Growing and cooking food is a big part of my life – I’m fortunate that it is my job and I can grow food at home for my family, write, teach and talk about it and – the most delicious part – eat it. I love food: trying out new recipes, experimenting with different flavours.
Being a naturally thrifty and resourceful sort of person, I love that growing food really does make such a bit difference to my budget. Using truly seasonal ingredients, I make enormous healthy, fresh, made from scratch meals – 15 dishes plus homemade sourdough bread – for around 60p a head. (This doesn’t include the cost of electricity).
I grow a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, herbs, salad leaves, edible flowers, some specifically medicinal plants and others which are used to make potions for the garden and my home – all through the year outside, in the greenhouse, the polytunnel and indoors.
As well as using my own grown and foraged produce in daily meals, I preserve as much as possible – freezing, drying, dehydrating, making jams and chutneys, wines and spirits, bottling sugar-free juices and canning using a Weck canner, which I have had for about a year so I’m still learning new techniques. This saves money, extends the season and means I can have convenience food such as tomato sauce ready on the shelf, knowing that only fresh, healthful ingredients were used to make it.
I make huge, plant based, mostly raw seasonal lunches for Charles’ courses at Homeacres. I usually plan the afternoon treat beforehand (reduced or no sugar seasonal muffins, cookies or cakes) but most of the other dishes are entirely inspired by the fruit, herbs and vegetables in the garden at Homeacres or the hedgerows in the village. Of course we do buy some ingredients that can’t be grown easily in England: chickpeas, vinegar, oils, citrus, salt, tahini, cashew nuts, etc. Everything is made fresh that day, in the morning. The food really shares our enthusiasm for growing and eating what we grow.
Some reasons why growing your own food is a good idea
Amazing flavours and new experiences. Freshly picked home grown food tastes wonderful. Words can not describe the flavour of the first sun-ripened tomato of the summer or new peas in the spring. You can eat more of the plant than is usually for sale in the shops – pea and courgette flowers, the pods of radish, turnip and beetroot leaves. You can choose varieties that are not grown commercially. Each year I like to try out one or two new tastes: this way I have discovered tomatillo, oca, yacon and a wide range of chillies.
It is empowering. Caring for the garden, watching the plants grow and choosing how to eat all of your beautiful vegetables provides a real connection with nature and the seasons. It gives you new skills which reduce dependency on shops and consumerism. Few of us can have enough land to ‘live the dream’ with full self sufficiency, but even having just one vegetable bed in the garden and some herbs in pots can give you a degree of self reliance and pride when harvesting your crops.
It is healthy. Naturally, most gardening means you get exercise and fresh air. It de-stresses and relaxes – the sounds of nature (trees rustling, birds singing) whilst gardening are beautiful and calming. Most of us of course will be sharing these natural melodies with the sounds of daily life. I live on the edge of an estate – sometimes when there is a lot of ‘daily life’ happening, the best way to feel inner harmony whilst working in my garden is to listen to music on my iPod.
It is thrifty. How much money you can save does depend on how much space you have available to grow, but even a few tubs of herbs or salad can make a difference. As well as needing to buy less veg each week, reducing trips to the shops means less temptation to impulse buy. Growing and eating seasonally means much less waste too. Minimum costs which include seeds, compost and tools (which are used for years) can be reduced by saving seed from many plants and reusing as much as possible. I haven’t worked out exactly what I ‘save’ each year with my home grown food. I use a lot of garlic – we love it in cooking, raw, roasted, in sauces, in preserving – so this year have planted so far about 180 garlic cloves, mostly in one bed at the allotment and some in the polytunnel for extra big bulbs. Organic garlic bulbs cost approximately 30p each in supermarkets so the garlic I am growing will save me around £54 over the year. Not a huge amount I know, but that is £54 in my pocket and it all adds up.
In harmony with Nature. With no toxic chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers, the food is good for us and the natural world. There are plenty of natural alternatives which can be made if plants need a helping hand. The soil,a most precious resource, is nurtured and full of life.
Environmentally friendly. Homegrown food has less packaging (no packaging really except seed packets, many of these can be composted), no or minimal food miles (it depends where your growing space is) and uses such free resources as the sun and rain. Recycling and composting reduces waste and provides free resources for sustainable gardening.