Happy World “Grow a Garden Day!” As we have gone into COVID lockdown around the world, I have been thinking a lot about how we source our food. Where do we get our food? Has this source been impacted by COVID? Backyard and balcony gardens have really taken off during this time. I’ve been thinking- why is this? I can come up with two reasons straight away. Reason 1- we have more time at home. Reason 2- we are more aware of the handling processes involved in food production and distribution as we are try to avoid getting sick.
Coming from a place where food symbolises love and nurturing while also being passionate about providing our family the most nutritious and sustainable foods we can, my husband and I have contemplated growing our own food more than a handful of times. Living here in Sydney poses a few barriers. With our busy lifestyle, the biggest obstacle is the pure lack of time. Consequently, we have managed to play with a few small scale initiatives like growing our favourite herbs and tending to tomato vines in our garden. While it brings us joy, it is yet to become a full-blown project for us.
The source of much self reflection, the closest I’ve come to growing and harvesting my own food is at my father-in-law’s (Juanjo) farm. The backdrop is stunning – his farm is positioned in the high hills of the Basque Country in Northern Spain. Here, it rains for the better part of the year which means that the landscape is abundant and green. When the sun shines, and the clouds of the valley part, the mountains form a jaw-dropping backdrop.
Aside from the insanely romantic setting, Juanjo couldn’t be happier in his retirement. Over the years, he has requested seeds for his farm and we have sent him varieties from all around the world through our travels. The result has been 8 years in the making. The farm now provides a plentiful, luscious collection of fruits, vegetables and flowers. He enjoys the outdoors, takes his time to meditate on his farm duties and worries over his pets and plants every day. This is the best way to grow food – with love. (I am a true believer that your food, whether grown or cooked, is a reflection of your own self at the time of harvesting or preparation – but this is a topic for another time.) The bottom line is that Juanjo’s food is full of love and it shows.
Experiencing this “farm-life” is a complete 180 spin from my own childhood. I grew up in bustling Jakarta, Indonesia with its city lights, noise, chatter, people and creature comforts. Farm life is a stark contrast. It is quiet and slow. The process of harvesting food for our meals becomes a ritual in itself, which is such a highlight. The menu is deliberately chosen and then the foraging begins. Working through the plentiful offering, the family comes out of the daily harvesting process with a basket full of organically grown produce bursting with colour and flavour, and (most of all) we come out bursting with the joy of growing and harvesting it ourselves. Swept away in the moment, I have been known to get “lost” in the strawberry patches, looking for the last strawberries of the season to gobble up. So real, so fun.
This sensuous, connected harvesting is a very different food experience from purchasing fresh produce from a supermarket, which on reflection, can seem very robotic and mundane. We do it for convenience – I get that. But if you were needing a push in the direction of growing your own food, here’s a few reasons why you might like to wander down that path.
It’s rewarding – there is nothing better than knowing you planted that seed, and now are harvesting the rewards of the entire process!
You have full control over how it’s grown – you’re not worrying about sprays and pesticides, nor how it’s been handled.
It is the freshest that it can be – all fresh produce starts to deplete in nutrients as soon as it’s picked. It is always best to eat produce as close as possible to harvesting for this reason.
You’ll save money – your grocery bill will shrink as you begin to stock your pantry with fresh produce from your backyard. A packet of seeds can cost less than a dollar. If you learn how to dry, can or otherwise preserve your harvests, you’ll be able to feed yourself even when the growing season is over.
You’ll reduce your environmental impact – think supermarket emissions through electricity, transportation and packaging– you will have none of that with home-grown stuff!
You’ll reduce food waste – so many of us throw away food at the end of the week when we have “forgotten” to eat it. When it’s yours, you will be less likely to take it for granted and more likely to eat it (or to preserve it) before it goes to waste. If it does go off- you can always harvest the seeds for the following season!
Whatever your motivation for breaking ground on your own backyard (or balcony) garden, it’s highly probable that your wallet, the environment, your body and your taste buds will thank you for it. Meanwhile, I will just keep plugging away at our own small collection of plants at home and enjoy the bounty of Juanjo’s farm whenever we can.