh,yeah….you can but when you’re trying to budget $1.25 per meal because that’s all the food stamps you have for a month, you’re not going to add seeds to your budget.

I’ve had this conversation enough (at least once a week for the past 2 years, I swear) to know that the counter-argument is that gardening doesn’t have to be expensive. Well, right. It can be inexpensive but that’s usually if you’re been doing it for awhile and have accessibility to some things that make it easier.

I just like to reiterate all this because it’s important for people to acknowledge this is not a solution to hunger for everyone. If you’re a fan of growing it yourself, think outside your own box before telling a poor person to grow their own food. Maybe ask some starter questions. “Is it possible for you to garden?” If no, don’t be pushy. That person knows the reasons they can’t garden. All of your suggestions is not going to make their situation any different. It’s just going to make them feel like crap.

I mean,dude…that one time I wrote about having no food and weighing 85 pounds? Someone actually said : “If only you had a garden.” When I said I wasn’t able to then, they told me, “If you’re hungry enough,you’ll make it happen.” For real.
I lived in a basement apartment underneath a liquor store with a parking lot as my “yard”. If only I had the magic of the fairies or whatever those things were in Fern Gully!  But honestly, it’s an incredibly insulting thing to suggest that maybe I wasn’t hungry enough or maybe I should have tried harder and I just wouldn’t have been hungry.

Now, if someone says “yes” to the “Can you garden?” question… ask them what they need. Do they need seeds? Do they need book recommendations? Do they need advice?  Do they need money for gardening tools? Are they close enough that you can lend them tools or supplies or even some actual physical help?

If they can ,support and encourage that. If they can’t leave them the hell alone and start looking around your own community to see what can be done to foster a better local food system for poor,disabled, and elderly people living there.


4 thoughts on “Revisiting the affordability of “Grow your own food!” ….

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve been told to “just grow a garden.” I would LOVE to have a veggie and fruit garden and I do steal space in my parent’s yard for this purpose. However, the rules at my apartment are strict and they forbid gardens as they believe it will attract wildlife (we’re allowed to have bird feeders, though….go figure). When I state this, I’m told, “just buy some grow lights and garden indoors.” Right, because when you’re down to your last $1.50, you can totally afford to buy grow lights and pay for the extra electricity when I’ve already got a shut off notice. And I’m going to feed a family of 4 with an indoor garden? People lack perspective and the understanding that what is simple for one person may be entirely difficult for the next person.

    1. Oh,shoot…I meant to include this infographic I have that shows how much land a family of 4 would need to feed their family. (Hint: It isn’t a few windowsills. Yeah, you knew that…)

  2. I agree with everything you’ve pointed out here, along with the irritation at people who toss out what to them seem like easy/obvious solutions without even considering that some people don’t have those options.
    My family is sliding from working class into poverty as we speak, and while I love to garden, and thankfully have some space to do so, for the last four years it’s been nearly impossible due to my health– in 2010-2012 I planted a veggie garden but had to abandon its upkeep when the temperatures topped 95, between being heavily pregnant the first summer and working a full-time schedule with an infant/toddler the next two years. Last year I didn’t even plant because I foresaw the same outcome due to my escalating physical and mental breakdown.
    I look forward to planting this year, but my 2 4×8 raised beds mean that whatever I grow is a temporary supplement to my family’s food options, and couldn’t possibly produce enough to sustain us all year.
    I live close to an urban area that is severely poverty-stricken, and has managed to convert an empty lot into a community vegetable garden, which I think is fantastic, would suggest that city-dwellers look into this kind of an option if it’s possible for them. I know it’s not an option for everyone and doesn’t begin to address the full scope of the problem, but it is a potential proactive step for some, and organizing such a project in communities where it doesn’t already exist is one way to take action towards some partial solutions.

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