Every day at the moment governments are making announcements about budgets, taxes, welfare, childcare, big and small business incentives, superannuation, mental health, hospital spending etc etc but never, ever do they broach the subject of self-sufficiency or self-reliance as goals for Australians. It is politically incorrect to expect people to get out and grow their food, join a community garden and become skilled in relying on themselves. However, the simple act of doing this would, to a large extent, overcome many of our national woes.
I enjoy learning about the ancient and more recent history of civilisations and their foods. Up until almost the 21st century, almost every person on earth either grew some food or had relatives that did. Stop and think about that for a moment….. your parents and / or grandparents no doubt fitted this statement and had vegetable gardens and fruit trees in the back yard. In only one or 2 generations people have started to rely on others, unknown and as far away as the other side of the world, to provide nourishment for their families. At the same time, there has been a huge increase in obesity, depression, stress-related, chemical-residue related and diet-related illnesses.
Interestingly, growing food has become a middle-class activity, seen as something you do in your spare time, after you have bought all the accoutrements that modern-day food gardeners seem to “need” such as raised garden beds and soil (as though the soil in the ground is not good enough these days!).
I am reading a wonderful book, given to me by my fabulous neighbour, Jilly, who recently blew in, in full wet weather gear, in the midst of the coldest and wettest day this year. We sat by the fire and talked for 2 hours, sharing interesting snippets about books, gardening and life. We seem to get together only about once a year but Jilly’s amazing knowledge of plants, history and everything in between keep me inspired until our next coffee. I now look at the old lino pattern on my kitchen floor as steeped in history, instead of annoying!
The book is called “The Nature of Gardens” and is a collection of essays brought together by Peter Timms. It sounds dry and just another intellectual, middle class look at garden design etc but I assure you it is not. I recommend it to anyone who has read this far through this blog piece!!
The first essay and my mother’s stories of life during The Depression have brought me to my laptop to write about the recent past’s expectation that you grew as much as you could and the poorer you were, the more you grew. If your job was not well paid or not permanent, you at least knew your family was going to eat well. This essay points out the interesting fact that when workers in the mines and in the coal and steel industries went on strike in Newcastle, NSW it was prolonged affair and they would not relent. This was possible because these same men all had food gardens so, even with no income, their families ate well. In fact, the free time afforded them because of the strikes meant that jobs in the garden and around the house could be done, and vegetable gardens better tended than usual. This is called resilience and is sorely lacking today.
If I had one day to rule this country, I would insist that welfare would include assistance for you to learn to grow food and even an insistence that you join a community garden where you would gain not just hands-on know how but broaden your social circle and gain a sense of community and self resilience. I know from experience how beneficial food gardening with others is to every single person who joins a community garden. But I also know that insisting people do something is not the best way to get them to do it! People who are transient and those who have short or long term rental are given a place to base themselves by belonging to a community garden. Once you get into a community garden then, even if you move, you take with you the confidence to find another, wherever you go. It is like having an extended family; always there and ready to nourish your body and soul.
At the Cygnet Community Garden we donate fresh vegetables weekly to the Uniting Care Food Aid in the same street as the community garden but I want to offer to walk with the recipients, one at a time, to the community garden and invite them, quietly and without preaching to them, to come along. This is my new goal….. if you have any helpful ideas of how to make this small gesture work please feel free to share them with me.