While veg aisles are stripped bare, the humble backyard garden now serves a bigger purpose than tending to your inner green thumb.
- Self-sufficiency and the choice not to be locked into fluctuating supply chains and costs is the goal of exchange groups
- Back to basics with subsistence agriculture is still very common in developing countries
- Resourcing and contamination are challenges to growth in urban areas
People are looking for self-sufficiency through the back door and choosing not to be locked into fluctuating supply chains and costs.
Matthew Raabe enjoys growing fresh produce for his family in Stanthorpe, Queensland’s Southern Downs.
He said that although it is a hobby, growing food is a necessity of life.
“Food sustains life and yet it’s not a major cultural element for many people,” he said.
“Being too dependent on supermarket chains and not being able to grow things for themselves to the point of complete dependency has become common.
“At the height of sufficiency, four out of seven things on our plate grew in the garden or were brought from the garden.
Agribusiness lecturer and food security expert Dr Risti Permani said going back to basics with subsistence farming is still very common in developing countries.
“They are like 24-hour farmers, but can only produce what is enough for their family,” she said.
“I think there’s certainly a lot of discussion about how much this movement contributes to food security.”
Gather the community
Good seasonal conditions mean fruit baskets are overflowing and trees are full of produce, but there’s not much fun to be had with leftovers.
Sharing and exchanging local products brings the community together while helping the hip pocket.
While the Toowoomba Home Produce Swap Group meets once a month, excess produce shared among members lasts for weeks.
The community aspect of the initiative is reminiscent of past generations where people grew up and only traded what they needed.
Group administrator Charmaine Williamson said there was a wide variety to choose from.
“We have everything from egg cartons and empty bottles to homemade produce and finer things like pickles from surplus produce…or someone making wine,” she said. .
“We make jams and pickles with what’s left.
Ms Williamson said it was more than financial.
“The reasons for health and well-being, mental, physical, are the real benefits of joining this group,” she said.
Group member Ursula O’Brien said it also reduces waste.
“As a single, permaculture-influenced person, I can grow and process so much more than I and my neighborhood want and need,” she said.
No quick fix
This move has great benefits, but it is not a magic bullet for the rising price and limited product availability.
Dr Permani said there were many contributing factors.
“There are concerns like resources and contamination,” she said.
“Especially if you’re gardening in urban soils. There could be heavy metal contamination. And the efficiency with which growers use land and water, and their knowledge of food safety.
“Dietary diversity of people who grow their own food is also quite limited.”
While the idea of growing your own is an easy concept for some, it’s not a viable option for those who live in high-density urban areas with little or no garden.
“You might be able to get a carrot or two, but you would always rely on what’s available in a supermarket,” Dr Permani said.
“We might need millions of different solutions for this.”
Mr Raabe said if only one component of the plate was self-cultivated, it was a step in the right direction.
“And some people will become amateurs with it, rekindle their love of putting their fingers in the dirt and growing things, looking at the cycle of life,” he said.
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