Trowel power—sow your own or buy locally grown

... by Kerry Dawborn

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Melbourne's well known permaculture practitioner, KERRY DAWBORN, asks us to consider who has made the food we eat, what the true cost of food products and what the food we buy really is. Kerry's is a song of the local, the fresh and the convivial pleasure of growing or buying locally what we eat...

I heard it said recently that the most powerful activism anyone can engage in these days is to buy their food locally grown or grow their own. Not an idea that is easy to get your head around. Grow some lettuce and solve world hunger? Stop global warming by planting potatoes? Yeah, sure!

Yet think about it. Every person on Earth needs to eat, every day. Several times a day. Certainly this is a need that for many is not met – I don’t mean to be insensitive. My point is that since food is such a fundamental part of our lives, the choices we make as to how it is produced, transported, bought or sold are potentially extremely powerful.

One way to illustrate this is through the increasingly popularised concept of ‘food miles’. ‘Food miles’, refers to the distance food travels, from where it is produced to the person who finally eats it – ‘from-spade-to-plate’ so to speak. Like similar concepts such as ‘embodied energy’ (the total amount of energy used at every stage in the manufacture and transportation of a product), ‘food miles’ incorporates the issue of the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil-fuels, as well as the pollution caused in the transportation of food. If I buy a banana grown in Queensland, the food miles involved are far greater than if I walked out my back door and picked an apple from my tree or bought a pear direct from a local grower. Accordingly, the quantity of resources used and pollution caused in transportation, is greater too.

Not so small things

Reducing air and other pollution in the environment and conserving non-renewable resources, just by growing some of your own food or buying local produce, could seem like small things.

Yet add up the impact of replacing even one item of travel-weary food with some fresh, local or home-grown delight - say, fresh tomatoes grown in a pot at your back door with a border of basil - or from your local organic grower instead of canned tomato puree with basil from Italy. Make a choice like this as part of one meal a day, 365 days a year, and then multiply this by the number of people in a town, region, city or a country, most of whom could make this simple choice if they dared, and you start to see where I’m coming from. One person’s choices do matter – especially when multiplied.

Planting some lettuce, tomatoes, a rosemary bush or a pumpkin vine in your backyard... will not put food in the mouth of an AIDS orphan in Africa

Food to make us think

Okay, this helps the environment, I hear you say, but how does it help solve world hunger?

Well actually, I was exaggerating earlier. Planting some lettuce, tomatoes, a rosemary bush or a pumpkin vine in your backyard or in a pot on your balcony, or seeking out and supporting local producers, will not put food in the mouth of an AIDS orphan in Africa or solve international debt so poor farmers in underdeveloped countries can grow food crops for local use instead of crops for export. Not directly anyway.

What these things can do though, is help each of us understand more deeply the connections between all things - between ourselves and nature, between ourselves and our neighbours, between our choices and actions in a given place and time and the quality of life of others (and often ourselves as well) in a different time and space.

In the lyrics of a song entitled Are My Hands Clean?, Berenice Johnson Reagon traces the journey of a shirt she buys through the process of its manufacture, from the hands of the pesticide-sprayed cotton workers of El Salvador, the exploited oil workers in Venezuela, piece-workers in Hait to the Sears department store where it is for sale at a 20% discount. The story is one of powerful multi-national corporations, environmental pollution and waste and desperate, powerless workers.

How often do we stop to think about the impacts of our purchase choices on others and on the environment? Even if we are aware and do care, how easy is it for us to take action?

Separation and connectedness

In a talk at a Sydney Writer’s, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki emphasized the irony of connectedness and separation that dominates many areas of our lives. We are part of nature. We are intimately connected with nature and with each other, yet often it is difficult for us to see and to understand these connections.

As in the journey of the shirt, we are connected by the product we buy to the people who produced it, and maybe suffered for it, yet we are separated from them too – we cannot see them, or talk to them, or hear their stories.

