As a city girl I had whole heartedly embraced the fast pace modern lifestyle of shopping, cocktail time and lying on the beach as a weekly routine. I did though have my hippy traits like being vegetarian, chanting OM and embracing spirituality. Gardening though and growing my own food was for as far as I was concerned, for peasants and gave retired people something to do.
I was all into the organic movement eating pesticide free food and using chemical free products both for my home and personal hygiene. Although a bit more expensive it was easy to go to the supermarket and health food store to buy what I needed. What that experience did not offer me though was the valuable understanding I gained by a direct experience with my food, about food.
It was back in February 2012 where on an ashram stay at my local Yoga Centre I took part in a weekend farming project that involved planting, picking and mulching the soil for their organic garden. It could have been the direct experience of putting my hands in the soil that felt so great, the actual picking of the vegetables for the yummiest food I had eaten in a long time or the rosy cheeks I had returning home. Possibly all three reasons were responsible for my awakening.
Today being able to walk into my backyard and cut my own tomatoes and cucumbers for my salad is certainly a delightful experience. The most unexpected part from this home food growing experience is the mindset and skills I have developed. It has improved my outlook towards life and has made me accountable for my actions in regards to the sustainability of the environment, especially our food systems.
Many of the agricultural food production systems in Australia and around the world are not sustainable and can lead to negative impacts both environmental and personal. It is though necessary to keep producing food for an ever-increasing population in a sustainable way if we are to survive and be able to grow food to feed ourselves and others off the land.
Increasing costs of fuel are affecting transportation of food from rural to urban settings and between countries. Large scale agricultural production and fertilizer costs are increasing as well as polluting the environment. Climate change is affecting the growth of crops, whether that being hot or cold weather and floods all contribute to the availability or not of food and the increasing prices, of the limited supplies that remain.
Growing food in an urban setting (cities) is increasing around the world due to food shortage and consumer awareness. Taking into account that more than half of humanity lives in urban areas, this leaves fewer farmers to cultivate the food on which cities depend upon. This means that cities will have to incorporate their own food-producing facilities, to assist feeding a growing population.
In a recent study by ANU which included food security, 16% of the respondents said that they often worried their food would run out before they had enough money to buy more whilst 4% needed emergency food assistance from charity. In order to keep costs down 33% grew their own food at home or in a community garden to reduce spending on food.
Taking all this into account below I highlight some of my important facts, encouraging food growing participation:
- Land: By investing in the land around my home I am in control of how I use it and I make sure to derive the greatest benefits from it, the biggest one being clean food. So many people leave the land surrounding their homes unutilised and rather focus on investing in things that tend to depreciate in value and will never derive any great direct benefits. A car, the newest technological gadget, will never offer you the personal benefits of working outdoors, tending to your own produce and then eating this rich dense in nutrients produce. I once heard raw food expert David Woolfe claim that people prefer to spend their money on rent than on good food. Re-establishing priorities seems to be a factor at this time in our lives.
- Trees: When planting trees for shade I make sure these are fruit trees. One of the tenants of permaculture design is to derive multiple benefits from each space. My apple, lemon and orange trees provide me with shade and food, I donate the wood to be used as fuel (as I don’t have a fireplace) and it provides birds with a place to nest. Food growing trees are now being utilised in public spaces around the world, like parks. These trees will provide food and shade. This is a personal favourite permaculture principle of mine which really highlights the multiple benefits we can derive from each space on a community level.
- Soil: Soil, water and plants are not static or objects that exist for us to manipulate into doing what we want. They exist with their own qualities that we need to understand and work with. Up until now agricultural practices and ploughing have weakened the soil and as a result the produce has reduced nutrients in the food that we eat, thus affecting our health in a negative way.By not digging but instead mulching, the soil remains healthy. The easiest ways to grow vegetables without digging is in a raised bed where organic matter can be accumulated. Mulching the soil can be done by using newspaper, cardboard and straw.
