Living More-with-Less

Gardens & Farms & Markets


I love flower gardening but don't like to buy lots of plants every year. I use mostly perennials, which often flourish and need to be divided. I give them freely to friends, neighbors, and family and take some to the plant sale at the local MCC relief sale. I try to buy plants that don't need a lot of watering. I've saved seeds from cosmos and zinnias to plant the next year. Just pick the seeds when mostly dry, let sit in a container until thoroughly dry, and keep until spring. Potted geraniums and begonias can be saved for the following year.

In the fall bring them inside to a cold, dark place (basement is often good) and trim back foliage after it has dried. In February (or whenever you remember), start watering and expose to light. Bring outside in the spring. I've seen this used as a fundraiser if there is a good-sized group of people who have perennials.

Lorene Byler Miller, Goshen, Ind.

Stumps are good.

After cutting off the stump from a head of lettuce, don't just toss it; plant it! Most lettuces will grow back from the stump if replanted in tilled soil. If you want to give it a good head start, sit the stump in a shallow tray of water first so it develops roots. Also, when harvesting lettuce from a garden or farm plot, don't pull up the entire plant. Instead, cut off the leaves with a clean, straight cut two inches above the base. This will leave the stump and roots intact, and they will grow another harvest for you. This works with cabbage plants, too, giving a second (but smaller) head of cabbage at the end of the growing season.

Art Bucher, Philadelphia, Pa.


We tried not tilling the garden this spring and it seemed we had a lot less weeds to pull. Since we had leaves sitting on the garden through the winter there were few weeds to begin with. This method works well for transplanting once conditions are warm enough, but not so well for seeding crops (beans, corn, vine crops) which need warm soil to germinate.

Lorene Byler Miller, Goshen, Ind.

Food consignment.

I was a full-time volunteer at the Community Food Bank in Tucson, Ariz., with Mennonite Voluntary Service and was lucky enough to be working as the coordinator of the Community Foods Consignment Program. This program offers small, backyard gardeners and farmers the opportunity to sell produce and eggs at local farmers' markets, benefiting not only the growers but also the community as a whole by making more local, naturally grown food accessible.

When you consider that most produce—even organic—travels 1,500 miles and spends days or even weeks in transit before it makes it to your table, shopping local and supporting local farmers is one of the best decisions a person can make to live and eat sustainably.

Audra Christophel, Tucson, Ariz.

Farm plus.

Laura Krouse's relatively small Abbe Hills Farm in Linn Country, Iowa, looks quite different from those around it. What stands out is the diversity found within her seventy-two acres and its incorporation of natural, uncultivated areas. Along with growing an heirloom variety of open-pollinated feed corn, several other crops, and running a thirteen-acre vegetable CSA, Laura has established a pond, a restored prairie, natural areas, a wildlife habitat, and—her favorite— a restored wetland.

While most of the farms around her are straight crops and cornfields, Laura says, "I have a lot of diversity on the farm because it makes the farm work better. Complexity is the common denominator of functional ecosystems and sustainability."

By maintaining diverse habitats, she helps ensure that pollinators and natural enemies of pests visit the garden, and diverse crops help maintain soil health. "The way I farm is so tightly linked to my faith," says Laura. "I just can't think of any other way that I would be comfortable farming."

Submitted by Charity Grimes, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Dog, dirt, digging.

The words dog, dirt, and digging come together as I think of the Harrisonburg (Va.) Mennonite Church community garden. Dog: One congregational gardener, Roger Stearn, put in significant amounts of volunteer time at the garden and usually had his dog with him! As Roger hauled wood chips, planted vegetables for donation to a community center, watered, and weeded, the children of some neighbors to the church quickly made friends with Pepper. They now play with her whenever Roger is working. Making friends with our neighbors is a goal of the community garden.

Dirt: Gardening requires good dirt. Our congregation's garden attracted the attention of the county extension agent, who has advised us on ways to build up our garden's soil.

Digging: She introduced us to the "double dig" method, which has produced wonderfully loose, aerated soil and impressive harvest results. Garden consultant and start-up donor Tom Benevento suggested the "lasagna method" of soil preparation. Rather than digging, this method of soil preparation consists of placing a layer of cardboard on the grass followed by a layer of compost. Seed planting into the compost comes next, while earth worms are left to "dig" and mix the soil all summer. One of the plots employed this method, and a patch of green soybeans has responded with enthusiasm!

