OK, I'll admit it - I'm very nervous about the state of the economy. I've lived through many recessions, downturns, and bear markets... but this seems different, more serious. This feels like something that could have a dramatic impact on some of the fundamental ways we live and work and travel and eat during the upcoming years.
Home foreclosures are predicted to increase through most of '09, as many more ARM's with 2-5 year teaser rates reset in coming months, plus some leading economists expect unemployment to reach 9% a year from now, even if the Detroit automakers manage to somehow stay afloat.
Store brands are gaining in popularity, high-end wines are seeing their sales drop, small cars are suddenly popular, retirements are being postponed, and hundreds of other big and small changes are taking place as we collectively struggle with "new rules." Let's face it - the folks who knew how to fix everything themselves and grew most of their own food have been dwindling off. It may be time to relearn some of those old self-reliance skills.
Along those lines, there does seem to be an increased interest in backyard vegetable and fruit growing. I recently read about a new venture in Portland, Oregon, which has expert gardeners contracting with homeowners to convert yard space into organic vegetable gardens. The entrepreneurs do all the labor of skinning off grass, amending the soil, seeding and tending the spaces. In return, the homeowners receive a generous share of the produce. The extra vegetables are then sold at farmer's markets or through subscription programs. As I understand it, the available yard space must be some minimum size and, of course, not shaded or too steep.
One thing I found especially intriguing about this idea was the number of people who signed on to the program and how many more have indicated interest in doing it next year. Conceivably, it could lead to farm-like food acreage being created piecemeal within urban settings throughout the country. (Here's a business idea for you good gardeners with time available - in effect, become a sharecropper!)
With all the unexpected-extended-family situations and other hardships that are now developing because of foreclosures and unemployment, turning a back yard (or even a front yard) into food production makes good sense, sort of a modern-day victory garden effort. I really like the concept of knowledgeable gardeners setting up the growing process, thereby eliminating the trial-and-error that often frustrates beginners. Also, I hope that everything we've learned about soil biology can help new organic gardens thrive even during their first season.
Besides the food cost savings of the Portland program, I would expect the participating homeowners to be amazed at the wonderful flavors that they encounter, maybe for the first time in their lives. Just picture someone taking their first bite into a Brandywine tomato fresh-picked from their own yard. It's hard to imagine them ever turning their growing beds back into nonproductive lawns again, even after our economy recovers.
Good growing, and my best wishes to all of you for the upcoming holidays.