Volunteers work together in the Pine Street Community Garden in Montclair. (FRIENDLY JOSE GERMAN-GOMEZ)
By JOSE GERMAN-GOMEZ
For Montclair Local
Let’s stop pretending we can ignore the climate crisis. The signs of climate change have been increasing for decades. We are already in the middle of the crisis.
Temperatures in the West and Midwest are unprecedented. The devastation is affecting our major food sources. California provides 13.52% of the food we consume nationally, followed by Iowa (7.43%), Nebraska (5.83%), Texas (5.70%), and Minnesota (4.55%). Our beloved “Garden State” produces 0.31%. As the most densely populated state, we are not nutritionally sustainable and that should be a cause for concern.
Also, let’s not forget the limited water sources in the food producing countries. We are experiencing prolonged periods of drought in important agricultural areas.
Our food chain is in danger. If our most productive agricultural states are devastated by climate change, consider the effects in this part of the country. Food is becoming scarce and expensive. The number of people with food insecurity will increase dramatically, with social consequences. Essex County already has the highest percentage of food insecure people in the state.
Today more than ever we need to take control of the production of our food. We need to change the way we garden at home. The time to act was yesterday; We’re running late now, but we can make dramatic changes and reduce the damage.
We do not need to panic; we should prepare for the changes that will affect our country and the planet in the years to come. About 20 million victory gardens were laid out across the country during World War II. By 1945, these small home gardens provided approximately 40% of all vegetables consumed in the United States. We need to get active again and start producing our own crops at home.
Producing 40% of your vegetables within steps of your kitchen is very doable, even in a modest garden. If you’re not growing vegetables, start learning. Learning how to preserve food for the winter is also a good idea. Find out about urban farming and share the knowledge with your family. When you don’t have space to grow food, join a community garden which is a great way to learn quickly and put your ideas into action. Set achievable goals for yourself until you’ve achieved a comfortable level of food sustainability.
What can we do?
If you have room to grow at home, you can always start learning how to design your garden and produce your own food. Ten 6 by 3 foot raised beds can produce enough to harvest at least 20 pounds of fruit a week during the summer. This would be enough to meet 40% of the Recommended Dietary Guidelines for Vegetables for a Family of Four. Surplus can be kept in cans for the winter, and seeds can be saved for next season’s sowing. Sustainability at home should become a skill that can be passed on to future generations.
At the community level, we must ask our Montclair elected officials to encourage community gardens in public spaces for those who live in apartments or who have no space to grow their own food. In 2018 the municipality passed an ordinance on the creation of community gardens. Although the ordinance recognizes the value of community gardens, the municipality has not yet allocated public space for growing food. Most of the schools in the city have vegetable gardens. In summer, when the gardens are most productive, schools are closed and their gardens usually don’t grow much. The school garden could be accessible to the community during the summer vacation.
At the state level, we can demand that our legislators approve measures that give agriculture a high priority in the state and provide the necessary means to support our local farmers.
Everything is interconnected: beyond food production, there is an obvious step that the township and its residents could take to help protect the climate. Trees offer an immediate cooling effect and serve to store climate-changing carbon in the long term. We have the luxury of living in a tree-lined community, of creating a kind of oasis in the midst of development and urban sprawl. Planting more trees is urgently needed, especially when our green canopy is threatened by disease and exotic insects.
The time to wait for signs of the climate crisis is over. Let’s do our part by taking immediate action in our homes and communities. We can do this!
Jose German-Gomez is an environmental activist, certified master gardener in Essex County, and a resident of Montclair. He is the founder of the Northeast Earth Coalition.