The Bullseye Diet

Sharon June 28th, 2007

I’m stealing this idea from my co-author, Aaron Newton - but it was so cool I couldn’t not write about it. In the process of writing our book about how to de-industrialize agriculture _A Nation of Farmers_ Aaron suggested that instead of one 100 mile (or 200 mile or whatever) diet, we think in terms of a bulls eye model, which emphasizes bringing as much of your diet as possible home to your local area.

This would look like a dart board, with a bullseye in the center. That center dot would be your home. And the first question is “how much of my food can I produce here.” For some people, the answer will be very little - only sprouts and a few windowboxes, perhaps. For people like me, the answer will be ‘a lot’ - but the first step is to evaluate your home for food production possibilities. Be imaginative. You think you can’t keep any livestock, right? What about rabbits for angora wool, or meat. How about bantam chickens, kept in cages like pet birds for eggs? What about bees or worms?

You can’t garden out front, because of zoning restrictions? Well how about replacing your front yard lawn with ornamental edibles - beautiful blueberry bushes, grapevines trained to an arbor, a pecan tree. Got shade? Rhubarb and gooseberries will tolerate it, as will many medicinal herbs. And the bottlebrush beauty of black cohosh will look just like you planted it for pretty.

We all know that growing food is important, but it is necessary to realize just *how* important. Industrial conventional agriculture is an ecological disaster. Industrial organic agriculture is increasingly organic only in name - and is just as doused in petroleum as conventional. Agriculture of all kinds is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses. But moreover, food yields are levelling off and falling due to climate change. North Africa lost 2/3 of its grain crops this year, the Australian grain crops dropped by more than 50%. The world has its lowest food reserves since measures have been taken. This is a recipe for famine - large scale, worldwide - even here.

The smaller the plot of land you work, the more productive it is (after some practice). A person with one garden bed who manages it inch by inch can produce yields per square foot that dwarf anything a conventional farmer can produce. A farm of 2 acres is often 200 times more productive in total output (according to Peter Rosset’s Paper _Small is Beautiful__) than a conventional farmer’s use of land. Industrial agriculture is far to *inefficient* in its land use for us to risk continuing it, when human lives are at stake.

Up to now, we’ve thought of efficiency in terms of less labor - if few people could produce more food, that was an efficiency. But it was only efficient because energy was cheap and abundant, and we’re at the end of those days. Now, with a growing world population, climate change and falling yields, we need to return to efficiency PER ACRE - the project of generating the most possible food from each bit of productive land we engage with. Doing so means land for wildlife habitat, the chance to restore stripped soils, the hope of arresting some of the ecological crisis we’ve encountered.

The key, then, is getting as many people involved in farming and gardening as possible. My own assessment is that we need 100 million new Farmers, broadly construed. That is, we need about 1/3 of the American population to take real responsibility for producing some of their own food. It isn’t enough just to create demand - more is going to be asked of all of than simply wanting. Because one out of three means taking responsibility. If we’re to raise food on a small, highly productive scale, we need much more participation. I’ve written more about this here:

The next ring would be the food in your neighborhood. Is there a community garden? Could you create one in a public park or on a vacant lot? Is anyone else growing food? Could you get someone else growing food? I got my neighbor to start a food producing garden by offering to put one in for her as a thank you gift. Aaron gardens on the land of his elderly neighbors, growing food and sharing it with them. My old friend Laurie is growing a garden on her church grounds. Are there churches, businesses, or other folks with land you could engage with? What about getting the neighborhood teenagers involved?

What about foraging in your neighborhood? Even in Manhattan, Wildman Steve Brill offers foraging classes to teach people to eat their local weeds. How much of your food could you get from the neighborhood that way?

Ok, next step would be your town. Are there right to farm laws? Could you get some instituted? How about changing zoning to permit livestock or front yard gardens? Are there any farmers there? Can you patronize them? Have you considered advertising? Put up a sign saying “I would like to buy organic produce from within my community” - maybe someone will start up a market garden. Check into local immigrant communities - many brought their agricultural traditions with them, and they may have surpluses for sale if you ask. Are there old farms with retiring or aging owners - does your town have a plan for protecting that land from development?

