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The Truth About Growing Safe and Healthy Food at Home

Heirloom lettuce growing in organic vegetable garden.
Safe and Healthy Food Garden

Growing food is no joke. It is one of the most critical jobs that we human beings have on this planet. Our sustenance. Our families sustenance. The sustenance of our neighbors, our community, our town, our country. But what is sustenance?

From my dear friends at Merriam-Webster…

Sustenance is a noun.

1a: means of support, maintenance, or subsistence : LIVING

2a: the act of sustaining : the state of being sustained

b: a supplying or being supplied with the necessaries of life

3: something that gives support, endurance, or strength

I first got interested in growing food when I was a little kid along the Great Egg Harbor River in my Gram’s garden plot in Absecon, New Jersey. She grew incredible Jersey tomatoes every year that were the highlight of many family dinners on the muggy Jersey shore. I looked forward to eating them, but more importantly, I loved to help my Gram in the garden. It was where the gardening bug first bit me.

That was in the sixties and there was no such thing as “healthy” food or “organic” food or “GMO” food for that matter. My Gram was a bit of a revolutionary, although I didn’t realize it at the time. She used to take composted dairy manure from a friend’s farm and put it in a sock and then steeped it in a bucket of water. That is what today we call a compost tea extraction. Back then, Gram called it “tomato juice.” She used to let me feed her liquid gold to her tomatoes every two or three weeks in the summer. That was her secret ingredient for growing great tomatoes. And, great they were…

organic tomato harvest
Organic Tomato Harvest

Growing tomatoes at Gram’s was not so much about sustenance as it was about her love of gardening and growing tomatoes. We had a lot of small farms around Gram’s cabin on the river so growing food was not a necessity. Today, nothing could be further from the truth.

For starters, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and food supplies have been hit hard. It has taken many markets weeks to get stuff back on the shelves and the fresh produce that I’ve seen in several of the places that I shop at is looking a little tired. The organic produce is short in supply and nothing that I’ve seen is anywhere near a Best in Show!

Woman shopping during covid-19 pandemic

So, why is this important?

Because we are relying on a system of farms, co-packers, wholesalers, distributors and farmers to feed us. Most Americans do not have the capability of feeding themselves today! That is a problem during a crisis. A huge problem.

Social distancing line at Trader Joes
Social Distancing Line at Trader Joes

Secondarily, beyond the issue of aesthetics is the issue of nutrition. Nutrient dense food is critical for our overall health and well-being. Not only nutrient dense, but clean, safe, pesticide-free and herbicide-free. Many people today, even those who are buying “organic” food from the market aren’t getting produce that fits the above criteria, but think that they are.


Because in organic food production there are so many ways that farmers can inadvertently bring toxins into the mix because of the way the rules are written. An example of that is using manures from conventional AG and from animals that have been fed GMO feeds. Those feeds are all from GMO corn, soy and alfalfa. All of those are sprayed with the broad spectrum herbicide glyphosate and the animal’s manure contains residue from the herbicide application. There are other issues with some “organic” farm protocols, but that’s the biggie, and I’ll reserve the other issues for another blog.

Men in yellow hazmat suits spraying glyphosate on GMO crops.

And as far as conventional produce goes… you may as well be serving up a shot glass of pesticide to everyone at the table with every couple of meals!

Let’s bring this all back to sustenance. Our bodies, and specifically our gut is our epicenter of health. If we are polluting the gut biome in any way and killing off the good biology that we need to survive and thrive, then we are putting ourselves at risk for sickness, disease, fatigue, stress and emotional and physical breakdown.

So, what are we going to do to fix this problem, alleviate the conundrum, solve the caper? We’re going to grow healthy food at home. And if we’re going to grow healthy food at home, then we’re going to need to answer all of the following questions openly and honestly:

1.) Why am I doing this? Health? Food safety? Food security? Why?

2.) What am I going to grow? What food is important to me and my family?

3.) What can I grow? What grows in my region?

4.) What am I going to grow in? Ground? Beds? Containers? All of the above?

5.) What products do I have / need to grow in? Am I using fertilizers?

6.) Do I have seeds? Can I grow from seed?

7.) Can I get starts? Is my nursery open? Can I order a curbside pickup?

8.) How soon will I have food?

9.) Once this pandemic passes, will I still grow?

10.) Will you grow organic? True organic? Will you finally, really assess how you’ve been growing?

Organic artichokes in an edible landscape
Organic Artichokes in an Edible Landscape


If you’ve been growing “faux organic” or conventionally it’s time to stop! Once you know the truth you can’t go back. If you think that you are going to start an organic garden, a true organic garden from anything that you can get at Home Depot besides wood and some screws, think again. None of the big boxes sell anything worth putting in a healthy organic garden. And, for that matter, most of the organic potting soils or “raised bed mixes” that you can get down the street at the local nursery aren’t worth the plastic bag they came in.


