by Liberty Stembridge, Money Columnist
Published in Money on 23rd July, 2018
What if you could find a way to become more self-sufficient, live more sustainably, save money and improve your health, all for free? Turns out you can, but it's not as glamourous as you might imagine. Growing your own food might not solve all your life's problems, but it can certainly be a step towards living a happier, healthier life.
More and more people all over the world are taking to their backyards to grow their own food, why? Because it's cheap, rewarding and healthy. It's been coined the "grow your own food revolution". By growing your own fruits and veggies you can save money simply and easily. In a time where you can walk down the street and buy pretty much anything you want, it's easy to forget that actually the earth around us can provide so much for free. It's not just money though, growing your own food has plenty of other benefits too...
The opportunity to reconnect with mother nature has also drawn many people into backyard farming, as more and more studies come out showing how modern living has disconnected us from nature, and that by tuning back in, we can actually improve our mental health and longevity. It doesn't have to be for that long either, just spending an hour or so more outside, without the distractions of our phones has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, as well as improve health and immunity. Plus, if you're not a fan of pesticides and fertilizers, the chance to control where your food comes from is a big draw.
Growing your own food as a whole host of benefits clearly, but what about the environment? Turns out, you can actually reduce your carbon footprint quite substantially by doing some gardening - growing your own food can really help to benefit the planet, as well as your body. The food you buy from the store has most likely been flown in from far away, possibly across the world, which contributes massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By growing your own food, you cut out the middle man and tons of noxious gases from the environment. Plus, you get to decide what goes into the soils, so less pesticides and less fertilizers that could stream into local water sources and kill off wildlife.
The more people who grow their own food, the less we need to rely on monoculture crops. Monoculture farming is when land is used to grow one crop over and over again. So for example, a farmer might use a piece of land to grow potatoes, and then once they're harvested, replant them and grow another crop of potatoes. This sounds harmless in theory, but actually works against nature, resulting in a reduction in biodiversity and can seriously harm the soil, making it harder to grow food in.
Unfortunately, the practice of growing your own food has got somewhat of a bad rep recently. As the world has developed and it's become easier and easier for those of us in developed countries to just go down the store and buy food, or get it delivered to our door, we've started to look down on at-home food production as a sign of poverty, or wasted time, but really it wasn't that long ago that everyone was doing it, and being praised for it too. When world war two broke out, it wasn't long before governments were urging their citizens to start growing their own food as rationing kicked in and food imports slowed. Since then, the desire to get away from being associated with poverty and wartime has all but obliterated backyard food growing as a common practice.
Now is the perfect time to start reclaiming food growing as a way to be healthier, economical and self-sufficient; especially as housing and food prices grow everyday.
It's all very well reading about the benefits of growing your own food, but what about the practicalities. For some people, growing their own food is a dream, but it doesn't feel like it could ever be achieved. We have busy lives and often live in small spaces without the space to start growing our own food. Or we have the reverse problem, we already have plenty of land, but we don't have the knowledge and resources to use it properly.
The trick is to start small, as with anything, throwing yourself in the dep end with no knowledge whatsoever could easily lead to disaster, so start off simple. For people living in city apartments, window boxes, hanging plants or small indoor greenhouses can all be great options to maximize space and get started. Look for easy foods to grow that are hardy and can withstand potential neglect as you figure out how to look after them, and don't forget to enlist the help of your friends and neighbors. It's always handy to have someone who can pop in and water your plants if you go away. Potentially you could even set up a co-op between your friends or the wider community, where you all grow your own food and then share it out, so that someone who has loads of basil gets to swap it for a few tomatoes. This way you can specialize in just one plant, without drowning in it.
Of course, before you dive into your home-food adventure, make sure to do your research on what kind of plants you can grow in your climate and educate yourself about what seasons to grow certain foods, and what kind of plants to avoid.
When it comes to growing your own food, it's important to keep a "do what you can" mindset. Sometimes life gets in the way, or you simply don't have the space and resources to grow your own food. Buying organic, locally made food also makes a difference to yourself and to the planet. If you only manage to keep one limp basil plant alive for a couple months, then that's a step in the right direction. The more you read up and educate yourself on the process, the better prepared you'll be for when the time does come.
If you're just staring out on your home growing journey, there's probably one big question on your mind: what do I even grow? Technically, the answer is: "whatever you want" but that could cause some trouble as you realize a lemon tree quickly outgrows a window box. So here's a short list of the different types of foods you could grow at home. They're all easy to find, yummy and simple to grow.
Herbs are probably some of the best plants to try growing when you're just starting out. They're versatile, generally very easy to look after, and usually pretty quick to grow.
Don't beat yourself up if you can't set up a community gardening project just yet, growing your own food is not the be all and end all, but if you can, definitely go for it. Chances are you'll be healthier, happier and richer for it!