Live life on the veg

July 2019

The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
(Dorothy Gurney 1858-1932) 

Professor of Biological Sciences (and avid gardener) Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex advocates growing your own fruit and vegetables because it's good for the environment, saves money, and "is also extremely good for the soul, giving people a real sense of satisfaction and getting them out into nature". 

TV chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, chipped in "Anything that takes you away from anonymous, industrialised food is good for your spirit and your health.  It's in season, it hasn't travelled far and it hasn't been packed in inert gases to give it a long shelf life". 

A study in America where, despite its wealth, more than 10% of households experience food insecurity in any given year looked into the benefits of growing your own vegetables. 

The community-based project provided support and education to Hispanic families with incomes well below the US poverty level (the most food-insecure US sector), to help them plant and maintain organic gardens.  It found that:

  • frequency of adult intake of vegetables rose from 18.2% to 84.8%, a four-fold increase
  • frequency of children's intake of vegetables rose from 24% to 64%, a three-fold increase
  • numbers worrying that their food would run out before money was available to buy more reduced from 31.2% to 3.1%, a ten-fold decrease
  • benefits reported by participants included physical, mental, economic and family health, while the authors commented on the likelihood of benefits extending to the provision of fresh vegetables and the strengthening of family and social relationships.

 The plots being gardened in this study averaged about 12 square metres: not extensive.  To put this in perspective, potatoes can yield 5 to 7 kilos per square metre.  A competent gardener growing a diversity of food on a small scale can produce up to ten times the weight per square metre than is produced by a farm. 

In Britain, only 23% of the fruit and vegetables consumed are grown on our farms, yet we have the conditions to grow a wide variety of produce.  Despite our perfect climate for growing apples, we import 70% of those we eat.  The Clyde Valley was once the "Fruit Basket of Scotland" with apples, pears, plums and damsons: thousands of these trees are still there today, untended. Prof. Goulson describes this whole situation as "nuts". 

If UK households went on a growing spree, they could produce enough fruit and vegetables in their gardens to feed the whole country.  In an admittedly back-of-the-envelope calculation, Prof. Goulson reckons that giving over half of the average garden to crops would produce 7.5 million tonnes of fruit and veg a year in the UK - ahead of the national consumption of 6.9 million tonnes by weight, if not variety. 

COMMENT Given fresh, sweet, tasty produce with zero food miles, the reduced variety wouldn't be an issue. 

Across Europe, shrinking wild areas, alongside absence of the once common practice of letting fields lie fallow, and the rapidly expanding expanses of monoculture (a.k.a. banquets for pests) with all their associated pesticides, have led to an 80% decline in flying insects.  Populations of birds which feed on insects have fallen by a third in only 15 years.  As one French conservationist summed it up, "the situation is catastrophic". 

Prof. Goulson stresses that "if you're growing food on a small scale, with lots of different crops and patches then you don't have anything like the pest problems, so you don't need to be spraying pesticides". 

His vision is that our gardens could become a vast network of tiny nature reserves, where humans and wildlife can thrive together in harmony rather than the constant conflict which is modern agriculture.  Little gardens are valuable to nature.


Everyone can garden, grow their own veg and foster nature.  If you don't have a plot of your own or access to an allotment, check out community gardens in your area, they're springing up all over the urban scene.  If there's an unused space nearby, consider starting a community garden yourself; you'll find plenty of help, advice and support from others who have already done it*.  Neighbours who aren't able to tend their gardens might be pleased to let you make use of it.

* For example, check out 'Incredible Edible', 
Grow some broad beans and the bees will love you forever (even as they're elbowing you out the way to get at the flowers). 

Dave Goulson's book The Garden Jungle: or gardening to save the planet gives us an insight into the wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet, the unappreciated heroes of the natural world (ISBN 9781787331358).



  • Tom Bawden, Seeds of a food garden revolution, i, 25.05.19
  • Clyde Valley Orchards are still the biggest and most concentrated in Scotland, survey reveals, www.communityactionlan.aog, 27.05.17
  • Patricia A. Carney, et al., August 2012, Impact of a Community gardening Project on Vegetable Intake, Food Security and Family relationships: A Community-based Participatory Research Study, Journal of Community Health
  • 'Catastrophe' as France's bird population collapses due to pesticides, Agence France-Presse, 21.03.1e

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