Growing food sustainably

Food is one of those fixed costs that you can only reduce to a certain level, and one of the classic ways to reduce the cost is to grow it yourself. As well as being a damn sight cheaper, it also tastes one heck of a lot better, if you are any good.

In the UK we have a thriving allotment system, which will probably only get more popular as people tighten their belts financially. Supermarket fruit and veg is so deracinated that it is quite remarkable how it took over. My mother would never buy veg from a supermarket, but bought it from the thriving market stalls in Lewisham when I grew up. She considered supermarket produce as second-rate and beyond the pale. In fairness they have upped their game in the intervening decades. As a student and then single man working odd hours in London the supermarket was my friend, and I forgot what decent produce tasted like.

I have to admit that this isn’t my area of expertise at all. I used to grow tomatoes in my small garden, until I got hit with tomato blight two years running, and gave up. However, I’m lucky here as my partner Joanne has been doing this for years, and she has taken it to the next level with the purchase of the Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, which will grow produce in a sustainable way. This doesn’t just mean energy sustainability.

Part of the reason much of our produce is relatively taste-free is that growing it  with artificial fertilisers is almost using the soil as a hydroponic growing medium, so trace minerals are reduced. There are other reasons – supermarket shoppers shop with their eyes, so varieties are selected for appearance and long keeping times instead of taste, and supermarkets truck the produce long distances, from the fields to hubs, and then often back along the same roads to the local stores, so what taste the produce had to start with begins to fade. In the past people relied on the soil, enriching it with organic material in a sustainable closed loop system, but after the Second World War we started to add nutrients derived in industrial processes from fossil fuels, largely natural gas nowadays.