So the first three bullseyes are probably all within 10 miles of you. The goal is to get as much as possible, as close as possible. For me, that would be quite a bit. I can get milk, eggs, meat, and most of my produce locally. That isn’t normal - but a gardening movement that gets food back on people’s properties means that this will be increasingly possible.

The next step would be your immediate bioregion - perhaps 25 miles from your town. And then outwards to 50 and 100 and 250. But remember, every community, every region has a foodshed (like a watershed) that has to feed it. The further out you go, the more likely you are to bump into someone else’s foodshed. For example, if you live in Manhattan, by the time you get 100 miles in any given direction, you’ve bumped into the foodshed for at least one other medium to large city, as well as a number of heavily populated suburbs and small cities. For example, if you look towards Connecticut, the foodshed for Manhattan at 100 miles is also the foodshed for New Haven, Hartford, Providence (in the sense that it is less than 100 miles for each of these), as well as Bridgeport, Stamford, Waterbury and a host of suburbs and cities. Go north towards me, and you’ve run into the foodshed for Poughkeepsie, Albany, etc…

I’m not criticizing the notion of a 100 mile diet, which has been a powerful tool in teaching people to look locally for food sources. And now, at the beginning of this movement, the 100 mile or 250 mile diet is a great tool. But what if the movement grows, as we hope it will. Can 8 million New Yorkers (or 8 million people in Tucson/Pheonix - I’m using NYC as an example here) have a 100 mile diet? The answer is probably not - it means the foodshed for the region will have to expand. But the only way we can do that fairly is to ensure that as much food as possible is being grown where the people are. That means Victory Gardens on every lawn, in city parks, in neighborhoods. And it means prioritizing food from your very immediate foodshed - from the center circles of your bullseye.

That won’t be easy for many people, and it is a long term project. We can’t necessarily do it today. But the local food movement is growing fast, and demand alone won’t ensure that hunger never strikes Americans, and that we always have enough excess to offer succor and hunger relief to the people who are running out of food because of climate change we caused. If we’re to burn carbon sending grains around the planet, they should be going to the world’s hungry, not to us, whenever possible.

Like a darts game, you won’t always hit your circle. But with pract
ice, you can get a little closer every time. The more food you create in your community, the better off we all are.


22 Responses to “The Bullseye Diet”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have enjoyed reading this blog since I first learned about it at Hathor’s website. After reading about picky eating, I told the kids that for the month of July I am going to try the 100 mile diet, and they have to try everything. We are fortunate to live in a very conscious city (Keene, NH), and I have easy access to milk, eggs, meat, produce, fruit, and honey and syrup.

    What I am wondering is if it is too late to start a small garden. Where we live, we have only a concrete patio to call our own, and my husband never got around to building me any planter boxes this spring. Every year I plan a garden, and every year it gets put on the back burner and never happens for whatever reason and I reach the middle of summer and realize it is too late. My patio is on the western side of the house, with a couple of two-storey buildings very close, so I don’t have full sun. Can I still plant some peas or beans? How about lettuce? Tomatoes? Any other advice? Thank you so much.


  2. David says:

    Hi Judy:

    If I were you, I would think about finding a neighbour with some lawn space that gets good sun, and see if they might be interested in sharing the garden with you. It’s not too late to get some stuff growing this year, but one thing you can start thinking about now is a good layout for next year, and start doing some lasagna mulching style of garden bed preparation: basically, you’re creating new garden beds by composting overtop of the existing grass, and could potentially plant right away into the new beds, or let them rot into soil over the winter.

    I have no advice about what can be done at this time of year in NH. Maybe someone else has better ideas about that. I’m a first-year gardener on the BC coast, so I’m learning how things work here.

    Best of luck!


  3. David says:

    By the way, here is the link to the Rousset article (“Small Is Bountiful”):


  4. Anonymous says:

    We’re trying this year! I’m a city girl and just learning, but we have some thriving tomato plants, zucchini, bean, and pepper plants. We’ve learned by doing, and have made a lot of mistakes, but a garden really is so much fun and a nice hobby for the kids.

