Growing our own food enables us to teach our kids the important theological lesson of slowing down. And it enables me to remind myself of this spiritual discipline which I seem to be forever forgetting.
I recently posted some reflection on Slow Church and “coffee theology”, the idea that beauty, rather than efficiency, is more of a kingdom value. And this is something that I really want to teach my girls as they grow up. In a world which values efficiency, fast everything and instant gratification, the 12-14 weeks to wait and watch our food grow are a gift. In the garden we teach our kids the importance of planning ahead, the truth about the variability of life and the seasons, the virtue of patience and slowing down… that beauty (and food) takes time. And this has lasting effects on the way we view the world and interact with it.
I think by slowing down in the garden we are able to engage more fully in issues of justice. By slowing down our food production we begin to engage more fully and even rectify some of the things that are broken in our food system. Unfortunately, the global food system is one of convenience, productivity and profit over worker’s rights and environmental impact.
One of the things I remember most about growing up was helping Dad in the veggie patch. We used plant it out, harvest it, prune the citrus trees, tend the chooks! It was great as a kid to be out, learning about nature, and watching as your hard work produced tasty food that you could eat fresh from the garden!!
I am told that my Great-Grandfather was a Market Gardner in south Sydney and his Son, my Grandpa, had a garden which definitely resembled a market garden. It had rows meticulously planted, perfectly straight with string lines and multiple succession crops of peas and the biggest cauliflowers and cabbages I have ever seen in a backyard garden! My Grandpa had gardening passed on to him from his Father and he handed it on to my Dad. My Dad’s love of plants resulted in him studying Agriculture. He even became a commercial agronomist and plant breeder with Yates, all the while growing plenty of our own veggies at home.
My Dad then passed this love of gardening to me and my sisters. All three of us loved to harvest the beans and broccoli and onions and carrots. We had plenty of fruit trees and passion fruit and I love to collect the eggs. It was a family affair when it was time to plant or harvest the crops in the backyard.
All three of us kids are now grown up with our own kids and we all have big veggie gardens in our backyards. Both of my sisters went on to study agriculture and one of my sisters has even become a Horticultural/Agricultural Scientist in Tasmania specializing in vegetables! You can only imagine what her garden is like!
And now we are all passing on this love of veggie gardening to our own kids. My kids love getting into the Urban Farm, even if is just to collect a few eggs (or catch a chook for fun), pull out a few weeds or get in and plant the next crop! And best of all, like my childhood, they know what raw food looks and tastes like and they know where their food comes from!
Its a multi-generational love of urban farming! We must have dirt in our blood!
Winter. Not exactly the best time to be an urban farmer. Cold. Damp. Slow.
This year in Donald (Western VIC, Australia) has been particularly cold and typically dry. Maximums have been consistently around 9-13°C with plenty of clouds. There has been a number of small, insignificant showers of rain amounting to just 37mm (1.5 inches) in June & July and only 128mm for 2015 (5 inches). So what do you do when it’s so cold, dry and slow?
WHAT WE’RE HARVESTING
We’re currently picking plenty of kale, spinach, silverbeet and chard as well as some secondary heads of broccoli (which are slow growing) and some leeks. This is nice and added to frozen beans from summer and the odd slow growing beetroot from the winter garden we can make do with buying a few veggies like potatoes and maybe a few carrots. There are peas in the garden which are flowering but not podding yet, and the broad beans are up and about, so when it warms up around September we should have a large influx of produce. The kale, beetroots, silverbeet and broccoli should all grow quicker and produce good yields come September as well.
GARDEN JOBS TO DO
Although we haven’t had enough rain to stop watering, and the cold has stunted the growth of some crops, the weeds have been running rampant. There has been lots of rye grass, stinging nettles and other small weeds poking their heads up and need to be pulled. The chooks are thankful for the constant supply of greens however!
It is also time to starting thinking about Spring-Summer crops and making room for them. Soon I’ll plant some snow peas and work beds with manure and compost where summer crops will be planted. I’m halfway through making a mini seed raising hot house out of an old kitchen cupboard which will be used to start off early summer crops and protect them from a late frost.
