In the last year, we decided that our garden should become a working garden, with fruit trees, a vegetable patch and chickens. This, despite the fact that we have little knowledge about growing plants, no experience of looking after fowl, and were not a little concerned about whether we would have the patience, time or inclination for the extra work. Nevertheless, this summer we have had it all up and running and I want to record the happiness that this extra dimension has brought to our family’s life.
The most fundamental source of happiness the reconnection with the land upon which we live. We are out in it far more, in more types of weather, we work it, we care for it. Our habits have changed so that we have come to depend on it. In other words, we look after our land, and in return,our land supports us. Our garden is no longer just there for the view – it’s not enough anymore that it merely looks nice, is an extension of the house, has wonderful decking, and so on.
There are so many reasons to produce your own food from your garden. For instance – just how much more local can you get? I hate shopping so walking into my garden to collect the raw ingredients for supper feels glorious. Since I shop less, I drive less, and I buy less packaging materials which end up in landfill. That alone enriches our quality of life.
Also, just how good does food taste when it goes from plot to pot in less than 5 minutes? How much money are you saving? How good does it feel to have rescued 7 ex-battery chickens (even though one died shortly afterwards...)? How much fun have the kids had this summer looking after them? How uplifting is it to eat stuff that you have grown? How nice is it to swop home grown food with your neighbours, or even better, to give surplus away? And possibly most curious of all – why does one eat so much less when the food is so tasty and chemical free?
It’s only September, there is still stuff out there to harvest, and I am already looking forward to next year’s growing – what will I plant, what have I learnt, can I stretch the season?
If I sound smug, I hope that I’m not really. I could have done this years ago and didn’t. I’m just glad that it’s happened now.
So these are our ‘heart and soul’ reasons for growing a bit of broccoli, spinach and courgette, potatoes, onions, corn and so on. However, there are other, more ‘macro’ reasons for working your piece of earth. For example, if the price of fuel escalates, then food will cost a great deal more – oil fuels the growth, fertilisation, transportation, cold storage, packaging and selling areas of food. If its price increases, no supermarket will be able to absorb those costs and they will be passed straight onto the consumer. Also, crucially, the world has little enough land to support a growing population so that we need to plan carefully how we are going to utilise it. Maybe having a garden which is more than decorative is an idea whose time has come.
Growing your own brings people in touch – literally – with the seasons. It also gives you an awareness of the seasonality of food. Maybe that will lead onto a heightened consciousness of the all year round availability of fruit and veg in the supermarkets and a decision about whether we want to use our financial muscle to discourage the sale of foods with high food mileage. Maybe strawberries at Christmas will be regarded universally as ridiculous. Maybe the sharp taste of the first autumnal apple will be worth waiting for.
Anyway, I love it, from the planting of seeds and anxious glances into pots for the first signs of germination, to swopping seedlings, to excitement that other people are growing stuff too, to talking to older people about how they grew everything they could in war years, to washing the mud from under my nails, to taking a bucket full of food into the hens and bringing it out full of eggs, to tasting the sweet nuttiness of a squash....what a way to live, on the fat of the land.