You are concerned about environmental issues, health issues, and human rights. The tsunami of information blasted at you has left you bewildered. When the problems of the world are so huge, what can one person do?
With one small step in your own backyard, with little expense and just as much effort as you can fit into your busy lifestyle, you can reduce your environmental impact, improve your health, and develop vital skills for the future—you can grow your own organic food.
A few years ago, almost all agriculture was organic without anyone actually naming it as such. In the early part of the twentieth century, corporate interests began to flood the food market with various petrochemicals to improve the yield of crops. And make no mistake, the yields did improve. Improved yields meant improved profits, and big business took food production away from the local and individual.
From the 1930s on, people such as Rudolf Steiner became concerned about the costs associated with chemically enhanced growing, and not just the financial ones. More often than not, such people were labelled as freaks and primitives. Indeed, here in New Zealand, one of the first organic chain stores was named Cranks as a kind of joke against that impression. In the last few years, as environmental concerns have grown, organic growing has become more mainstream. Although it is still only a part of the world’s food production, it is an increasing portion.
It is encouraging that those with a vested interest in the technological approach to food production are beginning to speak the same language as the organic growers. Even Monsanto’s website is littered with references to being sustainable. Now I’m not holding up Monsanto as a light of good practice, but they do recognise that there is a valid argument. As far back as 1999, Robert Shapiro, then CEO of Monsanto, said “The commercial industrial technologies that are used in agriculture today to feed the world… are not inherently sustainable.”
My own journey towards organic growing began with my health. I had problems with my digestion and realised that I needed to eat healthier. Buying lots of fruit and vegetables from the local supermarket was my first idea. However, I soon realised that much of the produce had little or no taste, although it looked great and stayed “fresh” for quite a while. As a young man, I had worked on chemically dependant farms in several countries, so I knew how much fertiliser and pesticide could be forced into food, especially food grown for export, which needs to stay on the shelf for a long time.
I began to yearn for the taste of the tomatoes my dad grew when I was a kid, so I started to buy organic produce. But these days I have three kids of my own and I just can’t afford to pay premium prices for everything we eat. Growing some of my own food became the only option.
Some people could have other reasons for choosing to grow their own organic food. They may feel they do not want to contribute to an economic system that exploits both people and the environment; they know the use of enormous amounts of oil-based products to bring food to the table is completely unsustainable. Likely some are concerned with the toxic effects of the chemicals with which much of our food is laced. Some may just want a measure of independence in an increasingly dependant world.
Many people today are ready to make an effort to reduce their impact on the planet. If the scenarios of global warming and peak oil are correct, we are in for a century of huge change. It is unlikely we can rely on governments to solve our future problems. As individuals, we need to take responsibility for ourselves. What could be more responsible than learning the basic skills of producing food?
There is one thing that people who grow their own food using organic methods rarely mention, though it is as important as any of the health, environmental or socio-political reasons. It’s fun! There is a deep satisfaction in watching your kids fancy a snack, then wander out to the strawberry plants to help themselves. Serving up a fresh salad to your friends and being told that your lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and onions are delicious makes you smile. If you have prepared the soil, planted the seed, fought the slugs in hand to slime combat, and lovingly watered and fed your salad, you’ve earned a real sense of achievement.
We live in a world of increasing stress. Putting your hands in the soil helps. As modern busy people, we have lost appreciation for a simple pleasure our ancestors took for granted.
It’s not always easy to produce food. Pests, weeds, climate, and time constraints all conspire to defeat us. However, when problems are overcome, the satisfaction is that much greater. If something is hard won, we appreciate it more.
A packet of heritage seeds costs just a few dollars. From that packet you will be able to grow a decent crop and collect seeds for the future. Every year the garden costs less.
Eating better and cheaper food while reducing your carbon footprint makes you feel good. When you think in terms of “food yards” instead of “food miles,” the environment benefits. Whether you have a few acres where you can become self-sufficient, a backyard which can supply the taste of fresh produce in season, or just a window box for a few herbs, we can all grow some of our food organically. Give it a go. You’ll enjoy it and so will the planet.