By JOSE GERMAN-GOMEZ
For the Montclair local
Let’s stop pretending we can ignore the climate crisis. Signs of climate change have been multiplying for decades. We are already in the midst of the crisis.
Never-before-seen temperatures are occurring in the West and Midwest. The devastation is affecting our main sources of food. California provides 13.52% of the food we eat 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, our food is not sustainable, and that should be a concern.
Let us also not forget the limited water sources in the most food-producing states. We are seeing prolonged periods of drought in key agricultural areas.
Our food chain is in danger. If our most productive agricultural states are devastated by climate change, think about the repercussions in this part of the country. Food will become scarce and expensive. The number of food insecure people will increase to dramatic levels, with social consequences. Essex County already has the highest percentage of food insecure people in the state.
Now more than ever, we need to take control of the production of the food we eat. We need to change the way we garden at home. The time to act was yesterday; we are late now, but we can make dramatic changes and act to reduce the damage.
We do not need to panic but must prepare for the changes that will affect our country and the planet in the coming years. During World War II, around 20 million Victory Gardens were planted across the country. In 1945, these small home gardens provided about 40% of all vegetables consumed in the United States. We need to be proactive again and start creating our own crops at home.
Growing 40% of your vegetables just steps from your kitchen is quite doable, even in a small garden. If you don’t like growing vegetables, start learning. It is also a good idea to learn how to store food for the winter. Learn about urban agriculture and share the knowledge with your family. If you don’t have space to grow food, join a community garden, which is a great way to quickly learn and start putting your ideas into practice. Set achievable goals until you can achieve a comfortable level of food sustainability.
What can we do?
At home, if you have space to grow crops, you can start learning how to design your garden and grow your own food anytime. Ten 6-by-3-foot raised beds can produce enough to harvest at least 20 pounds of produce per week during the summer. This would be enough to reach 40% of the recommended dietary recommendations for vegetables for a family of four. Surpluses can be canned to be saved for the winter and the seeds can be saved for planting the following season. Sustainability in the home should become a skill to be passed on to future generations.
At the township level, we must ask our elected officials in Montclair to encourage community gardens in public spaces for those who live in apartments or lack space to grow their own food. In 2018, the municipality approved an ordinance supporting the creation of community gardens. Although the ordinance recognizes the value of community gardens, the municipality has not yet allocated public space to food crops. Most of the city’s schools have home gardens. During the summer, when gardens are most productive, schools are closed and most of the time their gardens do not grow much. School gardens could be accessible to the community when students are on summer vacation.
At the state level, we can demand that our lawmakers approve measures to make agriculture a high priority in the state and allocate the necessary funds to support our local farmers.
Everything is connected: Beyond food production, there is an obvious step the township and its residents could take to help mitigate climate change. Trees provide an immediate cooling effect and serve to sequester climate-altering carbon over the long term. We have the luxury of living in a community rich in trees, creating a sort of oasis in the midst of development and urban sprawl. Planting more trees is an urgent necessity, especially when our green canopy is threatened by diseases and exotic insects.
The time to wait for the signs of the climate crisis is over. Let’s do our part by taking immediate action at home and in our community. We can do it!
Jose German-Gomez is an environmental activist, Essex County Certified Master Gardener and a resident of Montclair. He is the founder of the Northeast Land Coalition.