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A few thoughts from Rob

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Grow to Live or Live to Grow?
by Rob Godfrey dated: 18 Apr 2013

Here's a chicken and egg question: Do you Grow to Live or Live to Grow? Ask that of many people and I suspect their eyes will glaze over or they will make a quick exit. If you're lucky the odd one might respond with the Eat to Live or Live to Eat question. I think it's a good question to ask though. I'd change the phrase though to 'I Grow to Live and Live to Grow'. This is bordering on the spiritual (of which I am deeply sceptical), but I like the sound of it.

The Big Question

The really big question though for veg growers at this time of year is of course: Will this year be better than last? For my part I can answer that it couldn't be worse, could it? We had next to zero fruit and the veg we did get were few and far between. Partly this was due to my partner Janet being ill, but mostly it was the inclement weather. We do have a handful of onions left, literally 2 small Leeks a small half a bag of spuds that I intend to make into a soup this lunchtime. One crop that did do well was the Garlic. I grew this in the polytunnel and it did really well. I repeated the exercise November 2012 and so far the new crop is doing well.

Cheap labour?

Several years ago I persuaded my (admittedly reluctant partner) to take on our very own 10-mile challenge. This was to try and live off food that we could grow/raised in our own garden or that was grown/raised within a 10 mile radius. Not everyone thought it was much of a challenge though. A close friend said in all honesty, 'You'll be fine, there's a Waitrose less than half a mile away'.

Sadly I think the majority of shoppers don't consider for one second where food comes from. If I'm looking for vegetables to make a meal I won't buy it if its out of season and flown in from the other side of the world. Not just for environmental reasons either. I would bet that the people harvesting the crops are getting paid a pittance.

Exotic is not that cool

Years ago I worked in a very successful wholefood collective selling all sorts of beans, spices, cereals, etc. The shop was always busy and it was a very cool to work. At the time a lot of the produce such as Aduki beans, Tofu, chick peas, etc. were unavailable in main stream shops. This was all new and exiting stuff to me. But looking beyond that I began to wonder where these things were coming from, who was growing them and how much they were making. This was before food-miles were invented and the real cost of transporting stuff across the world was considered. I came to the conclusion that probably the people growing these crops might well be getting a bad deal.

Down to earth

Unfortunately the year we started our challenge was a disaster for tomatoes and spuds – both succumbed early on to blight. Even though we live in a rural setting, there was in fact very little fruit, vegetables or cereals grown locally. The things we can get plenty of locally are fresh meat and honey. There is also a trout farm just a few miles away, but talking to the owner it turns out all the feed he buys is imported. Most of the vegetables sold in the local 'farm shops' in fact come from Europe.Sometimes there would be some vegetables from a local grower but these were just random surpluses.I've since become very skeptical of 'farm shops'. Perhaps most people who use them have not asked where the fruit and vegetables actually come from. I suspect the most common reply would be the local wholesale market.

There is a firm that sells flour by the sack but they no longer grind it themselves. Turns out the local flour mill is just a shed now (the mill premises has been converted into flats) and the flour is milled miles away.

We gave up on the challenge by the time we reached the end of autumn as we had so little choice of veg and even they would have run out. It did make me think that if this was for real we would have starved over the winter. We would have been better to work towards being self-sufficient (in terms of fruit and veg) over a year or two rather than try and do it 100% from an arbitrary date.

Never say never

Undaunted though, I’m going to have another go and aim to provide at least these basics all year round: Onions, garlic, spuds, squash (summer and winter) and a couple of greens (spring cabbage, spinach, lettuce, etc). Plus at least 3 fresh herbs.
Copyright Rob Godfrey 2004-13. All rights reserved.