By Alan Yu | March 26, 2020

Jameson Altott has been trying to live a self-sustaining lifestyle for years, to give as much back to nature as he takes. Part of that has meant growing as much of his own food as possible.

He worked on an organic farm in Natrona Heights, in western Pennsylvania, after graduating from college, and learned how to grow vegetables, take care of animals, operate a tractor, and make soap and beer.

Now, he has his own home-improvement contracting business, but he and his partner grow and preserve a lot of food from their garden: tomatoes, potatoes, radishes, carrots, beans, berries and so on. They also have chickens for eggs. Altott estimates they grow 60% of the food that feeds their family of four and go to stores only once a month for bulk items like rice, flour, oats, and milk.

“We are lucky to have preserved a lot of food. We still have canned fruits and vegetables and jams and berries in the freezer, and meat in the freezer, from what we do,” Altott said this week. “That makes us feel good, we don’t have to go to the grocery store for a lot of vegetables.”

“Even toilet paper, we have cloth diapers for our baby. I installed a sprayer for our toilet … so if we run out of toilet paper, we have means.”

Interest in growing one’s own food is surging because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Oregon State University’s Master Gardener program noticed this, and made its online vegetable gardening course free through the end of April. Its post on Facebook was shared more than 21,000 times.

“We’re being flooded with vegetable orders,” said George Ball, executive chairman of Burpee, the seed giant based in Warminster, Bucks County. “We’re getting a huge amount of interest … like a tsunami.”

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