Because they are mixes of mostly junk, cheap inputs and conventional AG manures that shouldn’t be in anything labeled organic. You need to do some homework and look for stuff that is real, true, clean, honest to God organic and natural. It’s time to start asking the tough questions… yourself… and quit relying on the lame advice from social media gardening groups, outdated master gardener programs or the person behind the counter, or today, on the phone at your local nursery about what soil, what plants, what products you should buy. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and do some work… as if your life depended on it, because it just might.

These are some of the things that I NEVER use in my TRUE ORGANIC garden:

1.) Bone Meal

It is an animal by-product that comes from the slaughter industry and the poor animals that were fed GMO feedstocks. Yes, the meat that most Americans eat comes from animals that eat GMO feeds. These are all sprayed with glyphosate so you NEVER want to use this in your true organic garden.

Meat and bone meal animal by-products
Meat and Bone Meal Animal By-Products

2.) Blood Meal

Exact same reason as Bone Meal.

3.) Feather Meal

Exact same reason as Bone Meal and Blood Meal.

4.) Cottonseed Meal

This product is a by-product from conventional cotton production. Cotton is sprayed with pesticides which you absolutely do not want to introduce into your safe, clean, true organic garden.

5.) Green waste from municipal or city compost

Green waste city dump
Green waste city dump

This stuff is horrible! Besides all of the junk in it like plastics, glass, needles and worse, it also has the yard waste from all of your neighbors who throw the dead plants or plant litter that they sprayed with Round-Up or all of the pesticides that they use. This is what I call the “green bin” nightmare.

6.) Horse Manure

Most people that have horses, or most stables feed GMO alfalfa to their horses. Horses need to be wormed and their wormed with the Ivermectin that is used as a fungicide. Also, most horses have salt blocks and they lick salt and have a high concentration of salt in their manure.

7.) Steer Manure

Steers are the animals that are sent for meat production. They are fed GMO feedstocks and live in confined animal feeding operations or CAFO’s with no access to pasture or space to live a healthy life. My belief is that when you use steer manure, you’re also taking on the stress and the horrible life that that animal was put through and you’re putting that very sad and toxic energy into your garden.

8.) Chicken Manure

Chickens provide great manure if you raise them at home and give them plenty of space to roam with a good Non-GMO organic diet. Unfortunately most of the manure that gets into potting soils and mixes or in the bags of chicken compost come from high volume battery caged chicken operations that are inhumane. The feedstocks are ALL GMO and those poor animals live a life that no animal should live. Ever.

Chicken caged operation filled with chickens.

Here’s some of the things that you absolutely want to do and have as part of your safe and healthy garden:

1.) Compost at Home

Start a compost pile of your own with all of that clean, true organic vegetable garden waste that you’ll want to compost.

Home composting system with two compost bins and a carbon bucket.

2.) Vermicompost at Home

Start a worm bin for all of that great clean, true organic waste that you’re going to have to feed them.

Vermicompost worm bin in a garden.

Bu, organic dairy cow from Malibu Compost, on pasture with other grass fed cows behind her.
Organic Dairy Cow on organic pasture

Use an organic compost that comes from a base of organic dairy cow manure, or from chickens, alpacas, llamas, goats, or rabbits that you’ve raised and fed only organic feed such as organic alfalfa, organic pasture grasses, or any pellets or mashes made up of only true organic ingredients like organic corn, barley, molasses and alfalfa. The compost should have no green waste, conventional Ag by-products, no pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones or sewage sludge!

Use the best soil products you can find that are Non-GMO and have only the best organic compost in them along with true organic and Non-GMO fertilizers and the best natural ingredients. Not all soil products have compost in them.

Soil products with the Non-GMO Verified logo on their bag doesn’t mean the product is GMO-free. With many of these products, there’s actually nothing in the bag that comes from a GMO crop.

5.) Use Compost Tea

Learn how to feed with compost tea and make the best compost tea that has a real organic and Non-GMO compost as it’s base.

6.) Use Minerals

Find a good source of minerals, also known as rock dust, to top-dress with and to use with your real organic compost to recharge the soil.

7.) Use Good Sources of Seeds and Starts

Smaller seed companies are better than larger, because larger ones use multiple farm sources for their seeds. Save seeds from your own food garden each growing season, from the crops that you loved and that did very well. That way you can create your own seed bank, so you’re less reliant on the seed system.

As far as starts go, get only starts that are labeled organic. TIP: When you plant, shake off as much of the soil as you can without damaging the root structure of the starts, and then plant them in your real organic potting soil.

GROW HEALTHY FOOD! You have absolutely zero excuse not to. If you do what I’ve put out in this blog, then you will become a NEW STEWARD of THE EARTH. You will become that person, that gardener, that neighbor who had the courage to change and do it better.

I pray that all of you and your families and friends make it through this crisis, and that when it’s all over, we remember the good things that came out of this nightmare: The being with family, talking, communicating, loving, caring, kindness, taking walks, slowing down the pace of the insanity that life had become, and growing safe and healthy food at home.

© Randy Ritchie


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