Digging for victory
Most people take it for granted that whenever they need food they can simply go to the local supermarket and collect what they want but recent comments from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Areas (DEFRA) suggest that may not always be the case.
Speaking at a press conference last week Agriculture Minister David Heath said: ‘Once we used to dig for victory. There may come a time soon when we need to dig for survival.’
Terrible weather such as the UK experienced in 2012, combined with a heavy reliance on imported food, resulted in crop shortages and increased food prices for customers.
Bad weather is also causing problems internationally.
According to the UN, international grain reserves are at an all-time low thanks to unpredictable weather in 2012 and another bad harvest would mean rising food prices and worldwide food shortages.
In this global context it seems that the future may hold a lot of muddy knees and green fingers for Portsmouth residents as they dig for victory.
With this in mind what options are available for Portsmouth residents who want to grow their own food?
Growing in your own Garden, Richard Stepien, Emsworth
Richard, 58, and his wife Dwyn, 56, have always enjoyed keeping animals and growing their own food so when it came time to move house they wanted a home with space to grow.
‘We have about 200 square meters of space and are probably going to devote about half of that to growing,’ said Richard.
‘The soil has too much clay for carrots but we plan to grow potatoes, onions, French beans and garlic and we’re going to try cabbages, leeks and parsnips this time.
‘We are also going to grow fruit, apples pears and gooseberries, and chickens which will give us more than enough eggs for our needs so we’ll be giving some away.’
Richard has already experienced what it is like not to be able to get food from the supermarket: ‘In the bad snow a couple of years back there was nothing in the shops but we had bags of potatoes and chickens,’ he said.
For Richard, growing food is about more than just having enough to eat:
‘It is a challenge making things grow, understanding the plants and all the physical work required to keep the plants in good shape, but it’s worth it.
‘Of course it’s cost effective and it’s nice to eat your own food but it but it also makes me feel at one with nature, with the birds and the insects and growing food lets me share with family and friends.
’The earth is overstretched and very fragile. It only takes a bad winter and the price of potatoes doubles.
‘Growing my own food gives me control, it means I can be resourceful and self sufficient, I can give something instead of just taking,’ said Richard.
Fast Facts: Grow in your own Garden
– Vegetables grown on your own land means no long trips to an allotment and freedom to choose what you grow.
– Can grow a lot of foods you eat at home but requires a big amount of space.
– Possible to grow a range of food in smaller planters or pots, though not the same variety as you have from a big garden.
For gardening resources go to: www.healthypompey.com/growing
Growing in an allotment, Rosie Penlington and Tim Sheppard, Southsea
Rosie, 27, and Tim, 35, have been renting an allotment in Portchester for 3 years and grow everything from raspberries and strawberries to potatoes and squash.
‘It’s nice to have an outdoor hobby, it puts you in touch with nature. Working in an office I am quite sheltered, but being outside puts you in touch with the seasons and Tim likes the wildlife,’ said Rosie.
‘We grow food to supplement our diet but there is one family at our allotment that get pretty much all of their veg from there,’ she added.
Tim said: ‘I don’t think you could fully sustain yourself from an allotment unless people worked together all growing different types of food.
‘Having an allotment is a good way to keep active, but I’ve got a bad back at the moment and if you miss a couple of weeks it can be hard to maintain,’ added Tim.
Rosie agrees: ‘You have to go at least once or twice a week in the Spring and you don’t always feel like going up there. It’s a big commitment to run an allotment but you get out what you put in.’
Fast Facts: Allotments
Section of land rented from the council.
– 1,673 allotment plots in Portsmouth starting at £21 a year.
– Waiting list for Portsmouth allotments of more than 650 people (up to three and a half years).
– Can mean long trips to the allotment and there are no plans to expand the scheme at present
For more information visit: www.portsmouth.gov.uk/living/8583.html
Community Gardening – Nigel Huggins, Southsea
Nigel Huggins is co-founder of the Southsea Greenhouse Project, a community garden set up on reclaimed wasteland rented from the council.
‘At the end of world war two about 10 percent of food grown in this country was grown in gardens,’ said Nigel.
‘Community gardening fills a need for people without gardens, we welcome volunteers of any age, some come for a couple of hours and some come everyday.
‘The beauty of community gardening is meeting such a wide variety of people and exchanging ideas and information with them.’
‘This project has inspired others to start across the city. It’s not hard to find derelict land in the city and a community garden is one of the best ways to make use of that space,’ said Nigel.
Fast Facts: Community Gardening
Shared space where people can grow food together.
– Great community spirit and plenty of people with experience to help new gardeners. Ideal for people without gardens or experience of growing their own food.
-No set amount of produce that you receive for the time you spend helping.
For more information visit: www.southseagreenhouse.co.uk/community-garden/