Thursday, January 11, 2007

Growing Our Own Food

There are many different forms of sustainable food supply systems, but the most effective, although usually the least discussed, is for people to grow some of their own food. I could write a lot about this, but for now I thought I would list the three main reasons why my family and I grow our own food.

1. Growing our own food is the best thing we can do for our health. All of that fresh air and exercise, abundant amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, a relaxing and productive way to spend our time as well as a deep sense of pride and connection with the natural systems - all of this has enhanced our mental and physical health. With the possible exception of finances, this is the most obvious reason why many people grow their own food.

2. Growing our own food is one of the best things that we can do for the local and global environment. By gardening in a sensible way, the food that we grow and eat ourselves requires few external inputs, causes no pollution, travels zero food miles, is essentially "carbon free" and all wastes are naturally recycled into next years' food. As I have said before, environmental issues provide the imperative for changing our food supply systems, and growing our own food is the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to make a difference.

3. Given the nature of power in our societies and the extent of control exerted by multinational corporations, growing our own food is one of the most significant acts of civil disobedience that we can participate in. Our diet, our health and well-being, our sense of belonging and our perception of what is important, is manipulated and controlled by powerful interests for the sake of profit and the economy. This is the foundation of our dominant food systems, and provides the greatest obstruction faced by those who seek change, but every time that we eat something that we grew ourselves, we are putting power and control back into our own hands, where it belongs.

My family and I are not 'self-sufficient', but we do produce a substantial amount of our primarily vegetable based diet, while living close to the centre of Dublin, Ireland. I am not suggesting that everyone should be growing most of their own food, but the more food that is eaten by those who grow it, the better the world will be. Even a little bit helps. This fact should be recognised by any environmental, health or social policy and should be a central focus of our urban planning.


Caroline said...

Apart from its obvious relevance to sustainability, I think food is a fascinating issue to focus on because it's so intertwined with culture and community. As you say, the act of growing one's own food is empowering in many more ways than the obvious one of providing nourishment. However, while personally I love seeing tomatoes where there used to be front lawn, for many people this seems highly eccentric, the sign of an untidy mind, or else a sign of extreme poverty and desperation. I hope that with the advent of peak oil those kinds of attitudes will change quickly.

From what I understand, attitudes did indeed change in Britain during the second world war, but they were helped along by a government campaign. Unfortunately, as we all know, governments nowadays are preoccupied with keeping their countries' GDP levels high enough for international capital to have confidence in their economies and invest in them, thus preventing economic collapse. The more astute politicians might even realise that home- or community-based food production could actually be bad for GDP, as it would demonetarise food production in much the same way that stay-at-home parents demonetarise childcare.

Bruce Darrell said...

Caroline, you have mentioned three of the main reasons why I believe that people do not grow their own food.
The first is that we do not need to, for many people food is cheep and readily available.
The second reason is that cultural attitudes discourage or prevent it - it is often socially unacceptable to grow your own food.
The third reason is more interesting yet less considered. Nobody makes any money when people grow their own food. This is a key reason why we do not normally find well funded organisations or governmental agencies encouraging people to grow their own food. To do so would reduce the GDP. As you mention, it is only at times of extreme stress - such as in Britain and Ireland during WW2 and more recently in Cuba - that governments actively encourage self-production, and we may be about to enter a period where there is rapid change in food availability, in societal norms and in governmental attitudes.

clanur said...


I read the article in the Irish Times magazine. I am in the process of setting up a private allotment scheme near Naas. This may be a suitable location for your project. We have both indoor plots in a 3500 sq m Glasshouse and traditional outdooor plots.

jackattack said...

Agreed, agreed, and agreed...but be wary: locally grown and organic foodstuffs are not immune to minerals--or metals--accumulating in the soil from previous uses or airborne settlement!

Bruce Darrell said...

Hi Clanur. Your Naas allotment project sounds very interesting and it could be a suitable place for the research project that I am working on. I haven't been able to find info online. Could you email me through my complete profile page.

Bruce Darrell said...

Thanks for the comments Jackattack. Toxic substances in the soil (and air) is an important issue, which all urban agriculture projects should be aware of. Having said that, I feel that the fear of potential toxicity of urban soils should be balanced against the harmful substances currently found in many foods bought in supermarkets. It also needs to be balanced against fact that growing food (in a sensible way) in the city is far less damaging to the global environment, especially with respect to the climate crisis. We need to be mindful of the health of our planet as well as our own health.

Bruce F said...

A few of us who live in the city of Chicago are trying to grow heirloom vegetables on our rooftops in cheap homemade earthboxes. In response to huge environmental problems, it's a small but rewarding way to push back. Also, we think they're a great way to build connections in a fragmented social/political landscape.

Not selling anything, I'm giving "it" away.

Here's the , alongside the pics is a little how-to guide with plenty of links.

C said...

Hi! there are a lot of glasshouses in Lusk, Co. Dublin, I think several unused. I don't know who owns them but i'd love a plot in one of them to grow tomatoes and other things that take up too much space in my kitchen. ..