Some History of Survival Growing
Back in the 1930s before the creation of the welfare state, Britain went through a recession, well a slump actually, the mother of all recessions. Those workers who had jobs found their wages cut and those who didn’t have work got precious little dole. When the workers weren’t being paid enough to live on, there’s no way that the dole provided an easy life so these people had to supplement their incomes.
Their gardens became food production areas, a few chickens fed on scraps and what the garden provided, made the difference between malnutrition and health. In those days, ill health was pretty serious. No welfare state, no NHS to provide healthcare free to all according to need.
There’s no way that you could describe those as the ‘good old days’ – rickets, a softening of the bones in children short of Vitamin D and calcium, was common as were ringworm, head and body lice.
Yet many of those people, despite appalling deprivation by today’s standards, managed to provide much of the basic foods from their back gardens and allotments. A farm worker would return home after a long hard day of manual labour and tend his cottage garden. Not for some attractive flowers but to ensure his family had food enough to eat that his meagre wages could not provide.
If a farm worker turned his garden all over to potatoes then he was known to be looking at moving on to a new job and was cashing in the fertility he had built up in his tied cottage’s garden before moving to the next. That was truly gardening for survival
Survival Gardening Today – Why?
Nowadays we face a totally different set of problems in our lives. We have a National Health Service that, for all its well publicised faults, looks after us when we are ill. Yet as a nation, along with other nations of the developed world, we’re suffering an epidemic of obesity.
For every advert on our televisions extolling the virtues of some food there’s another offering help in losing weight if not miracle cures. The semi-erotic voiceover of Marks & Spencer’s ‘This is not just food, this is Marks & Spencer food’ distracts from one simple fact, these are factory made ready meals. Meanwhile, ‘Mums go to Iceland’ implying they know a secret way, going to that shop, to provide decent food for a family at an affordable price. A hidden message of empowerment and freedom from drudgery.
After eating these factory made foods, what better than yoghurt with special bacteria and fibre drinks or pills to relieve bowel problems? Cereals that promise to drop a jean size and schools to teach you how to lose weight.
Yet when all is said and done, generally our weight is a simple equation. The calories in should equal calories out to maintain our weight. Reduce ‘calories in‘ or increase ‘calories out‘ and weight will be lost.
There’s no doubt that growing your own vegetables takes hard work. Digging over is just the start, weeding and planting, re-building a compost heap all use energy and increase our ‘calories out‘.
When you grow your own you find vegetables taste wonderful. It’s quite simple, they’re as fresh as possible and the varieties are grown for flavour not for shelf-life, appearance and ability to travel. So your diet hopefully becomes healthier with more vegetables providing bulk with fibre, to relieve those bowel problems, vitamins and reducing the amounts of fats and processed sugars that add so many calories to our diet. Reducing the ‘calories in‘
Our finances nowadays are different, even those living on benefits can get enough to eat and although you can argue their time would be better spent earning money than gardening, there’s no doubt gardening and especially allotment gardening with its social interaction is good for our mental health. It teaches planning, patience and how life interacts.
The financial savings are not to be ignored though. There are few hobbies that actually pay you. My best estimate is that an allotment can save the average family around £800 a year off their food bill. Surely growing your own and being ‘paid’ is a better use of time than sitting watching rubbish on the television.
So I contend that growing your own is, if no longer a matter of survival, beneficial to our personal health.
Global Survival Gardening
There’s more to it than our personal health though. Our farming industry is mainly in thrall to the supermarket chains that provide the vast majority of our food. Yes you can buy organic foods and food from farmer’s markets etc but they’re not cheap. For someone trying to live on the breadline, there is no choice. For many of our elderly the choice is between heating and eating not organic and conventional.
This pressure on the farming industry means they have to be efficient to make a living. This drive for efficiency means the farmer is often forced to choose between animal husbandry standards they would like to follow and cutting corners to keep the price down.
This results in the obscenity of battery hens and staff so divorced from the stock that they played baseball with live turkeys as the ball. Although there are strict controls on pesticide and herbicide use, you have to speculate if these are adhered to in practice by all. Tests carried out by the Soil Association would cast doubt on that obedience to the rules.
Growing your own sends a message to the supermarkets that effectively control our food. We have a choice.
Food Miles & Exploitation
The last thing I would mention is food miles and exploitation. Our desire to eat what we want regardless of the season means that much of our food is imported from poor countries across the globe.
The irony is that we buy food from countries where the exporters don’t have enough to eat for themselves. It’s not just food, either. Guess where many of those cut flowers come from?
I know some people don’t agree that global warming is a serious problem caused by our actions as a species. That’s their prerogative, they can believe the earth is flat if they want. I believe the damage to our environment we have caused threatens our civilisation if not our very existence as a species in the long run.
Growing your own is not the total solution to the climate change problem but, as the dominant supermarket chain in the UK likes to tell us, ‘Every little helps‘