...you don’t normally suddenly find yourself feeling the bitter despair of Australian farmers as they rip out acres of citrus

When you buy an orange grown in South America because it’s cheaper than the Aussie ones, you aren’t suddenly touched by a vision of the air pollution caused by the transportation of that orange thousands of miles across the globe, of the people suffering from that pollution, of the farmers and their families and local people poisoned by the use of pesticides to make sure that orange gets to you unblemished, the river life spoiled by nutrient runoff from the tons of fertilizers used on dead soil in an endless monoculture because the diversity of Nature is prevented from doing its nurturing job.

As your teeth sink into that stringy, sweet-but-rather-bland flesh, you don’t normally suddenly find yourself feeling the bitter despair of Australian farmers as they rip out acres of citrus because they can’t compete with the prices of overseas oranges. You are not there. You are here. Just eating the orange. Probably not enjoying it that much because it was picked before the warmth of the sun brought out the full body of its tangy, aromatic sweetness, so that the long distances stacked in boxes and time kept in storage would not damage it and make it unsaleable.

Have you ever eaten an orange straight from the tree? Have you ever watched the bees bustle intoxicated with purpose over the soft, sweet blossoms and filling the summer days with that warm drone of activity when you are wilting? Perhaps you have only read about the scent of orange blossom in books – a sensory backdrop to a scene happening to someone else. Have you basked in the warm squishy sweetness of sticky, ripe orange dripping from the corners of your mouth and your chin, as you peel back the pliant skin and been followed for hours by the lingering scent of orange on your fingers?

Have you lived?

Would you think of spraying with poisons in your own garden if you knew it could harm yourself or your loved ones, your neighbours or your community? If you knew the richness of eating and the growing experience that was possible, would you settle for the stunted, packaged, travel-weary version for yourself or others? Would you exploit the local grower you meet face-to-face at the farmer’s market every week, whose wife hands back your change along with the latest stories of their children who you’ve watched grow each week for years? Would you want more freeways if your vegie garden caught the freeway’s stormwater runoff with its gift of heavy metals and rubber from thousands of tyres, or if your leafy greens were dusted with its airborne pollution?

I relish my trips to the local organic farmers market, where I buy my beetroot

It’s hard to ignore what’s happening in front of you and easier to make life-giving choices when you see the connections.

Activism can be as simple as basking in the glowing pleasure of reaching your hand into the soft soil and feeling that hard, cool potato. The satisfaction as you dig it out, and feel its weight in your hand and imagine the melting of the cooked flesh on your tongue as you down it with a dash of butter, salt and pepper and maybe a little rosemary or oregano. The anticipation of its heavy, warm fullness in your stomach. The pride and the laughter of a home-grown meal shared with friends.

I wish for you the beauty and the tears. The breathless daily wonder as a broad bean shoots from its seed and reaches every day upwards a little more, slowly unfurling leaves that materialise almost as you watch, out of the nothingness that is intention held in the seed. The gentle hum of bees and tiny flies crawling hungrily over the vast landscape of a sunflower planet. The weight of a mature Russian Giant sunflower, pregnant with seeds - the stalk so thick and strong it feels like it could support you like a pilgrim’s staff. The joy of plenty and the disappointed wondering why it didn’t work this year…

I wish for you the companionship. Gardens are like children and pets – a constant source of conversation. A well-spring of shared ideas and support. Composting tips, seeds and seedlings passed over the fence between neighbours. A garden can make you feel rich because there is always something to give away. A flower, a sprig of rosemary, a bunch of silverbeet, a handful of fruit. Bridges of trust and caring built through giving and sharing.

I wish for you the sense of community. I relish my trips to the local organic farmers market, where I buy my beetroot, turnips, broccoli and cabbage from a woman whose passion for healthy soil, healthy food and healthy bodies embraces me in the heartfelt blessing bestowed with every sale. I catch up with old friends and make new ones. I bask in the warmth of good food for my body and good feelings for my heart. I feel like I’m part of something.

So grow a garden. Grow food. Meet your local market gardeners and support them in growing organic. Help them rediscover the satisfaction of growing good food for people they can see, for a profit that goes directly to them and stays in the local community. Grow stuff to share. Have harvest festivals in your street. Rejoice in the fact that your neighbour having an apple tree helps your tree be more productive, and vice versa. Share growing tips and varieties. Nourish your heart. Fertilise your relationships. Sow a better future, for everyone.