The idea is to have enough space prepared in the garden for summer crops to be planted out – beans, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, sweet corn, capsicum, potato etc – while still growing the current winter-spring crops. Then, when they have finished by summer, they can make way for succession plantings of the summer crops and rested beds ready for autumn. There are also fruit trees to prune like the massive over grown fig tree and the old nectarine tree. These will also be dressed with manure ready for spring growth and flowers!
It might be cold, wet & slow but there is always something to do!
You go shopping, load up your basket or trolley with produce, but how far has that food travelled to get to your local supermarket and kitchen? In Australia, the typical shopping basket of food has travelled an estimated 70,000km – this is equivalent to travelling twice around the circumference of the Earth or travelling around Australia’s coastline three times!!
“Food Miles” is a term which was coined in Britain and is used to describe the distance food has travelled from paddock to plate, from production to consumption. A typical Australian shopping basket has such high food miles is due to Australia being a remote country from the rest of the world and many of our supermarkets stock food that is grown and imported from overseas. Hence, simply buying “Australian” will reduce your food miles.
By purchasing an orange grown in Mildura rather than California you reduce food miles from 12,879km to 567km.
But is this enough? Is it OK for our food to continually travel 500 plus kilometers to reach my plate?
That orange, that the Ethical Consumer Guide speaks of, is one purchased in Melbourne after being grown in Mildura. However, I live 300km from Melbourne and because my food from the local supermarket is warehoused in Melbourne, my orange would have travelled nearly 900km to get to me! And yet, I am less than 300km from Mildura where the orange is grown!! This is not OK!
The main issues with food that has high food miles are relatively obvious and people like CERES have outlined this in more detail. Basically, there are high costs in transportation, huge amounts of energy that ae required to transport and store food over large distances and therefore high carbon emissions which are created in transportation and storage, just to name a couple of issues.
Food Miles is one of the primary reasons why we grow our own food. When fresh food from the supermarket is harvested, stored, transported, stored again, sold, stored some more and finally cooked and eaten, it is no wonder the quality of the product is inferior to something which is harvested and immediately eaten. The vast majority of our family’s fruit and vegetables doesn’t travel “food miles” but “food metres”!! The result is tasty, fresh, organic local produce! We know what has happened to our food from the time it was sown to the time it is eaten, unlike the broccoli you buy in the Supermaket which was grown somewhere in Queensland, trucked to Melbourne, out to Donald and finally to our home.
So, here are 5 Tips on how you can reduce your food miles and start knowing where your food comes from.
1. Grow your own! Even if it is only a few tomatoes in summer or a couple of pots on the balcony, growing at least some of your own fruit and veggies drastically reduces your food miles. Not to mention, growing your own enables you to ensure that your food is organic, that the environment is not being damaged during production and that workers are not being treated unethically! And even if none of that concerns you, its just fun to grown and eat your own produce!
2. Share Produce! If you’re growing your own food, find others who are also growing their own food and share produce with them. You will still know where your food comes from and how it was grown, and you get to eat local fresh produce that you couldn’t grown in your own space! Swap, trade, give away excess food and be treated to a variety of local garden produce with limited food miles!
3. Shop Local! Buy your food from local shops who sell local produce, farmers markets, farm gates and road side stalls. This is known as “one-degree of separation”. Buying with one degree of separation means you either know the grower or you have bought your food from someone who knows the grower. There is only one “middle man” or it may even be direct from the producer. This limits food miles and it allows you to become familiar with how the product was grown to ensure that its production meets you ethical and environmental standards.
4. Eat Seasonally! One of the biggest reasons why food travells large distances in Australia is because people want to buy fresh food out of season. It might not be the season for tomatoes locally, but North Queensland can grow them and we want them!! The only problem is they have to travel 2000 plus kilometers to get to us!! Let alone if its been imported from overseas! If you eat seasonally for your area you can ensure that the produce was most probably grown somewhat locally. Combine this with buying from local farmers markets or farm gates and you can be sure its seasonal, local and fresh without the food miles.
5. Avoid Processed Foods! Processed foods often have the highest food miles because ingredients are sourced from all around Australia or even around the world to make it. It might be a small ingredient in the product but if it was imported from overseas the food miles for the end product are astronomical! Also processed foods keep better and therefore more easily transported. This means that they are more likely to have been transported large distances since it is easy to do. Eat fresh produce, fresh nuts, fresh meat and avoid highly processed foods as much as possible… which is a much better way to eat and live anyway!