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Peas Out: Gardening towards simpler living, Part II

Genevieve Chan

“The issues around food production are not black and white, and neither is the solution”

If you were led here by Part I, you will have read a light hearted article about a courtyard vegetable garden. In this part, I want to share some thoughts about our modern food system that have come from raising our own fruits and vegetables.

Through sharing our home grown produce with the community around us, I have come to a certain realisation about the accessibility of fresh and good quality produce. It struck me most when we gave a jar of zucchini pickles to one of our neighbours. Afterwards, they let us know they had enjoyed it, particularly as they did not usually get to eat “fancy things.” This remark struck a strong chord in me. Especially since it was only five years ago that we ourselves had been unable to afford similar ‘fancy’ foods. The irony is that, the concept of a pickle or preserve was not initially intended to be ‘fancy’.

It was originally a method for extending the life of excess produce at the end of the growing season. It eliminates garden waste and allows you to enjoy your produce during those cold, winter months. Our neighbour’s remark drove home how, in this day and age, good quality produce tends to come at a premium. In other words, those who need to think carefully about the value and economy of their dollar are often priced out of access to fresh and good quality fruits and vegetables. This fact of life bothers me immensely; good, nutritious, wholesome food is a basic need. It comes from the earth and should be accessible to all.

This is not to invalidate the hard work of the small scale farmer or the pricing of their livelihood.

I consider the local farmer to equally be a victim of the same system. Their lot is the constant struggle between customer expectations set by unrealistically low priced, mass produced, supermarket produce and affording a reasonable standard of living from small scale production.

I know that my advocacy for growing your own vegetables and fruit only addresses half of the problem. It certainly does not help the small producing local farmer who is stuck between a rock and hard place. Growing our own produce has certainly given me an appreciation of the hard work that is put into the land in order for it to create food.

I should also make it clear that we have not eliminated our weekly trip to the supermarket. We acknowledge the reality that we live in, and currently, that reality involves a mortgage, full time work or study and other hobbies. In turn, our choice is to put a foot on either side of the fence. One foot on the side where we grow as much of our produce as possible, buy our eggs from a local breeder and bake a loaf of our own sourdough bread every week. And the other foot on the side where we accept that convenience and the bottom line has a place in our lives, at this point in time. This is the life we have found works best for us currently and it is important that you find the balance that works for you.

So, what exactly is the point that I am trying to get at?

I am trying to say that growing our own fruit and vegetables – taking back some control of food production into our own hands – has been, and still is, a fantastically exhilarating and liberating experience. We know our produce is fresh, where it comes from and the amount of work that has been put into growing it. But I don’t want to shove it down your throat and say you must grow your own produce or that you must shop at your local farmers market or that this is the only way to live. The issues around food production are not black and white, and neither is the solution.

What I would like you to take away from this article though is the idea of possibility when it comes to your fruits and vegetables. If you are in a position to start your own vegetable garden and plant a few fruit trees, I say go for it – you will never look back. If you are not in a position to grow your own produce, but have some spare space, you might think about setting up an informal agreement with family, friends, or even your neighbours where you share your land to grow food, in exchange for a portion of the products. If you are worried about privacy or safety, you might soon be able to loan out your nature strip.

If you live in a confined area, you could think about possibly growing some windowsill herbs or, if you are feeling game, raise the idea of a community vegetable plot with the body corporate’s executive committee. Some local schools now have community garden plots that are accessible to all who live in the area. And if you are not in a position at all to grow your own produce, you could think about making a visit to one of Canberra’s co-ops, local green grocers or farmers markets whenever your situation allows (even if that is quarterly, bi-annually, annually – in my case, it was once in a five year period).

Fresh, good quality produce should be accessible to all, but it has been shrouded by our complex food system and adds to the hustle of our modern lives; all in the name of convenience (be honest, how much do you actually like going to the supermarket?).

I strongly recommend taking a bit of time to think about what you can do for yourself to erase some of that complexity. With a bit of creativity, life can sometimes be as simple as pulling a carrot out of the ground, even if just for the briefest moment.

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Genevieve Chan

Genevieve is a happy, go-lucky, free-spirited woman who is always on the lookout for a new adventure to whisk her away from her public servant day job. She loves Canberra and was well aware that it was the best place to live, long before this beautiful city came to the attention of the New York Times or the OECD. When she’s not expending excess energy through dancing, running, walking or cycling, you’ll find her helping her husband in their courtyard vegetable garden, cooking or eating (or both), reading and – of course – writing. More about the Author

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