grow your own food... just do it! yes!

After the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, Cuba found itself in a colossal spot of bother. Having relied on the SU for almost 60% of its food stuffs, Cubans were suddenly left to fend for themselves. The US embargo didn’t help matters – petrol shortages meant food from rural agriculture was not able to be transported to the cities. Hardest hit of all the cities was Havana, what with 2.2 million mouths to feed.

via The Daily Green

In the face of this major adversity, something remarkable happened. Instead of collapsing under the sheer enormity of the crisis, Havanans started planting. They planted food crops everywhere they could – balconies, backyards, empty lots, sidewalks. The government didn’t try to stop them. Au contraire, it supported the movement, forming an Urban Agriculture Department that is still running today. By 1998 Havana was producing almost half of the country’s vegetables, all organic. In 2003, Cuba’s urban agriculture sector employed over 200,000 people.

Nowadays, 90% of Havana’s fresh produce comes from local urban farms.

Remarkable! Inspiring! Uplifting! Why aren’t we doing this?! It’s estimated that by 2030, 5 billion people will be living in towns or cities worldwide.  Australia is one of the world’s most urbanised countries – more than 90% of Aussies live in cities and that percentage is estimated to grow. We’ve reached peak oil.... it begs the question - how will we transport food from rural farmlands to millions of urban mouths in the future? More to the point, why would we when we could grow our own?

Urban farming – it’s going to be all the rage this year, I tell ya. Community gardens, verge gardens, balcony gardens, rooftop gardens... these terms will form the lexicon of 2013. I’m making it a mission this year to convince (inspire?) everyone around me to grow their own food - whatever they can, wherever they can.

I can spout off all manner of reasons to grow your own; the freshness is unbeatable, as is the taste and health factor (you simply can’t beat eating food you’ve grown yourself); you save money; it has huge environmental benefits too (as you don’t rely on a centralised industrial food system for a feed). But apart from all those? The major reason to get your hands dirty?

Growing your own food simplifies your life.

Compare popping out the backyard to pluck a few lettuce leaves, some kale and a few tomatoes from the patch with hopping in the car, driving through horrendous traffic to the nearest supermarket, battling for a park, buying food weeks if not months old, and driving back home. When you think you’ve got nothing to eat, your fridge is empty, you can toddle over to your veg patch and eat whatever is there. (My husband and I ate our weight in kale over a 2-week period once, because we didn’t want to go shopping.) There’s nothing simpler than that.

my backyard farm includes carrots, capsicums, rhubarb, pumpkin, warrigal greens...

I live on a 600sqm block of land (but wait, if you’ve only a windowsill don’t drop out now). Soon after we moved in, my handy man built 3 vegetable beds. Since then we’ve infiltrated every corner of the block – front and back – with edibles:

lemons, raspberries, corn, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, silverbeet, kale, lettuce, zucchini, warrigal greens, rhubarb, pumpkin, kiwi fruit, passionfruit, chillies, capsicums, garlic, rosemary, peppermint, leeks, spring onions, beetroot, carrots, beans, a fig tree, an olive tree, basil, mint, lemongrass, amaranth, sage, lemon balm, chamomile, strawberries ... I think that’s it. 

If everything flowers and produces fruit this year, we won’t need to buy any fruit or veg. How! Good! Is! That!!

Don’t have so much space to play with? My dad lives on a block 1/5 that size and grows almost as much. My mother-in-law grows tomatoes, silverbeet, lettuce and strawberries in her tiny rental unit yard. Carrots, tomatoes, capsicums, zucchinis, silverbeet... you can grow pretty much anything in containers, grow bags or hanging baskets. It’s doable! Got just a windowsill? Try growing herbs, spring onions and rocket. Whatever space you have available, growing your own food is doable and worth every effort. Worth every effort I tell you!

more from the backyard farm - carrots, beets, chillies, raspberries, snow peas!

I’ll be doing a series of posts on growing your own food this year, featuring some easy tips to get you started, where to get soil, recipes for organic pest control, how to grow in small spaces etcetera. My husband’s the real expert... I just plant, pluck, eat... so I may ask him to kindly share his agrarian wisdom, too. A family affair!

Meanwhile, since you’re all SO inspired to get planting, I recommend checking out this list of
Sites We Love – Sustainable Table’s directory of fantastic and very useful websites and online resources to help you grow and eat better too. 

Also this guide to how to start a container garden in any amount of space on The Daily Green is great.

And know this – herbs, silverbeet, kale, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, carrots and rocket are the easiest things to grow in containers or the ground and now is their growing season. I recommend trying your hand at those.

Go forth and plant!


  1. I also grow warrigal greens and I was wondering if you blanch yours before eating them or do you just eat them raw?

    1. Hi Kate, definitely blanch and cook before eating as they contain a fair bit of oxalate which can cause a burning sensation at the back of your throat, and also upset your stomach.



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