Celebrating our Food Independence Day 

click to enlarge Offerings at U-Relish's City Market stand. - BRANDON KNAPP

If you're thinking about planting a garden this year, Cara Dafforn of U-Relish Farm in Fountain Square has a couple of suggestions for varieties to grow: "mortgage-lifter tomatoes" and "boot-strap beets," both from Victory Garden Seeds.

While environmental concerns may be on top of some locovore's minds, Dafforn points to the condition of the economy as a main reason why we need to declare our "food independence." "What will we do if gas prices continue to go up, and trickle down to food prices?" she asks. "What are we doing locally to sustain our food system?"

Dafforn is one of the guests of honor at Saturday's first annual Food Independence Day celebration at the Earth House, sponsored by Farmersmarket.com. The family-friendly event will feature workshops, a screening of the 2009 documentary FRESH, and an opportunity to explore solar trailers from Green Alternatives. The event is free, and attendees are encouraged to bring a dish to share at the local food potluck.

Dafforn's efforts in urban farming and preparing in-a-minute crock pot meals (sold at City Market and other venues around the city) are motivated by stretching the dollar. She excitedly details an historical trend in the 1800s called the "kitchen garden," where families grew just enough on a small plot of land to feed their household. This same concept translated into the storybook "vegetable patch," and after WWII became "victory gardens." Today, the name is the more romantic "revival garden," but the idea is the same: make hard-earned money go as far as it can when it comes to feeding a family.

The biggest misconception about urban farming? That it takes a lot of time. Dafforn spends 20 minutes a day on her garden - and is a proponent of simply paying attention, "tending" daily, rather than letting the weeds, watering, and pests get control and become overwhelming.

If plagued by gardening woes, it helps to have a relationship with a farmer at the market - when you know the name of your farmer, you can look her in the eye and ask for help with your own gardening challenges. Food independence can be as much about fostering a helpful community as it is about frugality.

And living in helpful community is something absolutely necessary for Laura Fisher, a 20-plus-year resident of Woodruff Place - she's growing a garden in the bathroom of a house she shares with friends.

Which is apparently fine by her housemates, as well as over 7000 Twitter followers. Using the handle @bathroomfarmer, Fisher is documenting her indoor vertical garden via social media and a blog - her adventures, start-to-finish, including disasters. "I had no clue what I was doing, and made every mistake possible."

Starting less than a year ago, with no gardening experience, Fisher's goal was similar to Dafforn's: She wanted to see just how cheaply she could grow food. Her standard measure was to use as many recycled items as possible (growing basil in a milk carton), and for other supplies buy items that could be purchased with food stamps.

"I take the bus or walk everywhere. When they closed down our last grocery store, all that was left was the Dollar General. I buy seeds and soil from the dollar store and amend it to improve the quality. I want this to be something doable by a person who uses public transportation and is on food stamps."

Why the bathroom? It had the only wall in her house that wasn't being used for anything. She rigged an inexpensive lighting system, scoffing at email offers of similar systems costing hundreds of dollars. Her goal is to be able to show, step-by-step, exactly how to build an indoor garden, start-to-finish - again, for a person who might have no outdoor space to use for a kitchen garden.

Andrew Brake's contribution to food independence is his Project Poultry, which provides chicken coops to local schools. He hopes to place 20 coops in the first year. For him, having chickens is about the convenience of not having to drive to the store to buy something he can get in his backyard. Coops are also a good destination for food scraps that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

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