Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grow what you eat? or eat what you grow?

Urban self sufficiency is a myth.
We know this, right?
There are other phrases like 'self reliance' that help to diffuse the futility of my endeavours but really, the truth of the matter is that I will never produce more than a fraction of what my family consumes.

I am very lucky in that I have an allotment.
For those of you who hail from outside the UK (especially that someone who logs in regularly from Latvia....I would love to know who you are!) an allotment is a piece of land, rented from the local council, specifically for growing your own family's food.
This is mine.....
The dead grass on the left is someone else's allotment...the green grass on the right is the communal border....only the middle, cultivated section is mine.  
Allotments hark back to the industrial revolution when masses of country folk were needed to move from rural areas to the cities in order to work the mills and factories. The laws that gave poor people the right to rent a small plot of arable land remain but sadly, many of the allocated spaces do not and there are often long waiting lists.
So, where was I?
I am lucky to have an allotment and a garden. My garden is about 24 feet x 48 feet.
All of this means that I have quite a lot of growing space by London standards, and I can keep a few hens and beehive (but don't tell the authorities because neither are allowed!)

Yet despite my good fortune, if I want tomato or cucumber on my summer salad I must go and buy them because try as I might, I cannot get one to ripen before September.
I don't have room to grow wheat for bread or to make pasta (we eat a LOT of pasta).
There is nowhere near here to fish or hunt (well, you can fish but you have to throw them back and I don't really see the point)
Yesterday, I composted all twenty cape gooseberry plants which were laden with small, green fruit too late ever to reach yellow gorgeousness. 
And let's face it. London is just not the place to grow a mango.
I'm not sure life is worth living without the odd perfectly ripe mango!

We are self sufficient in eggs......but only in the summer months!
 This is entirely my own fault.
We choose our hens 
according to how pretty
they are, how friendly 
and how much damage
they do while free ranging.
So we've ended
up with a flock of fancy 
bantams instead of
year round layer

We're self sufficient in courgettes and winter squash. Impressive huh? Except that we never ate them before I grew them....and I only grew them because they were easy! Then, halfway through my first season and peering out from beneath a courgette mountain, I realised I needed a way to persuade my kids to eat the blimmin' things and so set about learning ways to cook them.

Perhaps this is the answer!
Should we alter our diet to reflect what we can grow?
I've successfully reconditioned my children to think that summer isn't summer without courgette fritters.
Broad bean hoummus and runner bean falafels (so long as no-one knew that's what they were) went down a storm.
Maybe I should convince myself that cucumber and tomatoes are no good in salad....and should only be pickled or canned for winter....nah! it's never gonna work.
I'm always going need the supermarket! 


Stuart and Gabrielle said...

There, there, it's not that bad; you're doing rather well actually! From a permaculture perspective, urban-grown food is very high value because it's grown and harvested at the point of consumption, i.e., zero food miles (especially if you cycle to your allotment).
In terms of growing lots in a small space, have a look at Michael Guerra's The Edible Container Garden for inspiration and ideas. You may find out that your limiting factor is time rather than space.
Self-sufficiency? I think it probably is a myth and an undesirable one at that. Gabrielle (or I, for that matter) could bake our own bread but then we wouldn't be buying bread at our local boulangerie and the baker would lose another customer and so not earn the money he needs to feed his family; it might even close, which would be a great shame, as it's the last shop in our village. There are many things that we'll need to buy: even if we use lemons and vinegar rather than proprietary cleaning products, we still buy our lemons and vinegar in a supermarket. No, self-sufficiency isn't the goal but producing SOME of the food you eat and taking pleasure in its taste, chemical-free-ness and the fact you grew it is.
There are lots of tasty things to do with courgettes, such as cooking thin slices on a griddle pan and then serving them with a splash of good olive oil (bought at a shop!) cooked into a ratatouille, which you can bottle and eat during winter, making soup, etc. You should grow what you want to eat and not feel that you have to adapt your eating habits. How about strawberries? Tasty, nutritious and high-value. Think about preserving the stuff that doesn't ripen, into great chutneys to go with cheese, cold meats or on the side of a curry. Some green stuff will ripen if you put it in a fruit bowl along with a banana (which gives of a ripening gas!).
For salad vegetables, don't just think lettuce: oriental leaves are the way to go. We crop "Green in Snow" in December! Have a read of Joy Larkom's Oriental Vegetables.
I hope this helps, bon courage as we say round these parts ...

sunflower said...

You're right, I didn't mean to sound pessimistic! I'm just adjusting my objectives a little.
I have Joy Larkom's excellent grow veg book (2nd edition) which covers a lot of the oriental leaves and I'm awaiting delivery of Gaia's garden to help me put in some guilds and systems over winter.
Thank you for popping by, your blog has been an inspiration to me and it's lovely to hear from you!

Heiko said...

...and then you could always have a runnage around your supermarket skip after hours... You'd be surprised what they throw out. Not true self-sufficiency but you'll save some valuable food from the landfills. I just had some grated courgette mixrd with egg in vol-a-vent cases, all but the egg found on a supermarket skip!

sunflower said...

Ha Ha! yes Heiko! I've just been reading about your adventure!
Recently we ventured behind our local supermarket in search of cardboard for a 'no dig bed' but the security was intense....cameras, security men, floodlights....very intimidating!
Thanks for visiting!

Rick and Pat said...

Hi. Just discovered your blog and I em enjoying catching up with it.
I think the other poster was right, maybe looking at a better way to preserve your summer stuff like chutney and pickles etc would help out during winter. Plus look at growing things that can be stored for longer, I know you seem to have problems ripening toms, but what about butternut squash,and pumkin? start them off early indoors and plant out early as you can, they store well all winter. I also grow winter broad beans and peas.. just leave them to get on with it...
what about a few small cherry tom plants indoors?
Best wishes
Pat www.livingthedreamportugal.com