About 20 years ago I was at a wedding, talking with an old guy who grew up in L.A. in the 1930s. He graduated from Manual Arts High School. I told him how envious I was he got to live in the city before freeways and strip malls and straight pipe mufflers and tagging and homeless encampments.
He looked at me like I was stupid. “1934 was horrible. I was hungry.”
Yeah, yeah. But one third the population. The Red Car. Craftsman bungalows everywhere. No smog. Jake Gittes.
Like a putz, I began embellishing with film references. The man grew noticeably upset. Indignant.
“You don’t understand. I was hungry. Understand? I waited in line with my mother for flour to make bread.”
We have not had shortages of basic goods since the 1970s. We haven’t had hunger since the Great Depression.
Ours has been a world of ever cheaper calories, of YouTube testimonials of retail ‘hauls’ –look at everything I got at Aldi for $100!- of gout-ridden families waddling through Target, their carts piled with pizzas and cereal and impulse buys. Long supply chains and just-in-time inventory work really well until there is a bump in fertilizer costs. Or a lost shipping corridor. Or the price of fuel per tractor/day goes from $68 to $128. Or the price of barley feed from $295 to $470/ton. That’s just in America.
Potash and urea have quadrupled on the international markets. The Ukraine spring planting (25% of the global wheat) has been curtailed for obvious reasons.
Cheap food, like cheap fuel, may no longer be possible for the foreseeable future. Some of us may have to relearn the lived experience of our great grandparents, the people who saved their bacon grease and kept their money in mattresses.
Fortuitously and wholly unrelated to global events, Mrs.UpintheValley decided this was the year she would garden in earnest. Back in January we put together some containers, thinking it might be pleasant, not realizing it was like buying BitCoin in 2017.
I built four of these for her. Each four feet by eight, 18 inches deep. Materials were about $100 per. Half the lumber was recycled. She filled the bottom with free chips, followed by one third compost, free from the city, about half bagged soil, and then a layer of mulch on top, also free. Looking left to right you can see the stages of filling, and the string line grid.
If you’re a salad freak like us, it’s a bowl of Eden every day, courtesy of Mother Earth.
If you plot it correctly, you can pack a lot of food in a small space. The fourth box is strictly for tomatoes, though they are all babies now.
With government mandated food rationing in effect during WW II, gardens flourished across Los Angeles. In 1942, roughly 15 million families planted home crops; by 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food—40 percent of all the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States.
Good times make for weak men. Weak men make for hard times. Hard times make for stronger women. Strong women bring back tolerable times.