Can I Grow a Complete Diet?
Good nutrition is essential to human health, yet the complex details of human nutrition need not be fully understood in order to grow the foods you need to create a balanced diet.
When we consume food our bodies derive energy and essential nutrients from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carbohydrates provide energy through sugars and starches, proteins are necessary for growth and repair of the body, and fats provide a very concentrated source of energy. Additionally we benefit from vitamins, trace amounts of minerals, and an assortment of plant-derived molecules called antioxidants that help protect our bodies from disease and damage. The precise quantities required from each group are continually debated, however, as a general guideline the following numbers can help you to understand and plant for your nutritional need.
Tropical Crops for Nutrition
Yes, you can grow and enjoy a complete diet! Choose a wide variety of crops for each nutritional group to fulfill your energy, growth, and micro-nutrient needs.
Throughout the tropics, and the Pacific islands in particular, a tuber-based diet has sustained populations for many generations. The complementary consumption of tuber leaves and stems fill out many of the nutritional elements lacking in the tuber. Additionally the ease and abundance of growing fruit and nut trees, as well as perennial crops makes tropical subsistence both nutritionally complete and practical. The inclusion of multiple tree crops increases yield from a given area through the use of vertical growing space, and through the temporal distribution of fruiting times.
From Garden to Plate
A well designed tropical home garden rich with tuber crops, fruit trees, and a variety of annual and perennial vegetables will supply abundantly throughout the year. By following traditional Pacific island dietary patterns you can eat delicious and nutritionally complete meals from your tropical garden. For many, personal food choices are already guided by these cultural traditions. However, for others, a significant transition in diet should be considered in order to thrive from the bounty of a tropical subsistence garden. Browsing traditional Pacific island recipes and cookbooks may help in the selection of crops that will suit your palate.
While initially you may wish to supplement your diet heavily through store purchased items or farmer's market produce, growing edibles around your home provides the potential for food self-reliance. Since many tropical plants are propagated vegetatively through cuttings it is of vital importance to have a wide selection of plant materials in your garden to multiply your plantings in the future. The delights of having fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables are immediate, regardless of the possible necessity down the road.
Begin your garden now by selecting tropical crops suitable to your climatic zone. The following table outlines the nutritional values for a model nutritionally complete garden suitable for mid-elevation tropical locations receiving between 60-100 inches of rain per year. Many of these crops are early producing, most within a year (some within a couple of months), and in the right conditions will provide abundantly.
This article is excerpted from "Can I Grow a Complete Diet? -- Designing a Tropical Subsistence Garden" with the kind permission of the author, Taylor Thornton. Download the full article here. Mahalo to Mayumi Oda of Ginger Hill Farm for photo opportunities.