I don’t come from a family of food gardeners. The only crop of carrots I remember my father growing was fed to the Easter bunny. My grandparents, jaded from years of digging for victory during the war, wanted nothing more to do with ‘ugly old sticks of vegetables’ and thereafter only grew ornamental plants.
Where did my desire to grow food come from? Perhaps it was Dad’s carrots or the wonderful lemon butter Mum made from our towering lemon tree until it was knocked down to make way for a carport.
Even as a 21 year old in my first Sydney flat, I grew cherry tomatoes in a pot on the balcony, picking off green caterpillars as trains rattled past.
I am not alone in my desire for suburban self-sufficiency. The popularity of gardening television shows, websites, magazines and blogs indicates that many Australians are keen to learn how to grow at least some of their own food.
As a member of Sustainable Communities SA and the organiser of a local food swap, I know the environmental reasons for growing food at home: food security, less waste, lower food miles. Yet I would grow food even if none of this mattered. If I didn’t have a garden, I would use a pot or a windowsill.
My desire to grow food is an impulse, an urge. I grow food because I can’t help it. I cried at having to leave young fruit trees behind when I moved interstate just as they were close to bearing fruit. And then at my next house I planted more fruit trees.
I grow food in spite of marauding insects and low rainfall, in spite of searing heat and escapee chooks that steal low-hanging tomatoes from the vines and greedily devour my orderly rows of lettuce.
In a new city, gardening gave me a community. My elderly Italian neighbour, who gardens according to the phases of the moon, passes garlic bulbs over the fence and tells me I must plant them now, as tomorrow will be too late. At the food swap I learn how Barb keeps her garden growing in an Adelaide heatwave and swap eggs and limes for David’s cucumbers and broccoli.
Our years are ordered by the garden’s bounty. In summer, we enjoy blood plum upside-down cake and harvest more zucchinis than we can eat. Autumn promises glossy black eggplants and a cellar full of pumpkins. Winter means fried Tuscan kale, flourless orange and almond cake, and lemon or lime delicious pudding. And after a month of Moroccan broad bean dip and broad bean felafels in early spring, we don’t want to touch broad beans again for another year.
Above all, I grow food because it is an act of faith: faith in the future and in the earth and in the friends and loved ones with whom will I share it.
Do you grow your own food? Why do you do it?