Homesteading Your Way Through Coronavirus Without Going Insane!

by Chanowk & Judith Yisrael

I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got its color, where it got its life - but there was no one to tell me. 

- George Washington Carver

For the past 10 years, Yisrael Family Urban Farm has worked at the intersection of ecological land stewardship, sustainable food and agriculture, racial equity and justice, education and community building, and workforce development. Based in Sacramento, Yisrael Family Farm’s mission is to transform the hood for G.O.O.D. (Growing Our Own Destiny) using urban agriculture as a tool for community engagement, empowerment and employment. 

With a single seed, not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence, we hope to rebuild and restore South Oak Park to a healthier place where all families have equitable access to the resources they need to thrive. Starting with a few plants in the backyard, our vision has grown to showing communities everywhere that the answers are contained in the soil. 

When faced with a time of trouble, we are forced to re-evaluate our priorities and focus on the things that really matter, namely, water and food.  Without access to these thingspanic ensues and our lives can easily come to a halt.  We are all guilty of over-consumption and in some cases downright wasteful because we’ve been conditioned to believe that the grocery stores will always be there with everything we need.  

This recent coronavirus outbreak (like many others) has pushed this reality in front of our faces once again.  Panic buying is at an all time high, store shelves are empty of water, non-perishable food itemsand many people are faced with high levels of stress. 

Many people are refocusing their priorities and looking to grow their own food. Even though it’s during a crisis we are firm believers that everything happens for a reason. 

As mentioned before, we’ve all been conditioned towards waste and over consumption so before getting into the food growing aspect of this section let’s talk about some ways in which we can maximize the foods we have. 

Regrow Your Veggie Scraps

The best way to continue to eat fresh healthy foods during times of quarantine is to start with the things you already have.  Onions, leeks and carrots are just a few things that you can regrow almost indefinitely without much garden space or in a pot or container next to a window that gets some sun. 

Proper Food Storage

Next is fruit and vegetable storage.  We’ve all had a situation where we’ve bought produce and left it out too long or put in the fridge only to come back and find a mess to clean up and material for the compost. Knowing whether food is best stored in the refrigerator, the counter, or in the freezer,  is important to making your fruits and vegetables last.   

One of the biggest mistakes I made early on in my journey of food production was not learning how to store the food I grew.  Imagine watching 25 pounds of summer squash go from pristine quality to compost over a period of days due to improper storage…never again. 

Now let’s talk about growing food. 

“Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it.” 

- Rumi

Get Growing

Many questions I get about food revolve around what to do if you live in an apartment or don’t have in-ground space so we will start there.  Many crops that we eat on the daily basis such as leafy greens, lettuce and radishes can be grown in containers outside or inside where there is a sun facing window. 

When it comes to container gardening, the general rule is the bigger the better, especially if you are growing something outside.  Big containers are hard to move once filled with soil so decide on placement before you start.  My favorite outside container is a half wine barrel, but you can use buckets, old bathtubs, baskets whatever just be sure that it has holes in the bottom and use gravel or river rocks at the bottom for drainage. 

Soil should be a potting soil marked organic or with the acronym OMRI (Organic Materials Research Institute) to make sure you're getting soil that’s not spiked with chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  To keep the soil fertile, use some type of organic commercial fertilizer

Crops to grow in this configuration include leafy greens as well as root crops like turnips, beets, carrots and radishes.  Root crops are my favorites, such as turnips and beets, because you get two crops for the space of one.  Garlic and other alliums like scallions & bunching onions do great as well.  Don’t stop there.  You can also grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other fruit bearing crops but get something to hold them up or they might fall over. 

No garden is complete without herbs, so let’s cover some of the well-known culinary varieties. Basil, Borage, Chives, Dill, Fennel, Rosemary and Sage all come to mind and do great in wine barrels for easy outside container gardening. Keep in mind that some herbs creep along the ground as they spread, like thyme, while others, like Basil, tend to grow tall.  Position them in a way that they all get good sun. 

Now that we've have covered quick growing leafy greens and herbs, let’s move to crops that are great for  long term storage in the fridge.  Many already know vegetables like potatoes, onions, and yams can be stored up to 5-7 months in the right conditions, while some varieties of squash last half a year. 

Don’t overthink this. What's important here is to get started. Mistakes are part of the journey and is nature's way of teaching you directly.

Let’s recap what you need to get started: 

  • Container  
    • Something that has holes in the bottom to drain.  If using Wine Barrels make sure you drill a few holes at the bottom and add gravel for drainage. 
  • Soil 
    • Safest kind is the kind that has OMRI(Organic Materials Research Institute) on it so you can know it’s relatively safe. 
  • Plant Diversity  
      • Root crops like Beets, TurnipsCarrots  and Radishes can go together because they grow the same. 
      • Tomatoes should have their own container since they grow tall and spread or you could use a wine barrel or other large container for planting more than one tomato plant.   
      • Herbs can go together as well, just make sure you place the herbs that grow tall in a place where they don’t shade the herbs that grow close to the ground.  Herbs such as peppermint and St John’s Wort should have their own container because they are invasive and will choke out any other plants. 
      • Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Jerusalem Artichokes, Asparagus, Ginger and Turmeric should have their own container for the same reasons as Peppermint. 
    • Get creative!!! Nature is forgiving for the most part as long as the plants have the things they need to grow.
  • Watering 
      • Stick your finger in the soil.  If your finger goes all the way down into the soil and you can’t feel moisture, then it’s time to water, there is no rule of thumb you have to check the soil and adjust.
  • Mulch 
    • Straw(not Hay) works well to protect the top layer of soil and keep it moist.  Some people us wood chips but I prefer Straw hay bales since it is easy to move and reuse when necessary.

