Friday, August 10, 2012

food growing as practice

This has been niggling at me for a while, and I want to dispel what seems to me a popularly held myth, that growing your own food is easy.  There's enough banter out there about food growing, in book form, on the television and in the online/blogosphere scape, and although there is a lot of instructive info, it often feels like all that is required is some enthusiasm and a simple intent to start and it will be as easy as a wink.  I'm all for talking about the positive benefits of vegie and fruit growing, but it certainly is not always easy, if it was would anyone ever buy food?!

I absolutely adore Costa as the new host of Gardening Australia, but I can't help but wonder at the apparent ease at which his "Verge" garden has sprung up.  Commitment is such an important ingredient for successful gardening, particularly when the initial exciting flush that comes with something newly begun dies down.  What I find difficult to manage is the balance between patient waiting and quick action.  Like anything in life, you get out what you put in, you literally reap what you sow.  Food growing requires consistent effort, but an interesting kind of consistency that must also allow for adaptability.  You have to keep putting in, but keep a close evaluative eye on what's happening to know what steps to take.  How do you develop this eye?  How do you know how to respond?

The required skills and knowledge can be learned in part through books/television/internet (which, I'll say it again, overwhelmingly make it seem so easy!), but there's a level of know-how needed that can only be cultivated by doing.  I've been thinking about this for a long time since I saw an episode of Gardening Australia back in April (see "Gardening for Life" on 14/4/12), that showed a segment about a retired market gardener in Coburg who was turning over the lease for his cultivated land to CERES.  He had a knowledge of the land that he had tended all his life which seemed to defy logic.  At one point he says that a patch over there "looks" good for growing broadbeans, and I wonder about what is going on here.  Is it the development of a localised wisdom that comes through experience?  Perhaps coupled with repetition, careful observation and above all practice?  So food growing is a practice?!  Of course, it demands the consistent effort and commitment that developing a practice requires.  When expertise of a practitioner is demonstrated it dazzles and implies effortlessness, and perhaps that's what is happening on shows like Gardening Australia.

As my ripped up corn stalks (due to dog vs rat battles) from last season testify, food growing is not easy!  In actual fact, it was easier when I went more by my instinct and less by instruction from books.  So like the market gardener, I'm going into the next season with the intent to listen to my own intuition and discover the lore of my land.

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