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Growing Our Groceries

A lot of factors contributed to the decision to supplement my groceries by working my back yard. I was resistant at first because there’s a bit of infrastructure that goes into a successful project but the logic overruled my fear. I’m a single mom and sole caretaker of a very active and curious four-year-old boy. I’m spending at least $50 a week on eggs, potatoes, fresh fruits and vegetables. What if I could grow my groceries?

Like many city dwellers, I’ve had many potted plants that I thought would supplement my grocery list. Tomatoes and peppers mostly as well as lots of herbs. They never lasted nor did they provide me with anything to eat. It took me years and lots of tries to learn that if the plant is going to nourish me then I must nourish the plant (and not with fertilizer).

Last summer, the small Space Coast Florida town we live in passed an ordinance that allowed backyard chickens. This was a huge turning point for me in believing that backyard grocery gardens were possible. There was a learning curve for sure. Turns out, chickens love fresh fruits and veggies too (and the leaves and the stems)! They devoured my attempt at a winter crop - bush beans and brussels sprouts. Sweet peppers and tomatoes never got bigger than a pencil eraser before getting nibbled off their stalk. After getting creative with some garden borders and chicken wire, I have finally sectioned off the garden from the chickens.

People will say chickens tear up your yard and they are correct. However, they are great at removing invasive plants. I have lots of dandelion and natural grasses in my yard but the hurricanes over the last few years have brought over a small white flower related to clover called “Florida snow”. It’s a tropical ground cover found in places like Jamaica and the Bahamas and doesn’t seem to survive temperatures below 50°F. Thanks to the chickens, all the dead hairy-looking plants are pulled up, creating space for the native ground cover to fill in.

I’ve had huge success with eggs (we get about two dozen a week and give away a lot), tomatoes, and sweet peppers (eating my crispy fresh peppers as dipping scoops for my hummus as we speak). I am hopeful for eggplant, blueberries, lemons and kumquats as the plants have lots of blooms or lots of new growth. Further, I have started two rows of potato mounds. I have rosemary, mint, stevia, lemongrass, catnip, chives, and basil for cooking and teas. The “Sunshine State” is not a misnomer so of course we have a robust aloe plant.

Raising plants that we consume is hard work physically and emotionally. There are challenges to overcome and lessons to be learned. I am by no means an expert gardener or chicken keeper, but I could not have the success I’ve had without being in the moment and learning from each step I take. The more time I spent working the garden, caring for the plants and interacting with the chickens, the more I began to understand the natural cycles that happened all around me every day. There are days where I’m rocking a farmer’s tan and I can’t get the dirt out from underneath my fingernails. I love it. I get the same peace living in the moment from growing my groceries that I get kayaking the lagoon or hiking through the hammocks. Going to the grocery store is a chore, but growing your groceries is an adventure. Always Choose Adventures.

Rebecca Chapman

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