We believe that everyone should be growing their own food, if you are not, then you most likely don’t have a good enough reason to start. While some people understand that growing your own food can save you money, people are often surprised with some of the other reasons that we give. Have a read through these 10 reasons to grow your own food, and perhaps there are a few, you have not yet thought through. Oh and why not take up the challenge at the end.
We are used to the phrase “you are what you eat”, but that is true for the plants too, “they are what they eat”. If you are looking after your soil, the plants have a wider range of available nutrients to pack into themselves, waiting for you on your plate. Due to this fact, home grown food is usually far more nutrient dense than commercially grown food, due to soil quality. The food going from the garden to the plate, means there is far less nutrient loss with food that has either been harvested early or has had to endure a few days or sometimes weeks of transportation to the store.
Commercial agriculture has reduced the number of fruit and vegetables and varieties of these, due to their desire to grow food that travels well, is easy to harvest, that is ready to harvest all at once. By growing a wide variety of vegetables, and different varieties we get a far wider nutrient profile in our food, are able to harvest for longer periods and has other knock on effects. We also get access to food that is either very difficult to find, or virtually impossible. Think when did you last see a punnet of mulberries for sale and don’t get me started on the price of half a dozen passion fruit.
3. Colours and Tastes
With a wider variety of fruit and vegetables, also comes a new set of tastes and colours. Just browse the tomato section of a heirloom seed catalogue and you realise what you are missing. The colours and shapes are almost endless. This year we had our first tomatillos out the garden, amazing new flavour I did not know existed. Edible flowers, virtually impossible to find in the shops add great colour to a salad, while the taste of your first tomato, or snap pea is incredible. You also get to choose at what stage you get to harvest, since growing our own snap peas, we have come to believe that they are far better if left a week or two later than store bought snap peas, for the peas to start developing. Those sweet cannon balls of flavour are worth the weight (pun intended).
4. Seed Diversity
With commercial agriculture chasing profits, they have turned to hybrid seeds, which are patented by big companies. Seed saving is thus illegal, and farmers are forced to buy new seed each year. The result is a loss of varieties as farmers have stopped seed saving and numerous varieties have disappeared. This reduction to limited vegetables and limited varieties would have a huge impact on food security should a problem develop with one of the commercial varieties. By growing heirloom varieties at home you keep these varieties alive, both through your own seed saving initiatives, and by providing a market for the number of brave heirloom seed companies who are keeping our seed heritage alive.
5. Better plant utilisation
When you cut your first brocolli or cauliflower, it strikes you what a waste leaving all those leaves. But why not cut them too, don’t forget the stalks! Great starter for a soup or stirfry, just cook them a bit longer if they are a bit tough. Take the day lily. You get the beauty of the flowers in your garden (or in a vase) eat the flowers each evening, (they are dead tomorrow anyway) or use them as soup or sauce thickener. Every 3 years when you have to divide the plants, the stems and tubers can also make their way to the kitchen. Sweet potatoes can provide both green leaves during the spring and the tubers at the end of the season. Did we mention the banana flower curry we made this year after the bananas had set?
Nature has a way of keeping herself fresh and will often store things way better than we can, despite our modern technology. Loose leaf crops will start to droop within a day or two, but ours just stay nice and crispy until we go and pick them for the evening meal. Root and tuber crops will often store better in the ground, waiting to be harvested. Many fruit trees can keep their crop on the branch way longer than the fridge. All the while keeping the goodness in and continuing to pack in the nutrients as they ripen. Nut harvests will keep much longer in shell, allowing storage until you can crack as many as one needs. Your garden becomes your larder.
7. Safe Food
I know what chemicals or poisons are used on my plants. Absolutely nothing! I choose that! How do we know what has really gone into our food. Soil fumigants, chemical pest applications, broad leaf weed applications, anti-fungal or anti-bacterial sprays to prevent after harvest spoilage, wax sprays to make your fruit shiny, or chemical ripening. No-one tells you what they have done to your food, and nor are they going to. While they are supposed to wait the required times for ‘safety’ after applications, supposed to adhere to all sorts of regulations, the recent and sad listeria outbreak in South Africa points to corporate food not always providing the ‘safe’ food that they are supposed to.
How much packaging goes into the food you bring home from the store. Staggering! Just taking your fruit and vegetables, close your eyes and imagine the pile of plastic that you generate each day, now each week, each month, for the full year. The damage that plastic does to our planet is not really the discussion here (the opening scenes of WallE are not so crazy), but imagine that annual pile of plastic just not being needed because you were growing your own. You might have just saved our planet.
9. Carbon Sequestration.
Once you start growing plants, usually compost follows in some shape or form, especially if you realise that the secret is to grow your soil and not your plants. Well made compost reduces greenhouse gases due to the avoidance of anerobic decomposition in landfills. Applying the compost to the soil, takes all that carbon and buries it in the soil locking it back in and creating a healthy living soil that grows healthy plants. In 2007 the USA sent 31 million tons of food waste to the landfills. If this had been composted it would have been the equivalent of removing 8.4 million passenger cars off the road.
It became something of a family tradition, that my father would list off all of the garden produce that went into each evening meal. There was a great sense of pride in this ritual and I get it. There is something so satisfying walking into the kitchen with a large bowl of vegetables for the evening meal. I love watching my kids picking leafy greens and eating them right out the garden. They race across the lawn to choose the biggest daylily flower after school each day, and I have to break up the fights soon after, about whether the cape gooseberries are going to be eaten right now or put into the freezer for jam. Just before bath time I have to go and haul them out the waterberry trees where they have been climbing all afternoon, because they have already eaten the low hanging ones. I understand my father’s pride, and I share in it too.
But. . .
There are no buts. For every reason you want to find to not grow your own food, I am sure I can put it aside. It takes less time than you think, especially with perennials. It takes less work than you think especially with no dig methods. It takes less space than you think, especially with crop diversity. Even if you live in a flat with no balcony and no windows, lentil sprouts are clean and will be ready to harvest in 4 days.
The Challenge . . .
Start small, plant one plant. Bush beans or perhaps a tomato. Mint or Rosemary are virtually indestructible. Just plant something. Today! It will give you the confidence to plant more tomorrow.
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