3 March, 2011
Food. It’s the basis of life. But it’s much more than that now. The modern food system is a complex of interlocking parts including energy (especially oil), transport, chemicals, economics, big corporations, supermarkets, land tenure and ownership, markets, deforestation, monocultures. And huge subsidies. All of this is combined with the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional aspects of nature. It wasn’t always this complicated – it used to be the stuff growing outside our doors.
I was digging up some potatoes, planted some months ago, and marveled at the simplicity of growing potatoes. Dig a hole, put in the seed potato, cover with straw, add more straw. And wait. Pretty easy really. Of course, there were lots of things going on, above and below ground, seen and unseen, and over which I had little or no control, things making their own special contributions to the development of these tasty little tubers. Sunshine. Water. Soil organisms. Worms. Especially worms.
Growing food – such a radical practice these days. In Australia, two companies (Coles and Woolworths) control over 45% of fruit and vegetables sold. Most people rely heavily on supermarkets to provide their fresh food. What do we really know about this food? How is it produced? Where did it come from? How much land and animal abuse was involved? Is it safe to eat?
Patrick Jones has stated this about food: “Few people know that the central ingredient in mass-produced transported food is crude oil, and therefore few people realise that a large part of the carbon problem we face today is our reliance on supermarkets and fast food outlets.” For more on this see – The Oil we Eat.
I step outside my front door, pick a few sage leaves, place them in some oil slightly smoking on the stove, add the freshly dug potatoes, and serve them with a pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. On the side, a collection of green leaves from the garden, some six different types (rocket, lettuce x 3, nasturtium, sorrel). Simply yum. Footprint: maybe 30 of them, largely barefoot!
There seems to be something really wrong with our food system. Modern industrial agriculture is one of the most damaging activities on the planet. Damaging to land, to other species, to the atmosphere, to social systems, to our health. And it is so extremely wasteful of resources.
And it lacks ethics: There are 800 million people in the world who are hungry without adequate access to food, with a similar number overweight and obese. Why do we allow this to happen? How will this change?
My orchard is producing fruit at last, after five years. My first nashi pear with the taste of sunshine, unsurpassed in goodness and freshness. My first figs, so fresh and delightful. Grown through the patient tending of trees – watering, mulching and manuring. Slow food. Beautiful food. In the near future, perhaps I can just rely on my own food, supplemented by locally grown food, and maybe never, ever visit a supermarket again. What a joy that would be!
Erika Allen from Growing Power, says: “Urban farming is key in the reclamation of an Earth and ecology-based value system, and it plays an important role: We need urban food production, communities growing food in an urban environment.”.
The practice of growing your own food is perhaps the most thoughtful and educative nature-based practice for today. As Permaculture teacher, Geoff Lawton says: “All the world’s problems can be solved in a garden”.