Trowel Power: Sow your own or buy locally grownDocument Actions   Melbourne's well known permaculture practitioner, KERRY DAWBORN, asks us to consider who has made and what the true cost of the products and the food we buy really is. Kerry's is a song of the local, the fresh and the convivial pleasure of growing or buying locally what we eat...I heard it said recently that the most powerful activism anyone can engage in these days is to buy their food locally grown or grow their own. Not an idea that is easy to get your head around. Grow some lettuce and solve world hunger? Stop global warming by planting potatoes? Yeah, sure!

Yet think about it. Every person on Earth needs to eat, every day. Several times a day. Certainly this is a need that for many is not met – I don’t mean to be insensitive. My point is that since food is such a fundamental part of our lives, the choices we make as to how it is produced, transported, bought or sold are potentially extremely powerful.

One way to illustrate this is through the increasingly popularised concept of ‘food miles’. ‘Food miles’, refers to the distance food travels, from where it is produced to the person who finally eats it – ‘from-spade-to-plate’ so to speak. Like similar concepts such as ‘embodied energy’ (the total amount of energy used at every stage in the manufacture and transportation of a product), ‘food miles’ incorporates the issue of the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil-fuels, as well as the pollution caused in the transportation of food. If I buy a banana grown in Queensland, the food miles involved are far greater than if I walked out my back door and picked an apple from my tree or bought a pear direct from a local grower. Accordingly, the quantity of resources used and pollution caused in transportation, is greater too.

Not so small thingsReducing air and other pollution in the environment and conserving non-renewable resources, just by growing some of your own food or buying local produce, could seem like small things.
Yet add up the impact of replacing even one item of travel-weary food with some fresh, local or home-grown delight - say, fresh tomatoes grown in a pot at your back door with a border of basil - or from your local organic grower instead of canned tomato puree with basil from Italy. Make a choice like this as part of one meal a day, 365 days a year, and then multiply this by the number of people in a town, region, city or a country, most of whom could make this simple choice if they dared, and you start to see where I’m coming from. One person’s choices do matter – especially when multiplied.
Planting some lettuce, tomatoes, a rosemary bush or a pumpkin vine in your backyard... will not put food in the mouth of an AIDS orphan in Africa

Food to make us thinkOkay, this helps the environment, I hear you say, but how does it help solve world hunger?

Well actually, I was exaggerating earlier. Planting some lettuce, tomatoes, a rosemary bush or a pumpkin vine in your backyard or in a pot on your balcony, or seeking out and supporting local producers, will not put food in the mouth of an AIDS orphan in Africa or solve international debt so poor farmers in underdeveloped countries can grow food crops for local use instead of crops for export. Not directly anyway.

What these things can do though, is help each of us understand more deeply the connections between all things - between ourselves and nature, between ourselves and our neighbours, between our choices and actions in a given place and time and the quality of life of others (and often ourselves as well) in a different time and space.

In the lyrics of a song entitled Are My Hands Clean? Berenice Johnson Reagon traces the journey of a shirt she buys through the process of its manufacture, from the hands of the pesticide-sprayed cotton workers of El Salvador, the exploited oil workers in Venezuela, piece-workers in Hait to the Sears department store where it is for sale at a 20% discount. The story is one of powerful multi-national corporations, environmental pollution and waste and desperate, powerless workers.

How often do we stop to think about the impacts of our purchase choices on others and on the environment? Even if we are aware and do care, how easy is it for us to take action?

Separation and connectednessIn a talk at a Sydney Writer’s, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki emphasized the irony of connectedness and separation that dominates many areas of our lives. We are part of nature. We are intimately connected with nature and with each other, yet often it is difficult for us to see and to understand these connections.

As in the journey of the shirt, we are connected by the product we buy to the people who produced it, and maybe suffered for it, yet we are separated from them too – we cannot see them, or talk to them, or hear their stories.

