I just finished reading a pre-publication copy of Paradise Lot, by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates (out next year) that makes me wonder exceedingly about the meaning of what we refer to as “space.” On only one tenth of an acre, the authors tell how they squeeze in 150 to 200 different kinds of food plants, including some in a pond and more in a greenhouse, all for year round eating in the north. From this “space” they are harvesting 400 pounds of perennial fruits and vegetables every year (some of which I have never heard of, like Rebecca violets) plus lots of annual vegetables. The book includes a detailed layout map showing how they do it, but I’m still finding it hard to believe. The best way I can think to describe their method is that they’ve eliminated space in their garden except for the pathways, which they are trying to fill with useful low-growing plants too. From now on, when someone asks me how we can prevent food scarcity forever I have a ready answer. Simply eliminate our preconceived notions of space. With work and knowhow, we can always find room to grow more food. Using the forest food methods of Paradise Lot, I have a hunch we could right now be growing all the food we need simply by eliminating all the space taken up by America’s lawns and filling it with food producing plants. If we run out of that space, there’s thousands and thousands of miles along all our roads which could be growing food or fiber.
Recently, we took our grandson back to college. Once more my notion of space was shattered. In a silo- shaped, tall apartment complex where he rooms, architects figured out a way to accommodate hundreds of students more or less comfortably by eliminating space. Something occupies nearly every square foot of that building. The cramped conditions struck me as inhuman but all the students I asked insisted that they “love” being in college.
How extravagant I am. My gardens occupy nearly two acres including the orchard trees and I don’t produce any more food than Paradise Lot does. I am now determined to get rid of all that wasted space between my conventional rows, something I had already started to do because of age. The rewards are immediate. There is less space to cultivate and therefore less expense and surprisingly less muscle needed. I can do “space-less” gardening with hoe and hand easier than a large space with a mechanical tiller. And cutting down the size of the garden means we don’t grow more food than we can eat.
Our house provides at least ten times the amount of square footage for us than our grandson’s apartment building does for him. When I think of the huge size of many newer houses I have visited in recent years, I wonder exceedingly. How often the people who live there admit that their houses are too big. The gross amount of unnecessary space that must be cleaned and heated and maintained in addition to the appalling cost of constructing these huge receptacles of space is obscene. That so many people borrowed so much money to trap all that space inside their houses is the main reason the economy collapsed.
How far off am I to say that space doesn’t really exist? It is a creation of the human mind. Objects in “space” define space and we could add many centuries, maybe immortality, to the earth and save many billions of dollars just by not pretending that space is real and that we need to capture very large amounts of it in our homes to be happy. We have gotten to the point environmentally where we are spending more money maintaining space than we are on objects in space.