My father had about an acre under vegetables, an orchard that seemed to only produce limes and tunnels for producing cut flowers. We had an ancient giant avocado tree that produced the best avocados I have ever tasted. The earth was black and soft, while his compost production seemed on an industrial scale. He grew food until the day he died and he was always so proud of the food he put on the table. As I watch my kids graze on tomatoes and gooseberries from the garden, I think I understand that better.
While I had a small part of Dad’s garden in which I grew radishes (which I don’t like), it was while renting a house in London that my own gardening journey truly began. It amazed me how in Spring, after months of ice cold, the peonies in the garden would miraculously appear out of nowhere and offer up some of the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen. In the parks daffodils would appear under all the trees, like they had all agreed to meet there for a reunion. I still love and plant bulbs to this day, and they continue to amaze me when they break soil each spring.
My true passion for plants began when I had the good fortune of living with a botanist, when I moved to Ingwavuma, Maputaland in far northern KwaZulu-Natal. He was searching for a Ceropegia, and I would often accompany him on walks through the bush looking for the elusive plant. It took us months before we found the first one, (later we realised they were fairly common place, go figure) so while searching for months I would hear how fascinating plants can be, learning all the different plant families, what you could eat out of the bush, their crazy, different pollination or survival techniques. This gave birth to my passion for growing things.
However it was when I started researching the Banting diet, I realised how disconnected we have become from our food. How there is a really good chance that someone lied to us, about the kinds of foods that we should, or should not, be eating. For sure the kind of farming we have been doing for the last 70 years is detrimental to our environment and the planet we live on. Ok, let me stop before you class me as a complete lunatic, but read the side of the box of whatever you are eating, somewhere along the line we stopped eating real food.
To bring food to the market, from miles away, big agriculture have found ways, to grow plants that can all be harvested at the same time, often early, artificially ripened, stored for long periods. To ensure they look beautiful and maximise output they have been sprayed with chemicals and covered with waxes. While we bask in our own glory of human achievement, we are blissfully unaware that we have lost so much.
We have lost vegetables that we no longer grow, because they do not grow uniformly. We have lost fruit varieties, because they ripen at different times, can not survive the travel time to market, or bruise too easily. We have lost nutrition, because we pick it so early, the plant has not finished it’s amazing task of packing the fruit, full of all the goodness nature has to offer. We have lost drought tolerant crops because yields are not as good as the water hungry replacements. We have lost skills as we no longer take time to store the food that we used to grow. We have lost so much.
Now when researching diets, it gets pretty confusing, pretty quickly. Everyone has their own ideas, usually passionately defended, and often contradictory to someone else. High carb, low fat. High fat, low carb. Vegan, Fruitarian, Vegetarian. So what I found in common generally, was the following. Firstly added sugar is just plain bad. Secondly the less refined and the closer to the raw food you can get, the better. Finally the nutrition of the food you eat, has so much to do with the soil in which your grow your food.
Who knew that all this time we have gotten it so wrong. We need to learn to grow and feed our soil, the plants will take care of themselves. Ok, that’s not quite true, but I hope you get the idea.
Everything I grow now is either feeding my family or feeding my soil. I grow yellow beans. I eat bananas you can’t buy in a shop, and they are delicious. My apricot jam is like nothing you have ever tasted. My gooseberries, ok I never taste those, the children get them first.
Growing food is actually quite easy, and some would argue, is becoming essential. Just plant something.