From Handouts to How-to

tucson, arizona — Everywhere you go in America, prices are rising: of gas, goods, and especially food. It’s getting tough for many Americans, and even food banks are having a hard time getting by — their prices are rising, too. But at this time of economic downturn, the Tucson Community Food Bank is demonstrating how long-term thinking can solve food insecurity. The Food Bank believes that gardening isn’t just a pastime for the well-to-do, but that it’s an important adaptation that anyone with access to a little space, water, and sunlight can make.

I recently attended a gardening workshop at the Tucson Community Food Bank. The event took place in a beautiful seven-thousand-square-foot organic demonstration garden next to the Food Bank, in an industrial part of town. The garden was filled with tomatoes, beans, chiles, and other vegetables, proving that good food can be grown anywhere. The chicken coop was bustling with chickens eating garden scraps, and the compost pile stood off to the side, a testament to efficient “waste” management.

The workshop, this one in English but they also offer them in Spanish, taught the basics of how to start your own garden, from picking the best spot in your yard and selecting appropriate plants, to how to water efficiently. We learned how to compost kitchen scraps and how to be more self-sufficient in general. And the program extends its reach beyond the classroom walls. The Food Bank gives away free compost to new gardeners until they can develop their own supply, and even offers free on-site consultations; an expert will come to your house to help you design a garden that works for you. It also holds weekly farmers’ markets where fresh vegetables and eggs can be purchased at affordable prices. The Tucson Community Food Bank isn’t just offering food, it’s offering good food.

The best part of these programs is that they facilitate a shift in thinking from handouts to how-to. By creating your own garden and growing your own food, you learn skills that improve your quality of life while also improving your economic situation. Gardening at home reduces the need for fossil-fuel-derived fertilizer and fuel for transportation. And it builds community too, since many gardeners end up sharing their excess harvest with neighbors.

In the face of climate change and energy challenges, what creative ways are you finding to forge healthy and durable lives and communities? Send submissions — five hundred words or fewer — to Orion, 187 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, or via {encode=”” title=”e-mail”}. Submissions become property of Orion.


  1. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Finally someone is putting this overused quote into action!

    What’s interesting is that, during these hard times, the fisherman is as much the food bank clients as it is the food bank itself. As everyone tightens their purse strings, food banks will feel the crunch, yet they are in demand now more than ever. What better way to provide food for those in need than by taking their own advice, and producing it on-site.

    Nice work Tucson Food Bank.

  2. This is great to hear. I would like to be growing all my food or buying from farmers markets. The issue, here in Tucson, is a) the climate, and b) the fact that the food at local farmers markets is more expensive than Whole Pay Check’s. I’ve often wondered why this seems to be the case at every farmers market I go to, even in places like Oregon where there would seem to be enough supply to bring the prices down. As a child in Illinois, one of the plusses of buying from the local market, besides the obvious social and health reasons, was the fact that the food was cheaper. Does anyone know what has happened to change this? $5.00 per lb. for tomatoes is hard to stomach.

  3. 1) Air dry all laundry- I had a put a lock on the dryer cord to convince my daughters I was serious- they have learned to plan ahead! I wash all laundry in cold water, always wash full loads, use an outside clothesline a drying rack inside if it is raining. It’s good for the earth and great for your skin, a free humidifier in the house. Which also makes it feel a few degrees warmer in winter, and cooler in summer. I use soapnuts for laundry.

    2) Buy all organic food.

    3) Buy all organic non-toxic beauty care products and make-up. I make my own skin care cleanser and moisturizers. I make my own soap. I use Jane Iredale cosmetics.

    4) Use baking soda and vinegar for cleaning the bathroom. I use Ms. Meyer Clean Day for dishes, Citri-Clean for counters and general purpose cleaning. I use a loofah for scrubbing dishes (I am growing my own right now so I won’t have to buy them anymore!) My sister is making scrubbies by crocheting them, we will offer these for sale soon!

    5) Take cloth bags to store for groceries and all other purchases. Take muslin bags I made to grocery store for produce.

    6) Recycle, re-use, make my own and have stopped buying anything I don’t really need.

    7) Don’t use paper towels, never have. Used cloth diapers for all 5 kids.

    Don’t buy stuff in plastic, I try to buy all glass. Store all food in glass. Re-use glass jars. I mostly buy real food (meat, produce) try to not buy anything that needs a label, so no packaging.

    9) Have been using recycled toilet paper for years but am considering switching to cloth at home. (don’t freak, we all used that same choice when we used cloth diapers and wash clothes on our baby’s tushes!)

    10) Make my own gluten free granola, make my own mayonnaise, salad dressings, spice blends.

    11) Compost all kitchen and garden waste. I have just started vermiculture (red worms).

    Why? Worm Farming

    How? Cheap Worm Bin

    13) Bokashi (a way to deal with indoor kitchen scraps with NO odor and yields compost WAY faster. I have been using the Bokashi method of dealing with kitchen waste for about 3 weeks now…I love it!

    14) Use very low flow shower heads. Ace Hardware has a 1.5 GPM with a shut-off valve.

    15) Use all CF light bulbs…and use them as little as possible. I have one evening a week that I use no lights..on Shabbat! Dinner by candlelight!

    16) Use grey water from shower (I keep a 3 gallon bucket in shower and use it throughout the day to flush the toilet, take what’s left to the flower beds.

    17) Use water from rinsing dishes to water flower beds.

    18) Use a broom on all my wooden floors instead of using vacuum cleaner.

    19) Run as few errands as possible, car pool and combine trips.

    20) Use micro-cloths to clean with, even on glass you do not need cleaning products!

    21) NEVER buy bottled water. I bought a Kleen Kanteen for each person in the family, we refill and take with us. I’ve had mine over a year.

    22) Go paperless or CD-less as much as possible. I provide my clients with emails of my book, but still put cookbook software on CD.

    23) Unplug all appliances not being used. Yes, that cell phone charger and TV are using power when you aren’t using them! I use power strips to keep them plugged in, turn them off at night, or when I’m gone all day.

    24) Use only a hurricane lamp when we sit outside at night. It gives enough light to read by…but is perfect turned low …for just hanging out. Very romantic, too!

    25) Use candlelight at dinner, not just on Shabbat!

    26) I am building an outdoor batch-type water heater to use with an outdoor shower.

    27) I put in a raised bed garden last summer, have been eating lettice, swiss chard, flowering kale, onions and sweet potatoes all winter. seeds started for lettuce, I will soon have my first tomatoes, both cherry and Big Sweets. I just planted herbs and cucumbers. I have beets (mmmm, beet greens), nasturtiums (the whole plant including the flowers are edible) a banana tree.I am replacing some of my azaleas with blueberries.

    28) I use a non-disposable razor, an old-fashioned stainless steel, very high quality razor that uses double edged blades. It was 24.00 from The blades are 10 for 5.99, and they are double edged! They give the closest, smoothest shave you can imagine! No disposable blade can compare.

    29) Wash dishes with 2 dish pans in the sink, one for hot soapy water, one with warm rinse water. Do glasses first, pause a moment to let the soapy water drip off, then move to rinse water. Stop when rinse water is almost full and rinse quickly. Repeat with silver, plates, then pots and utensils. All with 2 dishpans full of water. Then I pour the soapy water, with all that organic matter, onto my plants in the garden. It helps repel pests and loosens the soil. And good for the biceps when you carry it outdoors.
    30) I water my garden with buckets from the rain barrels that are under the eaves of my garage. 10 feet from my garden. The front flower garden gets watered entirely from the dish water.

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