Back in the summers of the 1940s, rural households relied on gardens and allotments to provide more than 98% of their fruit and vegetables, while urban households grew a significant 49%. Now, we mainly rely on supermarkets for our produce, but millennials’ interest and participation in gardening has gained real momentum in the last couple of years, and this can only be a positive thing…
What are the benefits of growing your own?
Supermarkets are obsessed with fruit and veg having a perfect shape and consistent size – something we become conditioned to think is normal, when it really isn’t. They also tend to offer an extremely limited range of fruit and veg varieties, which are selected for their high yielding qualities, with little consideration given to taste. Growing your own enables you to explore all sorts of unusual, colourful varieties and celebrate it in all its wonky shapes and sizes.
26% of people say that growing tasty produce is our biggest gardening achievement to date (Wyevale). There’s no arguing with this — super fresh produce, from soil to plate in under an hour is just unbeatable.
The importance of time spent connecting with nature, away from our screen and tech-centred lives, has become apparent and has repeatedly been backed up by scientific research. A recent study revealed that participants who spend 120 minutes in nature per week reported significantly greater health and wellbeing than those who spent no time at all. Growing your own food is a way of being with nature — thereby improving emotional wellbeing — and can also contribute to your physical health. It provides you with pesticide-free (much supermarket produce is heavily sprayed with nasty pesticides which are known to be carcinogenic), nutrient dense and organic veg, with some exercise thrown in too! Read below for a touching personal account of the considerable healing power of growing fruit and vegetables.
APPRECIATION & CONNECTION
We need to care far more about foods’ traceability by sourcing local-grown produce, in turn supporting rural economies and shorter supply chains. Even better, grow some of your own, and realise the time and nurture that is required for a seed to turn into/produce a fruit, ripe and ready to harvest. In doing this, the value we place on our food will shift significantly in the right direction.
NOVEL & UNUSUAL FOODS
You can grow unusual and exciting foods that are almost impossible to find in supermarkets; I’ve found this a real advantage. I grow herbs in up-cycled pallet containers on my London patio. Lemon verbena, my absolute favourite, is delicious in desserts and herbal tea, nasturtium is peppery, and its flowers are beautiful as garnish, sorrel brings an amazing tang to dishes, and lovage gives an intense hit of celery and subtle notes of aniseed. This has been transformative in my cooking, enabling me to create dishes with really interesting flavours, and has required very little space, time, or money. Moreover, I just pick what I need, meaning nothing is wasted and there isn’t any plastic packaging in sight.
An allotmenteer’s story
A couple of weeks ago a friend of a friend, Mary Dobbing, very kindly agreed for me to visit her wonderful allotment, a roughly hundred square metre plot near Bristol. I wanted to do an ‘allotment cook-up’ using the produce she was harvesting, and understand more about allotment life.
Mary found that the space in her back garden was limited, and thus was keen to grow more of her own food. She discovered that the allotment site at Golden Hill — which celebrated 100 years of existence in 2017 — was a short walk from her home, and applied for a plot. It took an 18-month wait before one became available, back in March 2015.
As the youngest child in her family, Mary was the only one at home with her mother until she started school. She helped her in their fruit and vegetable gardens, absorbing her mother’s passion for growing, as well as learning from her grandfather, who was himself a horticulturalist.
In anticipation of acquiring a plot, Mary went on a permaculture design course to learn about no-dig, composting and organic veg and fruit growing, all to arm her with the skills for a successful, sustainable harvest. Five summers later - she’s got an abundance of raspberries, mangetout, baby beetroot and carrots, Charlotte potatoes and onions. She explained that come the end of August, there would be sweet corn, squashes, romanesco and runner beans, and that she plans to plant French climbing beans, chard, spinach, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli for harvesting later in the year and into 2020. Quite amazing!
2015, her first year as an allotmenteer, was a tough year. Mary’s niece tragically took her life, which had a devastating impact on her – a shock induced heart attack followed by a break down. Her allotment has been a place of healing and brings her a sense of well-being in all seasons.
“I love being there, in its beauty, surrounded by my plants and groundworks. I lose myself for hours planning and plotting. There is always physical work to do, so it does good for both my body and soul. It is utterly engrossing and links me to Earth care, people care and fair shares - the principles of permaculture. When I have a glut of produce, I take any excess to family and work to share around, which is a source of great pleasure and pride. I love taking my small nephews and nieces to Golden Hill, and hope they will catch the growing bug as I did with my mother; they already have memories about digging potatoes and picking fruit straight from the bush. I also love being alone at my plot under the wide sky, come rain or shine. I truly feel some healing and repose there with bees humming around me and birds singing as the sun goes down.”
It was a truly memorable evening, I can’t thank Mary enough for everything that she shared – her exquisitely fresh tasting produce, her story, and her precious time.
Fancy getting green fingered?
WATCH Gardener’s World, Fridays 8.30pm, BBC2
GET STARTED by buying some organic seeds to sow, for example from https://www.wholesale.molesseeds.co.uk/organic-vegetables/
GO FURTHER by finding a London allotment https://www.allaboutallotments.co.uk/associations-london