Three Levels of Sustainable Living - Growing Food in Any Living Space

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

As my own workspace closed its physical office indefinitely, I decided to take a break from Florida, road-tripping to Alabama, and Indiana to visit my respective pairs of grandparents. A green thumb is hereditary on both sides, and while my grandparents on both sides have always had a knack for growing their own food, seeing it on display in the face of the indefinite shift caused by COVID has provided an opportunity to compare and contrast the farm life, residential life, and the smaller space of my two-bedroom townhouse as it pertains to self-sufficiency and agriculture.

Small Spaces

Growing food within the confines of an apartment, rental property, or a small house can seem daunting, but it is by no means impossible. As an example of this, I’ll use my own aforementioned residence in Florida. As it goes without saying, there isn’t much open workspace to utilize in terms of a yard. However, food can be grown on balconies and in window sills. I’ve successfully been able to harvest several different kinds of vegetables, including onions, arugula, and potatoes on my small balcony. I even have a little mango tree sprouting up! As far as window sills are concerned, those that are South-facing provide the most utilitarian light, and they are perfect for herbs. Most of the plants I currently grow are herbs, and there is a seemingly endless supply of basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, chamomile, green onions, and lemon balm at my disposal. Many of these herbs are very adaptive, and they can be grown in different areas of high or low light. They make the house smell amazing, too.

As it goes without saying, growing out of an apartment or smaller residence hasn’t (at least in my personal experience) been completely self-sufficient. However, it has definitely been supplementary in terms of food consumption as well as educational with respect to learning how to utilize space for maximum efficiency.

Wide Open Fields

As a sharp contrast to this, having access to farmland can afford one the space to live completely self-sufficiently. As a child, I used to love visiting my grandparents in Alabama, who had a farm on which they grew everything from apples and peaches to turmeric and tomatoes. As an adult, it’s good to see that they’re still making good use of the land, and after picking about five pounds’ worth of blueberries (with quite a bit more to spare) last week, I decided to get my hands dirty and really take inventory of the pros and cons of this lifestyle.

The benefits of having a large plot of land are endless, not just from an agricultural perspective, but generally speaking. With relevance to the idea of becoming self-sufficient, the wide-open fields in which crops grow, as well as the surrounding woods that host wildlife like turkeys, deer, and rabbits, have proven invaluable. Food can be harvested year-round and jarred for later use, and if hunting is an option, meat can be procured in season and frozen for year-round use as well.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to everything. The option of having a large plot of land isn’t one that is readily accessible to most people. And even if land is abundant, maintaining the land to such a level of quality that it will produce food is a labor in both physical ability and patience. Manpower and resources have to be constantly invested into maintaining the land, and it’s often a full-time job.

Residential Areas

The residential life of inhabiting a house within a city or suburban community is the medium between the two aforementioned lifestyles, and this category is where most people are likely to find themselves. After making my way to Indiana, I got to check in on my other grandparents, who live on the outskirts of Indianapolis. In their retirement, they’ve really taken to staying active in the yard, planting carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, cherry trees, and various other fruits and vegetables in raised beds and in the ground. The kitchen window sill also hosts a place to grow herbs for miscellaneous cooking needs, and while my grandparents still make use of the local Kroger grocery store, it wouldn’t take much to make it so two seventy year-olds can sustain themselves completely off of food grown in the yard, especially by making use of canning and other preservation techniques.

While a yard is obviously more confined than the open fields of a farm, that means that it is also more consolidated. Crops can be maintained via the rain or a sprinkler attached to a garden hose, and it doesn’t take a whole day’s worth of work to spray the leaves for bugs, or to harvest ripe crops, or to generally look after the welfare of the land. It also means that one doesn’t have to mass-produce food in order to make good use of the land, as many people in residential areas such as these work within the city and don’t have the time to invest in maintaining larger areas. People that live in residential areas often also have the option of access to resources such as grocery stores, and thus the freedom of choosing how much yield they want to receive from the land on which they harvest.

While these examples are largely personal anecdotes, I hope that anybody looking into sustainable living will take some ideas from this to contribute to their own gardens. Living more sustainably might be dirty work sometimes, but with the amount of knowledge and resources available in this age of communication, it’s possible on all levels. Thank you for taking the time to read, and happy planting!


Paul Watson is the Marketing Chair for The Lighthouse Guild for the Gifted. His full bio can be found here:

28 views0 comments