- Community: Community gardening is also growing rapidly, sharing space, ideas, time together and exchanging produce. This is a fun and creative way for people in the community to gather, get to know each other and make better the direct environment that they live in. In a research conducted for the Community Food Security Coalition North American Initiative by Anne C. Bellows, Katherine Brown and Jac Smit regarding urban food growing revealed that: “The presence of vegetable gardens in inner-city neighbourhoods is positively correlated with decrease in crime, trash dumping, juvenile delinquency, fires, violent deaths and mental illness”. Not a bad argument to encourage starting one or getting involved.
- Diet: With today’s diets being implicated in epidemics of cancer, heart disease and diabetes it is important that we consider ways in our own lives to ensure that everyone, everywhere has enough good quality food to eat. It is possible that our individual efforts can be part of chipping away at the problems that are taking us to the brink. Modern conveniences and an industrialized food system have created a culture of cheap food alienating in this way people from the landscapes that sustain them.
- Health: Getting outdoors regularly to spend time with the earth can only have positive effects on energy levels, stress and anxieties. Changing dietary and activity patterns can help in minimising health related conditions like diabetes and chronic illnesses. The link between people and place, mind and body is based on the similar understanding, of one affecting the other. The human-environment is considered as the foundation for a health-related environment for the mind, body, spirit complex.
Being involved in our own food production can help shift the way we view food, the environment and our health. From my personal interaction with people working in community gardens they all agree that this hand’s on participation has increased the amount of vegetables and fruit they eat daily, making them, as they all say “feel great”. They all feel included in the community, forming strong bonds. The community garden has also provided a foundation from which other issues involving the community have been raised creating cultural events and ways to further evolve the community.
- Seeds: Seed saving is another important issue. Firstly you will save yourself money by preserving seeds from this year’s crops for next year’s planting. You will also be helping preserve genetic diversity and saving heritage varieties that are no longer sold by commercial seed houses. The majority of commercial seeds are produced for growers, not gardeners. By saving the seeds from your own produce these then adapt specifically for your part of land and will crop over a longer period providing you with more food.
- Composting: Home composting or in a communal garden is a great way to reduce waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas which gets produced when waste decomposes buried at these sites. Compost is great for the soil reducing in this way the need to buy and use fertilisers and even water the plants. About one to two thirds of your rubbish can be turned into compost. Imagine the environmental benefits this has if ‘rubbish’ is utilised positively.
- Future: Teaching children about the earth is important as well as encouraging them to eat healthy. Children will be keener to eat more vegetables if they are involved in the growing, picking and cooking of their meals. Encouraging outdoor activities with the kids that involves getting to know the soil and the food that we grow is great. Using a magnifying glass kids can explore the soil, look closely at leaves and seeds and learn the names. Making connections between the foods they eat and the plants can be very helpful to get them to eat their vegetables as well. Children are as disconnected from their food as the parents are. The health benefits for children will be enormous as eating well will keep away the sugar cravings, reduce obesity in children and their minds will be clearer and more focused. This includes better sleeping patterns from good food and weekly outdoor activities that stimulate their minds. They will learn useful things and their bodies will feel great as well.
Putting it all together the most important fact is to be part of the solution. We do have a problem facing us in a collective way. Never underestimate the difference one person or a whole community can have on such a large scale challenge. Our problems are always created by individual actions, so can our solutions. Check locally for a community garden; take action in your back yard even your balcony can contribute to making food a fun and wholesome activity.
- Fowler, Alys 2013, The Edible Garden: How to Have Your Garden and Eat It, Too, Cleis Press, New York.
- Girolamo Tom 2009, Your Eco-friendly Yard: Sustainable Ideas to Save You Time, Money and the Earth, F+W Media Publishing, Cincinnati.
- Johnson, Lorraine 2010, City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, Greystone Books, New York.
- Lockie, Stewart; Pietsch, Juliet 2012, Public Opinion on Food Security, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences.
- Maddy, Harland 2007, “10 DIY permaculture ideas”, New Internationalist, vol.402, pp. 16-17.
- Porter, R John; Deutsch, Lisa; Dumaresq, David; Dyball, Rob 2011, “How will growing cities eat?”, Nature Journal, vol. 469, pp. 34.
- Scott Nicky 2012, Composting: An easy household guide, New York UIT Cambridge Ltd.