Last but not least, if you go through all this or still need help starting your garden or how to quickly get food growing for you and your family, we can help you get started now..

For the last 5 years we've been building in-ground and container gardens in and around the Sacramento and surrounding areas via our Urban Roots Garden Build program.

We can help you install a low maintenance garden that can supplement your need to go to the store for vegetables and herbs.

Health and Immune System

Healing plants are all around us and the coronavirus has boosted the desire for more information on traditional herbal remedies. No matter where your ancestors hail from, they have used plants medicinally, for culinary uses and various rituals. Using plants for medicine is the absolute oldest healing system on earth.

With so many plant varieties available to us, learning about herbal remedies can sometimes be overwhelming if you’re new to herbs. In response to the growing demand of information on antiviral herbs and herbs that support the immune system, visit our blog article here.

In addition to herbal plant medicine, tonics are a great way to incorporate healing into everyday living. Judith’s recipe for Fire Cider has been a winter ally for us for several years. Judith teaches a Fire Cider class every fall in anticipation of the deep dark days of winter which often welcomes us to the common colds and flus. Here we offer our very own Fire Cider Recipe from Yisrael Family Urban Farm to assist you and your family with immune boosting goodness.

Fire Cider is known for being a great digestive aid, for easing headaches, and assists with sinus congestion. For dosing, take a shot glass daily, add a tablespoon or two in your vegetable curry or use it to make your own herbal dressing. For more acute ailments, take a tablespoon every couple of hours.

Classes on our urban farm are on hiatus during our current environment of social distancing, however we are developing other opportunities for you to connect with us remotely. Stay tuned for more information on that. In the meantime, Angie, who facilitates our Urban Farm Afro Yoga classes, is live via Instagram on Wednesdays at 10am.  You can get more information by linking up with Angie at @afroyogabyangie

In addition, Down Dog is offering all their apps - Down Dog, Yoga for Beginners, HIIT, Barre, and 7 Minute - free until April 7th for students and healthcare workers. These apps are free until July 1st.

Homeschooling Resources

We have seen our share of online posts and various communications to parents who are now trying to find the balance working from home while teaching their children. The language of Math is quite different when your child is accustomed to common core and you are teaching them how to carry the 1. Relax. Trust us. We homeschooled our children for several years and have found excellent ways to create a learning environment outside of the traditional classroom. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you navigate this new terrain.

Maintain a realistic schedule

It isn't necessary to try to maintain the same schedule and rigor your child had while in school. Keep in mind, schools are supported by a whole body of folks preparing meals (well sorta), keeping the spaces clean, ordering curriculum, and some will even offer transportation. Truth is, most families do not have the support to maintain all those areas while also being in the teacher role.

If your teenager's natural sleep cycle is to wake up at 10am, work with that. The extra rest is good for them. Use the early morning hours for preparing your day, practicing self-care, checking in at the office, or taking a free online class. If having school for 2 to 4 hours a day is all you can handle, that is wonderful. Just don't overthink it.

Meal preparation

Spending more time at home also means an increase in the preparation of meals at home. Include your child in the meal planning and preparation. Provide smaller children with a grocery store ad in the mailer and have them circle foods that are healthy for the body. Let them set the table and set a goal to sit down together to share a meal (with no devices). Find a new recipe and allow older children to help prepare it. Teach them to double the recipe by adding fractions, simple cutting techniques, and make them responsible for cleanup. For those young people who are more advanced in the kitchen, give them a budget for a week's worth of meals and challenge them to create a menu or meal plan staying within budget (including snacks!).

Reading time

Create quiet time for daily reading. Find books on subjects that are of interest to your child and allow them to read for 30 min to 1 hour a day. Have them verbally summarize what they read or they can write a summary paragraph.

Online resources

There are many resources available right at your fingertips. Here are some of our favorite online resources to utilize when teaching at home.

  • Kamali Academy- Afrikan-Centered Homeschool Curriculum
  • My Reflection Matters - online parent-teacher warehouse that curates educational resources that can serve as tools to support the healthy development of Black and Brown youth’s racial and cultural identities.
  • Sankofa Science Solutions - Sankofa Science Solutions provides opportunities of laboratory and in-the-field learning that activates within each child the ability to be innovative and creative in the fields of STEM, utilizing African Science that is relevant to the 21st Century Learner.
  • A List of Free, Online Boredom-Busting Resources

Have fun!

Don't forget to take time to have fun in all this. In the last week our family has played Old Maid, chess, dominoes and several others. This is a great opportunity to show the young ones how to play marbles or clear a spot in the kitchen for a good old fashioned game of jacks. Get the body moving by jumping rope, double dutch or affirmation hop scotch with a new twist!

We hope you find this blog of resources helpful as you navigate the next few weeks with your loved ones. If you have other great ideas or resources, feel free to share them in the comments below. And remember, we are rooting for you!

With much #yisraelpassion to you and yours...

Chanowk & Judith Yisrael

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