For most of my life I’ve relied on the ‘system’ for my basic needs, food being the most fundamental. Going to the grocery store is convenient, fast and easy. The selection is enormous and for most people living in developed countries grocery store food is quite affordable.
The system works and has worked for decades. So why would anyone go through the time and effort to grow their own food?
Spring 2021 I made my third attempt (my first serious attempt, however) to grow vegetables in my small urban backyard. I am growing tomatoes, peppers, squash, basil, jalapenos and ‘the happy plant’ from seed. So far, things are going much better than I expected. In fact, I think I might end up with more than I can handle. I’ll probably need to learn how to preserve food, but I’ll cross that bridge later.
I’m not the only one who started taking gardening seriously this year. Working at home has turned us all into renovators, decorators, gardeners, etc. as we focus on the homestead in which we are spending more time. Moreover, the pandemic has opened our eyes to the vulnerabilities of the ‘system’ upon which we rely.
There are 5 main reasons why I believe it is important that all of us should start growing our own vegetables:
Increase Self Sufficiency and Food Security
Although we rarely give it a second thought, it’s flabbergasting that we completely outsource our most essential need to others. Considering society is only 3 missed meals from anarchy, it only makes sense to reduce dependence on others for our food.
For most urban (and even rural) gardeners, it’s unlikely you can grow 100% of your own food requirements. However, replacing some portion of groceey purchases with home-grown vegetables helps increase self sufficiency in the event of a disruption to the industrial food supply chain.
Learning to grow food takes time, and it’s not something you want to figure out during a crisis. So developing the skills now (when you don’t need them to survive) is good practice for any future failures.
This goes beyond the individual household. If everyone in a community had the skill to grow some of their own food, it would alleviate pressure on the industrial food system. Some say that this community skill helped people survive the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago.
Immigrant families in Canada and the United States have carried the tradition of growing food because of what they and their ancestors have witnessed in their home countries. Gardening is an essential skill.
Reduce Consumption of Pesticides and Herbicides
Industrial-scale food production isn’t possible without massive use of chemicals to kill bugs, eradicate weeds and feed plants. While the food we buy from the grocery store is generally safe, it’s still exposed to unwanted residues.
When you grow your own vegetables, you can cut out unwanted inputs. At a household scale, it’s far easier to manage pests and weeds by hand or other less harmful methods. (For example, many use a mixture of dish-soap and water as a safer alternative to pesticides.) You’re never going to win 100% of the battles, but once you accept that a portion of your crop will inevitably be lost to pests you can enjoy the remainder with less worry about what you’re ingesting.
Quality and Taste
Most varieties of vegetables grown on industrial-scale farms are bred to survive mass production, as opposed to taste. They are picked before ripening and shipped over long distances, often stored in fridges or freezers. As a result, many vegetables bought in the grocery store are of mediocre quality. Sure, they look nice (because that’s what ultimately sells the produce) but they lack flavor.
When you grow your own vegetables, you can go from farm-to-table within minutes. This means you can pick your vegetables when they are ready for eating, as opposed to when they are ready for transport and storage. Also, because your vegetables don’t need to be bred to survive the food distribution supply chain, you can use varieties that are bred for flavor.
Mental and Physical Health
Aside from the nutritional and security benefits, gardening can help improve your mental and physical health. Getting outside, moving, lifting and so on beats watching Netflix on the couch. Moreover, research has shown that being in nature can help people de-stress.
I particularly find gardening fulfilling. It is the most fulfilling activity I do. It is a rare opportunity to see something go from nothing to something valuable, entirely dependent on my effort. I have full control (mostly) and the more I put in the more I get out. You simply don’t get that from most day jobs, where your efforts are often lost in bureaucratic noise.
Gardening is the antidote to corporate life.
Most successful harvests result in an overabundance of food. While it’s important to learn how to store a harvest over long periods (e.g. canning, drying), donating a surplus of vegetables is a great way to connect with others in your community.
Give baskets of tomatoes to your friends, family and neighbors. It might encourage others to start their own gardens or find other ways to become more self-sufficient.
This benefits everyone.