May 1, 2013, by adam

Becoming Tom Good

Research can do funny things to a Fellow. For example, I work on the food provisioning project as part of the Leverhulme programme. I am, therefore, interested in food beyond being concerned with what my dinner tonight will be.

However, before this spring that interest did not extend to trying to grow my own food. For me, gardening has always been a chore. A periodic mow of the lawn and an all-out chemical assault on the weeds was about the extent of my activity. Whatever was in the garden was fine with me so long as it didn’t need any looking after. Before this spring I had never bought a packet of seeds or a plant. Never mind miracle-grow, what I wanted was miracle-stop to bring an end to this back-braking waste of time.

This year is different. In the winter I decided that I should grow food. I poured over catalogues and thought about what I should grow; I wondered how much of my lawn I could dig up and replace with vegetables; I discovered that the weekend newspapers had a gardening supplement. Who knew that?

This spring, I went and bought some kit because, you know, being a man I needed something to blame if it all goes horribly wrong, and I bought some seeds. At the farmers’ market I bought two rhubarb plants to go with the one from a well-known high street retailer because I am told that rhubarb is easy to grow and my wife makes the best rhubarb crumble ever.

Then I dug. Not too much, just cleared enough ground to plant the early season plants. Wow, digging. Now there’s hard graft especially in the clay soil that characterises the East Midlands. I also decided to grow organically. Or, rather, what I call ‘organic-lite’. The seeds I’m using are not organically produced but no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or weed killers will be used, although I might give in and deploy chemical warfare on the moss on the driveway.

Then I planted. Rhubarb, early onion sets, strawberries, black and redcurrants. Herbs, cauliflower and broccoli I started indoors and planted out once established. Salad crops I have planted in the borders of the front lawn.

When I was a PhD student one of the things I was told to bear in mind was my impact on my research. What effects did my age, gender, relationship with my research subjects have on my research? I spent a lot of time wondering, at different times in my PhD research, about these issues and I tried to give a considered and reflexive response in my thesis. The effect that my research had on me was something I gave little consideration to until I found myself thinking much more deeply about food in my current work.

I know that if I was not working on my current project I would not have started to grow my own food. But, if I stop to consider what, precisely, were the reasons why I decided to grow my own then I am somewhat at a loss for a clear answer. Moving to a house with a garden that I could do with as I pleased was part of it, and I was clear that I wanted to grow vegetables that were expensive to buy in the shops. Beyond that, a vague and ill thought out desire to be engaged with my research topic is the best I can offer.

Now it turns out that government policy supports growing your own food. The NHS offers encouragement to grow your own to promote exercise and healthy eating and there is government advice about getting started . More recently, agriculture minister David Heath has said that challenges to food security from volatile markets, rising global population and changes to the climate, mean that we might need to ‘dig for survival’ to increase food production which prompted this interesting article in the Daily Telegraph.  This is a potentially significant development as government policy has tended to focus on maintaining open and competitive markets with a broad range of countries to maintain our food security.

As for me, well, I am interested to see how my experiment turns out. It may end badly with a tiny crop of slug-damaged leaves and a resolve never to repeat the experience. Or, I might steadily increase the proportion of my garden devoted to food production and continue to evolve into a modern day Tom Good. I already live in the suburbs, and wear holey pullovers, which my wife tolerates, but I think she may have something to say if I were to suggest buying a pig.

Posted in Food Security