Squatters and Supplementary Farming

People generally think of squatters as those who live in the basements of dilapidated urban buildings. Detroit and parts of Chicago come to mind. But Iowa has its share of squatters, and my guess is that number is about to rise drastically. After all, real estate is expensive, and the state’s economy is about to take a big, big hit. I feel fortunate just to have a roof over my head.

With that in mind, it’s a very special thing when you find a space to maintain what is essentially an illegal garden. Mine looks like this:


That’s just one of the beds. Down in front is luffa (aka “loofah”), which I’m growing for the first time this year:


I’ll eat some of the fruit and try to turn the rest into sponges. They supposedly need over 150 warm days to mature, so fingers crossed this season lasts through September.

Behind that is butternut squash, and beyond that, the kohlrabi is starting to bulk up:


Before now, I’d assumed it was a root. Nope. It’s the stem that we buy in supermarkets. There’s also broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, kale, lettuces, horseradish, carrots, and peppers. Here’s the first tomato of the year, which I just noticed yesterday:


All of this is on land that is not mine. It actually belongs to a church. Before you condemn me to hell, you should know that this is a tiny patch of an acreage that the church has owned and left undeveloped for over 35 years. Left unchecked, nature has reclaimed what was once an enormous lot empty but for weeds and ruts.

I’m not complaining. Instead of yet another strip mall, there are mulberry trees and patches of wild roses and plenty of room for wildlife. And on top of that, there’s still room for more gardens:


The neighbors have followed suit in cultivating their own squats nearby. We’re not the first people to do this, and it’s a natural progression in the ever-growing DIY and organic communities. At the very least, people want to know where their food comes from. What better way to do that than to grow it yourself?

What started as a small experimental patch of Egyptian onions has evolved into about 120 square feet of raised beds plus spillover. In the long run, it probably only saves a hundred bucks or so. Still, I think that’s enough to qualify it as supplementary farming. Salads all summer, mofos.

But this garden wouldn’t do nearly as well if it weren’t at its present location, on top of a hill with plenty of sunlight and excellent drainage. Is it ethical to make use of someone else’s unutilized land for the purposes of feeding yourself? What if you also feed family and friends? Granted, I could contact church leaders and ask permission. You’d think a church would share freely, but you never know.

Personally, I think we’re obligated to make use of what land we can, especially considering the wage and class gaps that continue to grow exponentially. It’s outrageous that 96% of supermarket salad greens are trucked in from California and that the average grocery store apple is over a year old, creating waste at every logistical stage and decreasing the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables. In the long run, it’s costing us so much more than we tend to realize.

Americans already throw away about 60 MILLION TONS of food per year. I can tell you from experience that using food from your own garden greatly reduces waste in addition to providing you with veggies that are at their peak in terms of nutritional value.

So in the end, we’re paying more money for shittier food, about half of which we don’t even eat.

On that note, here are some more sexy pictures of plants:

Loofah from another angle because I am enamored.
Every single one of those yellow blossoms will become a cucumber one day.
More yellow blossoms = butternut squash
This is after I mowed down the strawberries, which you’re supposed to do after they stop bearing fruit. I upped the color saturation to help you see where the new plants are coming up. The other stuff at right is leaf lettuce and kale.
Bonus! Beetles defoliating a nearby weed. I’m keeping an eye on you guys.