    I have one question I’d like to throw out there. We’ve only been in our current house for two years and have no idea what kinds of pesticides/herbicides were thrown on the lawn over the years. Now, we’d like to expand our garden. How much should I worry about the soil being tainted by random poisons? How long does it take for traces of it to disappear? I think a lot of suburban gardners worry about this topic.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Judy watch your garden area throughout the day how many hours of sun does it get? 6 is the minimum for most veggies.

    Are you planning on in ground or container growing?

    I am in zone 5 Massachusetts, this is our 10th year as a CSA farm. There is still quite a bit that can be planted. Carrots,beets, swiss chard, bok choy, napa cabbage, a short season corn say 70-80ish days, various summer squashes, lettuce but choose varieties that do ok in the heat, radishes.
    If you can find seedlings I’d gamble on tomatoes,eggplant, and peppers.

    Lets see whatelse, beans, maybe even soybeans (don’t remember days needed),lots of herbs basil,parsely, dill, cilanto,arugula (guess thats a green).
    There is a great container gardening list on Yahoo Edible Container Gardening. I am growing sweet potatoes and rosemary and maybe some other stuff in containers for fun.
    Feel free to email me if you have questions I am going to write at instead of @ and put in spaces.

    ghf at

    Going to go make a local sandwich eggsalad (my chickens) and my lettuce with a few store things bread and salad dressing.


  6. Anonymous says:

    Good thoughts- but please don’t suggest caging Banties- if you don’t have space for them to be free or at least run around in a yard-best to get eggs from someone who does.Banties are way too cool to be caged……

    Judy- re NH growing- I live in New England as well- north of you. Not at all too late to grow many things- can still put in green beans, lettuce, kale, spinach, peas, summer squash, zukes and cukes. Also radishes, scallions, cabbage and beets. Not too late at all! If you can get good seedlings, grow basil and tomatoes. You can grow some of these easily in containers- try 5 gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage- can get them at big grocery store bakeries for free usually. I would suggest a cherry tomato- try Sun Gold. Do stake it- it grows tall but well in containers. They like sun so put it on your patio.

    In the shady areas yoou can grow lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.

  7. Steve says:

    Hi Sharon, Like the idea of 100 million new farmers. The soil association of Great Britain claims that a quarter of the population of the UK will have to go back to farming to survive peak oil.
    It finally convinced me to mulch over the lawn this spring and after just one day’s work, I’ve created a permaculture garden. btw, great blog and watch out for the new Ian Curtis/Joy Division film “Control” this autumn.

  8. Anonymous says:


    I am writing to you from almost the other side of the world…..I live in sweden, and here too, the “growing your own food-movement” has been getting bigger every year….

    still we have an older generation of people that keep a kitchen garden with vegetables…….but, they are getting to old, and the younger genarations dont now anything about gardening……

    ….I have had to learn it all on my own, and I am still learning……my husband and I will be bying a farm this year, and start rasing livestock…..and I will absolutly teatch my children how to produce their own food…

    ….and just a word about the climate change….we are experiancing it over hear to….it is mutch warmer than before, and winter is wery short….even here in north of sweden were I live….there have been floods (is it spelled likt that?) and storms on the border of hurricanse ….. We are many who feel genuinly concened….

    (I apologise for my poor spelling in englich, hope you can read it anyway)

    warm thoughts from over the globe/kattenihatten

  9. Squrrl says:

    We have been doing something rather like the bullseye diet for the last few months, actually…our version is pretty simple. We have a garden for the first time this year (just moved from an apartment last fall), so of course we eat out of that, but as yet our yields aren’t great. When we leave the house to go shopping, we go to the most local places first (around here, people put their extra produce out on a table in the front yard with a price list and a coffee can, and when we’re good enough gardeners to have an excess, we’ll emulate them) and move out. That way we never buy something from further away that we could have gotten locally. (And when we can afford to, we buy enough to put some by, as with pick-your-own berries). There are still lots of cases of hitting the wall instead of the dartboard, of course, but as we find resources, our aim sharpens.

