Food in the Time of Coronavirus

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Look, it didn’t take long during our current crisis for folks to realize that, besides toilet paper, food is a necessity. And healthy food boosts your body’s chances to fight off disease. Is it worth the effort as we hobble through this seeming-apocalypse known as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic? Is it too late if you haven’t jumped on the turnip wagon yet? Is there maybe something else going on with homegrown, fresh-picked sustenance that feeds your soul at a time when a single flicker of hope can get you through the day — and night? (Who joins me in tossing and turning a whole lot more than usual right now?)

They say planting a seed is the greatest act of faith in the future, and so I plant. I invite you along to join me. Can’t hurt, right? I give gobs of free tips on my blog Food for My Daughters (and in the book by the same name). I’ll share a bit here, too, and maybe we can finally grow some peas on earth (or at least peas of mind). No time for this growing movement? No problem. I’ve tried a few other ways to get fresh food recently as well that may be helpful. Dig in.

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The Good

An act of faith in the future

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I used to have a little urban farm in the back, side, and front of my home in a metro-Atlanta suburb-city, but I eliminated it over the past few months because I am scheduled to go to Peace Corps Uganda June 2 as an Agribusiness Specialist. However, all Peace Corps Volunteers in more than 60 countries globally have been evacuated, and I anticipate my departure will be delayed. And so as shelter-in-place edicts came down one after the other (city, county, state), I whipped my little world back into shape. Note: every garden resembles the gardener. Mine is a hodgepodge of intermingled, overlapping ideas (welcome to my mind). Yours will be different. There is no right or wrong (hang tight — I’ll tell you about the potato lady). Just start. Here’s what I did the past two weeks during lockdown:

Gathered cardboard from curbsides on recycling day and laid it down (cost: FREE).

Intercepted tree companies cutting and chipping neighbors’ trees and had them drop their truckloads on my front lawn and moved it bucket-by-bucket (what the hell happened to my wheelbarrow?) to four different grow spaces (on top of the cardboard) around my little suburban property (including a Sharing Garden by the curb for my neighbors) (It came out super-cute — see photo below.) (cost: FREE).

Made biodegradable planting pots out of newspapers (cost: FREE). (See video here.)

Did a quick run into a garden store (which was empty) for organic potting soil and seeds, and ordered some other seeds online (cost: maybe about $60 total).

Planted in pots, wooden clementine boxes, a raised bed planter, and right into the ground. (See the “How-To” Bonus Content below for how to make a 1-Minute Victory Garden.)

Started using my spinning composters and worm bin again (I had been dialing down on them in preparation for leaving);

Built structures for vining crops to climb, out of tree limbs I cut down (cost: FREE, plus super fun — and fun matters, especially now).

Trust me — if you do nothing more than plant a single seed in a little pot on your kitchen counter, you will feel better knowing you took that act of faith in the future. May it grow, and grow, and grow.

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The Bad

It’s really not safe to shop in person (so what to do?)

It’s really simply not safe to shop in person inside a store right now. Every single person with whom you cross paths could be an asymptomatic carrier of COVD-19 (and despite what the governor of Georgia said as recently as April 1 about us just finding this out within the last 24 hours, we’ve known this for awhile — it’s not news). Of course you can (and probably did) stock up on shelf-stable basics like cans of beans and peanut butter, but what to do about the fresh fruits and vegetables? I tried two methods:

  1. I ordered delivery from Whole Foods for the first time, and it went well. The best news is that if you are an Amazon Prime member and shop at Whole Foods already, your past orders are listed online so you can just click and add what you already like to your cart. The big problem is availability of delivery slots. Depending where you live, you may be sh*t-outta-luck on this.
  2. I joined Misfits Markets, which ships me a box of 10–13 pounds of organic fruits and veggies (some of which have super-minor things “wrong” with them) every week for like $22. I’ve gotten two boxes so far and just look at the bounty (pictured above and below)! With more time to cook right now and with my younger daughter home from college due to the crisis, we’re whipping up all kinds of good meals. (See pages 94–95 in my book, Food for My Daughters, for what to do with a boxful of fresh produce, such as from a local farm — which is a great thing to check out, too, by the way, if they offer boxed deliveries and contactless pick-ups. Personally, I’m not going near an in-person Farmers Markets right now, however.)
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The WTF?

