The Garden Champion

In a leafy suburb on the north-western fringes of Greater London, a 92-old man spends the summertime in his haven, the back garden. At a leisurely pace, he is tending to the cabbage, watering bright petunias and, once his work is done, sips on a cup of tea while basking in the sunlight. He contemplates how fortunate he is to be able to continue this rewarding and peaceful hobby.

Then, possessed by his own self-belief and infinite energy, he throws the shed door open, wrenches out a ladder twice the size of him and marches with intent towards the apple tree. There is a bountiful crop this year – not one can go to waste. The ladder is propped up with surprising precision against a thick branch, the old soldier climbs up. He returns in triumph a mere five minutes later with a bag full of the best cooking apples he has ever had.

If I was a better grandson, I would have offered to go up. But why clamber up a tree when the supermarket provides so well?

I am hesitant to write an article about growing your own food when it seems that most people, including myself, are so pressed for spare time. Shouldn’t we be focusing on tidying up the supermarket industry?

Yes, completely right. My answer is … grow your own food. Let the industry learn from the people (i.e. Grandad).

The UN 2013 report on food security, a compilation of studies by analysts, researchers and directors from the academia, business and NGOs, was alarmingly titled “Wake up before it’s too late”. Gulp. This could be said about any aspect of mitigation and adaption to climate change. In a fair world which provides enough food for all, while avoiding shameful extravagance, the main goal would be to “grow more food at less cost to the environment”.

Let’s look at a local but less serious example of food security. We import 3-4 times as many apples as we produce in Britain. This is the home of cider, the world famous Cox variety and the only country to grow the cooking variety. Despite this, Britain has plans to begin exporting to rapidly-developing economies. Simply put, if the UK did not import from France, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile, would the apple be a luxury, not an essential?

One of many: apples, no matter how unattractive, can remain fresh for 4-5 months if wrapper in newspaper and stored in a container outside during winter.

One of many: apples, no matter how unattractive, can remain fresh for 4-5 months if wrapper in newspaper and stored in a container outside during winter.

Answer – the apple would become what it is for Grandad. Seasonal. In the land of the supermarket this concept is sadly dead; instead we have too much all of the time and waste is inevitable. Not only does the old fella have enough for a winter of apple pies, but the neighbours and extended family all get a bucket.

Home-grown cake: An ugly fruit can go a long way.

Home-grown cake: An ugly fruit can go a long way.

The benefits of growing your own, seasonal foods are also threefold. Physical: it’s kept Grandad fit for several decades.  Environmental: there are no transport emissions, excessive packaging or refrigeration required. Societal? Yes: If the amount produced in a garden is more than what the household requires and it’s not hard to think of ways to distribute free food – neighbours, food banks. Small harvest this year? Well at least your weekly shop has been offset.

This is not some hippy-phase or some environmentalist whining. Growing your own food empowers and promotes self-dependence. It can bridge the gap between those who can afford too much and those who struggle to get by. Grandad can grow blackberries, rhubarb, potatoes, figs, cabbage and those infamous apples in a restricted green space in a London borough. He literally has enough to sell but he gives those he doesn’t need away. We need Grandad’s attitude and drive on an industrial scale.