    Culinary herbs make a bigger difference than you’d think given the overall volume of food they produce, because they allow you to enjoy more meals out of the same stuff than you might have-some herbs, some local meat, maybe some lambs quarters from an overgrown section of the yard, and you can make innumerable tasty versions of lentil soup.

    Also, I am ALL in favor of planting medicinal herbs, and I second the comments about their decorativeness. The people who lived here before us planted Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea), Butterfly Weed (Pleurisy Root), Yarrow, and Tansy, and I would be very surprised to discover that they had any idea any of them were medicinal as well as beautiful and easy-care.

  10. Christina says:

    Hi Kattenihatten! *waving*

    Right now parts of southern Sweden have had MUCH more rain than is normal this time of the year. And many people are watching their houses and gardens being filled with water…

    Last summer we had VERY warm and dry weather in July and then LOTS of rain in August - not at all normal. Yes, global warming is certainly here and I am really, really worried - each year seems to be more extreme than the previuos!

    My garden is thriving, though, but I don’t think it can take much more rain and wind now… praying for sun and a little warmth!

    in SW Sweden

  11. LimeSarah says:

    The “Bullseye diet” model makes a lot of sense…I think I’ll add that to my mental models. I’m currently reading a fascinating book on the Civilian Conservation Corps. I’d love to see something like the CCC reinstated along with the “green jobs” bill both for training in energy-efficiency technology and for farming education. There often are really no good job prospects for recent high school and college graduates, because they have little to no real job experience. This would give them work that’s vitally necessary to our society’s survival. Looking at the first year or so of the FDR presidency also makes me feel like our country’s executive branch may be slightly less doomed that I’d thought. Maybe. I can hope, anyway.

    Sqrrl — I love the idea of front-yard “market tables”! Maybe I’ll do that if the garden we have planned for next year is productive enough.

  12. Stephen says:

    The Bullseye diet makes complete sense.

    I’ve been contemplating for some months now how to approach my neighbors and sugggest that we cooperate in food-growing. We all don’t have room for every possible fruit tree, for example, but I have an apple tree, and a sapling peach, and others could have pears, persimmons, cherries (my neighbor planted an ornamental cherry in her backyard close enough to mine so that it will begin to shade parts of our garden before too long. I’m not sure how to diplomatically ask her to cut it down, and plant a fruit-bearing cherry tree in its stead, but at a greater distance from our fence.), etc. But I’ve got to get started. These things - developing community is what it is, really - take time.

  13. Anonymous says:

    A great idea…and much could be learned from the Cubans on urban gardening…they have it down to a science. And with little to no oil consumed in the process.

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  16. sahara says:

    You know, this is interesting. The problem in cities is real estate.

    In poor neighborhoods, where the population is from the South (Harlem and Brooklyn) or Latin America (the Bronx, where I’m from), we’ve been taking vacant lots and planting for years, even having a harvest festival in Harlem. You know what happened?

    Developers (with the City’s permission), took the community gardens and turned them into condos. One school garden was bulldozed, sending students and teachers running, to save their plants. When a student asked what happened, she was told, “you people need to make money to BUY yourselves food.” Teachers were asked, what good would it do for black children to do that?” That’s why their parents came up here.” School gardens in Harlem are now filled with concrete. Say what?!

    And now, folks want a 100 mile diet, and look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them EVERY public school had a garden, when I was a child; gardening was part of your science curriculum.

    Where I grew up, in the South Bronx, was primarily farm land with good soil, back in the 60′s. Poor folks ate a lot locally. Now, it’s all mid-income housing. Harlem has no community gardens, just condos, and one decent supermarket, but plenty of restaurants. I guess it’s more important to have a career and make money, to support the elitist image of New York City.

    Why should I have to go to a farmer’s market, where I can’t afford much of the food, when I have a vacant lot near me, that has fabulous soil? I’m from three generations of sharecroppers, and could teach every child in the block about farming, but I’m not allowed to grow food in the lot, cause the city wants to put up housing that I can’t afford to live in.
    Will the sight of my collard greens undermine property values?

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