Folks in need are more in need right now

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For those who struggle in usual times, now is a sucker-punch to the gut. Literally. Kids home from school aren’t getting what might have been their main meal of the day (and the timeframe for returning to school is Fall Semester, at the earliest.) (That’s five months away, folks.) Low-wage workers may have lost their sources of income. Hoarding by people of means at stores may mean that the products that qualify for the governmental Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) food benefits are not available to those who need them. Here’s how you can help:

If you are going to shop in person, don’t go on the first couple of days of the month when food assistance accounts refill and those who have been stretching every dollar are stocking up.

If your community has a food pantry or other assistance program, donate goods and/or money, and/or volunteer, if you feel comfortable doing so while maintaining a distance from others of at least six feet.

Donate to my friend David’s nonprofit food-rescue operation, Helping Feed Atlanta(pictured above). David (pictured above) is high-risk for COVID-19 and has stepped back to let his team of volunteers carry on the mission right now. He has two old vans that need gas and maintenance and he relies on donations

“How-To” Bonus Content

1-Minute Victory Garden

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Let’s cut to the chase. You’re on board with the move to start growing your own food and create a Victory Garden during the coronavirus crisis. But you are overwhelmed with absolutely everything right now, and trying to figure out the formula for soil and seed success is just not in your bandwidth.

You’re overthinking this. Breathe. Just breathe.I’m gonna have you up and growing in one minute for about $10 US. Seriously. The most important thing to do is start, and grow from there. So:

  1. Buy a large bag of organic potting spoil from your local hardware store or Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc. (as of a few days ago, the garden section was still empty so physical distancing may not be hard yet), or see if someone will deliver it for you;
  2. Buy a packet of organic basil seeds (or lettuce, if your climate is colder than Atlanta’s);
  3. Put the bag down somewhere with a minimum of six hours of daily sunlight right on the ground or your patio, deck, or balcony (or ask if you can do so in a small space near your multifamily home);
  4. Rip open the bag enough to expose a good portion of the soil but still contain it (voilá — you now have a raised bed garden);
  5. Sprinkle seeds and then mix them in lightly with your hand or a stick;
  6. Water them. (Maybe poke some holes in the lower sides of the bag so it can drain.)

Continue to water daily for 7–10 days. When these seeds sprout and grow, you can decide whether you want to just leave them there or transplant them (after they have two sets of leaves) to other growing areas you may have had the time and energy to prepare (see what I do with wood chips). That’s it. Done. You’re a Victory Gardener.

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Okay, that’s a wrap for this month, folks. You can see all issues of this newsletter to date here (it’s not just about food). Tap into my blogs, Food for My Daughtersand Traveling at the Speed of Bike (they both have free bonus resources and are updated frequently) and maybe even check out my books (pictured above). You may find something useful. Need a writer who specializes in triple-bottom-line sustainability? Looks like I’m gonna be here for awhile, so let’s connect on LinkedIn. Also, be sure to subscribe to this newsletter by clicking the button below so we can keep in touch as we face and embrace the challenges ahead in our changing world.

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Oh, wait! The potato lady story! So I have a friend from Russia who personally witnessed her grandfather survive the dissolution of the Soviet Union and collapse of the economy by planting potatoes, so she wanted to start a garden here and asked me for advice. I told her it was too late to plant potatoes and then made more seasonally-appropriate suggestions. She planted potatoes anyway. You know why, folks? Because it’s not about the potatoes.It’s about feeling safe, and she ultimately needed to connect to her grandfather’s example. Sure, she planted other things, too, and she will most likely have a bounty (maybe even of potatoes). Bottom line? Don’t overthink this stuff. Just do what feels right. And maybe, just maybe, everything will be ok.

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Trust the journey,


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