The Garden of Mars
The most important first step for any new settlers is to secure fresh water and a food supply. No settlers have ever faced an uphill battle quite like the first humans on Mars will. Mars, if it ever had life, has likely been a dead world for a billion years or more. We know that there is frozen water at the poles and beneath the surface, but even with a water supply, what will the Mars humans eat?
With travel times to and from Earth of at least six months, it seems untenable to rely solely on resupply missions. If you want food on Mars, at some point you'll have to start growing it on Mars.
This, it turns out, is not impossible. We don't have Martian soil (or regolith) to test directly, but we've sent enough probes that we know what it's made of. And we know that there are soils on Earth that are similar.
Contracting with NASA, a company called Orbital Technologies offers a product to the public called JSC Mars-1A, a Martian regolith simulant. Volcanic soil from Hawaii with an almost identical spectral signature to that encountered by NASA probes is processed and treated to serve as an accurate analogue for the real thing.
In 2013, I purchased 25 lbs of JSC Mars-1A. And in addition to other experiments, I've managed to grow edible plants in it. Corn, squash, peppers, cucumber, melons-- even a variety of spices. The experiment continues, but the takeaway is that with sunlight, water, and a greenhouse to provide habitable temperatures, Mars seems capable of sustaining crops (and with modern fertilizing techniques, much more may be possible).
The Garden is a work of art, but it's also a proof of concept. Knowing that Mars can provide for future settlers opens up a number of options.
Common garden plants in JSC Mars-1A, outdoor grow test, 2013:
Mastering the Art of Martian Cooking
As of now, there are more than two dozen plants that have been established as viable in the JSC Mars-1A, enough to begin fleshing out a menu, the beginnings of what may someday become Martian cuisine. As The Garden of Mars expands, so will the first Martian cookbook.