Jane Griffiths on Urban Food Gardening

I didn’t think I had another book in me. Producing three books in four years resulted in me being a tad book burnt-out. But last year I was commissioned to write an article for Health Intelligence magazine on Urban farming.

It was from this article that the idea for my next book sprang: A book on sustainable city living. A book that would answer the questions that people had begun to ask at my talks; so I began to write.

When I wrote my first book, Jane’s Delicious Garden, I knew hardly anyone who grew their own food. That has changed.

Growing organic vegetables, once a fringe activity, is now mainstream. When people begin growing their own food, it changes them.

Awareness of the environment increases as resources such as water, space and nutrients become important. Once the vegetable gardening bug bites, people begin growing herbs and then fruit.

They become avid recyclers and junk collectors. When eating out they want to know the origin of their food and whether it has been farmed ethically. Dinner conversations include heirloom seeds and composting tips. These small changes multiply and make a big difference.

I have been both a participant and a beneficiary of this expansion. I have learned (and continue to learn) so much more about growing food and sustainable living since I wrote my first book seven years ago.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet many inspirational, passionate and knowledgeable food gardeners. Such as the team behind Random Harvest's beautiful and productive vegetable garden display, which is to give way to a herb garden display in the next two or three months.

Like them, urbanites, with no desire to move to a farm or smallholding, are finding innovative and productive ways of growing healthy organic food in limited city spaces, resulting in a growing green revolution spreading throughout South Africa.

With predictions that by 2050, up to 70 per cent of our population will be living in cities, and food production will need to double to feed an increasingly affluent population, urban farming will supply the food of our future.

 

However much I like the idea of living off the grid, becoming completely self-sufficient while living in the city is a daunting idea. Instead, I aim to create an environment that is as eco-friendly as possible. We live in an old double-storey house covered with green creeper – literally a ‘green house’.

When we moved in, there was a classic English-style garden with lawns, roses and a large swimming pool. In the 22 years that we have lived here, much has changed. Most of the lawn has given way to a vegetable garden or beds planted with herbs and water-wise plants.

The roses intermingle with fruit trees and the pool is now filtered by a wetland with fish, frogs and water plants. Under the bay tree live Itchy and Scratchy, my two egg- and manure-producing hens. A vertical strawberry garden wraps the rainwater harvesting tank and succulents cover the greywater tank.

Outside the back door, containers and pots overflow with edibles and herbs. In every available space are fruit trees, including ones in pots and espaliered against sunny walls. At last count our urban orchard included 24 fruit trees and ten different types of berries and vines – and we live in the middle of the largest city in South Africa: Johannesburg.

Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening is about exploring and sharing ways that urbanites can live a more connected and sustainable life in the city. How, even with our demanding schedules, we can become a part of nature instead of living apart from nature.

Whether it’s growing vegetables or harvesting rainwater, contributing kitchen waste to a community farm’s compost heap or converting a chemical pool to a natural one, all urban dwellers would benefit if each of us took a few steps towards becoming more environmentally aware urban farmers.

In our Twenty-first century of absolute convenience and consumerism, we have become disconnected from nature. We somehow believe that not only can we live separately from nature, but that we can also take as much as we want without giving anything back. And that is not how a successful relationship works.

We are a part of nature and if we continue to live as if we are a privileged and separate species, we risk losing everything. The multitude of problems facing us as human beings on this planet can be overwhelming and daunting.

But one thing each and every one of us can do is to take personal responsibility to cultivate a better relationship with the piece of planet on which we live.

Note from Random Harvest Indigenous Nursery: Come and meet Jane Griffiths at Random Harvest on 17th October, when she will be chatting about the concepts in her book. You will be able to buy her newly released book "Janes Delicious Urban Garden".

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