We hope that next summer even more neighbors and church gardeners will till the soil to grow food, to interact with one another, and to enjoy caring for God's earth.

Mark Keller, Harrisonburg, Va.

Backyard pigsty.

Just down the road from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Dylan Zehr, Nathan Derstine, Nathan Kauffman, Josh Lederach, and John Spicher invite friends and classmates to their home—Canon House—to help slaughter Batman and Robin, two hogs they bought and raised.

"We had a shed and pasture, so of course we decided to have pigs," Dylan says.

The group bought the hogs at a livestock auction and spent thirty minutes every day feeding them with scraps from a local restaurant. With the help of Lee Good, a local Mennonite, the five guys shot, hung, gutted, and skinned the hogs. In order to use everything they could from the hogs, they brined hams, cured bacon and pancetta, and made blood sausage and head cheese. "For three days we cooked and ate organs, because they go bad after seventy-two hours," Dylan says.

Along with two hogs, Canon House has eight chickens and one rooster running around their backyard. Dylan built a coop from scrap lumber when they were given the chickens for free. These are also fed from the restaurant's food scraps and, "at some point we will slaughter them and get a couple more." "We wanted to know what it feels like to raise an animal, shoot it, and eat it," Dylan says, "and the hogs were great as a learning experience."

Submitted by Esther Shank, Harrisonburg, Va.

Turn off before you soap up.

We lived in Australia for three years during one of the most severe droughts the country has ever had. Water restrictions had reached a high level, and people were strongly encouraged to keep shower times to four minutes or less. I found that an easy way to reduce water consumption is to turn the water off while applying soap. Not only is it water-efficient, but it is also easier to apply the soap when water isn't running down your body. I later extended this idea to washing hands. By doing a quick rinse before and after, I could do a thorough scrubbing of my hands with soap without wasting water.

Stephen Nighswander-Rempel, Winnipeg, Man.

To the last drop.

At Susan Garboden's home in Goshen, Ind., every drop of water counts. A visit to a remote Nicaraguan village made Susan more aware of water than ever before. While there, she took her turn collecting water from the well by hand, carrying it back to the house, and boiling it for consumption. "The entire process was exhausting and enlightening," she says.

Since her return, Susan has worked to conserve and reuse water around the home, and the garden is no exception. The Garbodens have installed their first rain barrel, direct their downspouts into the yard instead of the storm sewer, and, when changing the dogs' water dish, use the water on their plants. "I have become grateful that I have sufficient water," says Susan, "and continue to learn and change my gardening habits so that I can help care for this precious world of ours."

Submitted by Charity Grimes, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Market interactions.

At our local farmers' market, I told the farmer selling corn that I wanted a dozen ears. I proceeded to count a dozen into my bag. When I was done, he asked me how many I had taken. "Twelve," I replied, wondering if he thought I had taken too many. Instead he said, "For us, a dozen is thirteen. And here are a couple small ears as well."

When I went to the woman selling peaches, I said I wanted one box full. She said, "Here are a couple more that are aesthetically challenged," and added those on top of my already full box. I never have interactions like this at my local grocery store.

Linda Miller, Harrisonburg, Va.

Gardening as a spiritual practice.

Gratitude is the first step to distinguish between owning something and being conscious of what we truly have. Start with thanksgiving for this day, which includes walking and working in the garden. The most beautiful garden in the world is the one we are in and to which we contribute, where our consciousness of what is essential expands. In contact with our plants, we begin to grow together with the land. In befriending each plant in its uniqueness, our presence and deeds fill empty words, and we connect with an eternal, fertile and subtle dialogue with life.

This dialogue leads our heart and mind beyond narrow limitations of predictable reasoning, and, as our intelligence becomes calm, we rediscover, in essence, we are beings of relation and of contemplation.

Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler, Oakland, Calif.

For more information

Local Harvest: Find farmers markets, family farms, and other sources of local and sustainable food.

Farm to School: Farm to School connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.

Composting: Cornell Waste Management Institute provides a helpful guide to home composting.

Backyard Poultry: Includes all the essentials for starting your own backyard flock.

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