...you don’t normally suddenly find yourself feeling the bitter despair of Australian farmers as they rip out acres of citrus

When you buy an orange grown in South America because it’s cheaper than the Aussie ones, you aren’t suddenly touched by a vision of the air pollution caused by the transportation of that orange thousands of miles across the globe, of the people suffering from that pollution, of the farmers and their families and local people poisoned by the use of pesticides to make sure that orange gets to you unblemished, the river life spoiled by nutrient runoff from the tons of fertilizers used on dead soil in an endless monoculture because the diversity of Nature is prevented from doing its nurturing job.
As your teeth sink into that stringy, sweet-but-rather-bland flesh, you don’t normally suddenly find yourself feeling the bitter despair of Australian farmers as they rip out acres of citrus because they can’t compete with the prices of overseas oranges. You are not there. You are here. Just eating the orange. Probably not enjoying it that much because it was picked before the warmth of the sun brought out the full body of its tangy, aromatic sweetness, so that the long distances stacked in boxes and time kept in storage would not damage it and make it unsaleable.

Have you ever eaten an orange straight from the tree?

Have you ever watched the bees bustle intoxicated with purpose over the soft, sweet blossoms and filling the summer days with that warm drone of activity when you are wilting? Perhaps you have only read about the scent of orange blossom in books – a sensory backdrop to a scene happening to someone else.

Have you basked in the warm squishy sweetness of sticky, ripe orange dripping from the corners of your mouth and your chin, as you peel back the pliant skin and been followed for hours by the lingering scent of orange on your fingers?

Have you lived?

Would you think of spraying with poisons in your own garden if you knew it could harm yourself or your loved ones, your neighbours or your community?

If you knew the richness of eating and the growing experience that was possible, would you settle for the stunted, packaged, travel-weary version for yourself or others? Would you exploit the local grower you meet face-to-face at the farmer’s market every week, whose wife hands back your change along with the latest stories of their children who you’ve watched grow each week for years? Would you want more freeways if your vegie garden caught the freeway’s stormwater runoff with its gift of heavy metals and rubber from thousands of tyres, or if your leafy greens were dusted with its airborne pollution?

I relish my trips to the local organic farmers market, where I buy my beetroot

It’s hard to ignore what’s happening in front of you and easier to make life-giving choices when you see the connections.

Activism can be as simple as basking in the glowing pleasure of reaching your hand into the soft soil and feeling that hard, cool potato. The satisfaction as you dig it out, and feel its weight in your hand and imagine the melting of the cooked flesh on your tongue as you down it with a dash of butter, salt and pepper and maybe a little rosemary or oregano. The anticipation of its heavy, warm fullness in your stomach. The pride and the laughter of a home-grown meal shared with friends.

I wish for you the beauty and the tears. The breathless daily wonder as a broad bean shoots from its seed and reaches every day upwards a little more, slowly unfurling leaves that materialise almost as you watch, out of the nothingness that is intention held in the seed. The gentle hum of bees and tiny flies crawling hungrily over the vast landscape of a sunflower planet. The weight of a mature Russian Giant sunflower, pregnant with seeds - the stalk so thick and strong it feels like it could support you like a pilgrim’s staff. The joy of plenty and the disappointed wondering why it didn’t work this year… I wish for you the companionship. Gardens are like children and pets – a constant source of conversation. A well-spring of shared ideas and support. Composting tips, seeds and seedlings passed over the fence between neighbours. A garden can make you feel rich because there is always something to give away. A flower, a sprig of rosemary, a bunch of silverbeet, a handful of fruit. Bridges of trust and caring built through giving and sharing.

I wish for you the sense of community. I relish my trips to the local organic farmers market, where I buy my beetroot, turnips, broccoli and cabbage from a woman whose passion for healthy soil, healthy food and healthy bodies embraces me in the heartfelt blessing bestowed with every sale. I catch up with old friends and make new ones. I bask in the warmth of good food for my body and good feelings for my heart. I feel like I’m part of something.

So grow a garden. Grow food.

Meet your local market gardeners and support them in growing organic. Help them rediscover the satisfaction of growing good food for people they can see, for a profit that goes directly to them and stays in the local community.

Grow stuff to share. Have harvest festivals in your street. Rejoice in the fact that your neighbour having an apple tree helps your tree be more productive, and vice versa. Share growing tips and varieties. Nourish your heart. Fertilise your relationships. Sow a better future, for everyone.

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