Why grow your own food? Just a lifestyle choice? Hard work? Or is there more to it?



Posted by: Trevor Riches. 25th February 2015.

At Ard na Ciuin we wholeheartedly embrace the philosophy that Slow Food envisions; a world in which all people can access an enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet.

I’ve been interested in growing food off and on since I was a boy, and whilst I don’t remember my dad planting the fruit trees at the end of our garden, I do remember being fascinated by the bees pollinating the blossoms in the Spring, and then later in the year swinging back and forth on the climbing frame waiting for an apple to drop.

That was the unwritten rule you see: “No picking the apples!” my mum would say, “but you can have some windfalls”. Remarkably, by some unseen force, a few apples managed to fall off even when there wasn’t any wind!

Small beginnings

I started growing my own vegetables in a small patch about 4 ft. by 10 ft. behind the garage in the back garden. I would by a packet of seeds with my pocket money and sow them. I’d take care of the growing plants, and as I had put all the effort in, I was allowed to eat all the produce if I wanted to.

My harvests were small and all too brief, but the memories are vivid and I’ve remembered those wonderful flavours all my life. I also remember the feeling of letting other people have some things to try. Fresh peas especially, spring to mind!

Instead of taking my place at an agricultural college to do a degree in commercial horticulture I decided to teach myself what I felt I needed to know. That was a hard one to ‘sell’ to my parents!

Back in the early 80’s ‘organic growing’ was considered a bit ‘cranky’ and only The Henry Doubleday Research Association, now Garden Organic, stood for ‘clean’ organically grown food.

I knew then I wanted to eat ‘natural’ food; but at that time commercial growing was only about huge yields of uniform crops ‘forced’ on by applied chemical fertilizers. Flavour was secondary and any negative impact on the environment was considered ‘tough luck’.

So, whilst working towards getting my own small farm I learned about organic principles and the benefits to what we now call bio-diversity.

Putting down roots

Eventually I realised my dream and set up my own little farm.

Our kitchen garden and small crop fields produce an array of fruit and vegetables that keep us well supplied with the basics, but we also grow our favourite ‘speciality’ things too.

Any seasonal surplus, not used fresh, is either preserved, made in to wine, traded or fed to our livestock. We almost always have something available to pick fresh from the kitchen garden; I learned long ago that it’s possible, in our climate, to have a green vegetable ready every day of the year;  possible, but not always acheivable!

I’m often asked if all the hard work is really worth it.  I can’t help but smile and ask “what’s hard about it?” For me, I’m indulging a passion. It’s a pleasure, not work!

For example, in the kitchen garden whilst earthing up potatoes in the early morning Spring sunshine, I’ve stood transfixed as the mist rolls up from Ballyduff Glen and surrounds me.

Then as the cool cloud moves on, the warm sun breaks through again, and the light is so pure and ‘crisp’. That’s not work, that’s spiritual!

It’s not about being ‘close to nature’ it’s about being ‘part of nature’,  a real, tangible connection to the earth, to the planet, to the universe even; and we haven’t even picked anything yet!

Back to school

The next part of growing your own food reminds me of school, which personally, I enjoyed. Tending the crops, fighting off pests, balancing the correct amount of water depending on the amount of sunshine; it all seems like one big science experiment to me. Aim, method, result, conclusion, that’s how science is done.

But when you aim to grow your own food the results are always so different, even if you use the same method, year in year out, every year is different. Conclusion? ‘go with the flow’, plant a variety of things and be ‘open’ to something new!

You see it all depends on the ‘right’ temperature, or a certain pest, or the ‘wrong’ amount of water. To quote Forrest Gump   “you never know what you’re gonna get!”.

Time for presents

So, after all the effort you get to reap the rewards.  This bit reminds me of a birthday.

Shelling delicious fresh peas, there’s never enough peas! Digging up those lovely new potatoes or the taste of raw carrots, crisp and sweet, the list goes on and on! For me, it’s like opening those wonderful presents when you were a child.

And finally, after all the ‘unwrapping’,  all the surprises, and all the anticipation, we get to place a meal on the table.

Sunday lunch

This bit reminds me of childhood Sundays. A time when after a busy week, dad would be at home, I’d ‘help’ mum prepare the veg’ and we all sat down together, to share mum’s wonderful roast dinners…mmm!

After 4 beeps, the man on the radio would say “this is the ‘World at One’ an hour of news and comment from around the world”.

As I think back now, I remember a real sense of belonging; of family; of being loved.

A final thought

So why do we grow our own food? Sure it’s a lifestyle choice; I beleive we need to act as guardians, not owners, of our precious planet.

But for me there’s way more to it than that. It’s my job; my recreation; my exercise; my school memories; my birthdays; my Christmas’; my ‘Church’; my family; my love.

It’s all those things, but certainly not work!

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