Grow Your Own Food: a means to an end in an uncertain world

A beginners “Grow Your Own Food” course is offered at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting August 30th.  Over six weeks, the workshops will focus on practical, organic food growing techniques that don’t require a green thumb to follow.

Grow Your Own Food Course 2 flyer“When I was a kid,” recalled project manager John Allen, “our family and most of our neighbours had vegetable gardens.  Growing our own food was one of those things we just did.”

For many of today’s generation, the arts of growing vegetable have been forgotten or were never practiced.   In the uncertain world we are on the threshold of, there are many good reasons to learn those arts.

First is that growing your own food is a means for individuals and households to mitigate the drivers of global warming, to adapt to climate change, and address social justice issues.

In today’s society, it is easy buy whatever food we want, whenever we want it. The impacts of a warming climate are changing that.

For example, the crops that can be grown in some areas is changing due to warmer temperatures, stronger winds and unexpected rainfall patterns.

A recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal, concluded that climate change will cut crop yields.

A 2015 report by WWF, The Calm before the Storm highlight how disruptions to long supply chains will affect the availability of food.

These change will lead to food prices rising.

As well as these impacts, there are many others reasons for people to grow their own food.

For some, saving money is the reason.

For many, it is about knowing what has gone in to their foods.  People are looking for ways to avoid the chemical pesticides or genetically modified organisms that are increasingly finding their way in to our foods.

For an increasing number, it is about consuming in-season foods, grown locally on family-centred organic farms.  This is a reaction to industrialised global food chains that feature excessive food miles, lowered nutrition values and pesticide residues.

For others, it is about the simple pleasures of working outdoors, getting our hands dirty in the soil and harvesting what we have grown.

For most of us, growing our own food is a combination of these reasons and is a practical action for sustainability and resilience in the face of uncertain world.

Take this opportunity to learn the simple arts of food growing.

Enquire below or visit facebook.com/groups/GrowYourOwnFoodNZ/


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Here’s three reasons to Grow Your Own Food

Glyphosate was back in the news last week.  As expected, a second European agency found that that the available scientific evidence did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.

On the face of it, this latest determination is contrary to that of a UN agency’s classification in March 2015, that glyphosate was “probably” a human carcinogen.

Both determinations looked at the hazard that glyphosate poses to human health and came to different conclusions.

Of the two agencies, the UN one studied only independent research.  It also explored the impact of other chemicals added to glyphosate.

These differences mean that the UN research carries more weight for me when I consider using chemical pesticides.

Instead of looking at hazard, the European Food Safety Authority looked at the risk that glyphosate poses, and also found no basis for classifying the chemical as a carcinogen.

Hazard and risk?  Are they not the same thing?

No, not really.  Hazard is about the possibility of a substance being a carcinogen.  Risk is about how likely it is that you will get cancer from being exposed to the hazard.

If you don’t expose yourself to a hazardous substance, whether nuclear waste or glyphosate, then the risk of contracting cancer is negligible.

So if you have to use this hazardous chemical, then taking precautions will reduce the risk of it undermining your, or your children’s, health.

The risk is zero when you grow your own food without using glyphosate.

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Laying out the St Andrews Communal Food garden

When it comes to the risks of eating GMOs, there are no precautions we can take despite the risks being real.

Scientists are concerned that we do not know how differently our genes will work, when we eat GMO foods.

Again, these risks posed by GMO foods are minimised when we grow our own food.

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The St Andrews Communal Food garden early in its development

The third reason to grow your own food, is around the need for us to take action on climate change.

Harvesting fresh produce from our own garden achieves two climate actions.  One is a reduction in green house gases emitted to the atmosphere.  The other is to increase the carbon stored in our soils compared to industrialised agriculture.

Glyphosate, GMOs and climate change, are all hazards.  All are issues of our time, consequences of a capitalist economic system focused more on corporate profits than on the health and wellbeing of people.

As hazards, there is now little that we can do individually, to undo their presence in our society.

But the risk these hazard pose can be minimised when you grow your own food.

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Just a part of the harvest from the St Andrews Communal Food garden

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A beginners Grow Your Own Food course runs at Pukekohe’s St Andrews Church hall on Wednesday evenings, starting April 5th and running for six weeks.  Interested?  Please leave your name and contact number at 09 238 7228.

Or download our brochure: Growing Your Own Food Course.page1

Biochar a foil to doomsayer Guy McPherson

Climate doomsayer Guy McPherson was in Auckland last week, talking about Runaway Abrupt Climate Change.

I do not call him a doomsayer to belittle him or what he has to say.  For he is saying things that need to be said, things that too few want to acknowledge, let alone take action on.

When McPherson says “the situation (climate change) is far worse than it was (in 2014)”, the scientific evidence proves him right.  Atmospheric carbon levels have now exceeded 400 ppm and 2016 is projected to be the hottest year on record.

But then he goes on to say, “There’s no point trying to fight climate change … there’s nothing we can do to stop it”.  His denial of our will to survive is beyond defeatist.

For sure, the task of bringing atmospheric carbon back to levels the earth can sustain is ginormous.  But not even worth trying for?

As Yoda said in the future, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

And do two things we must, if McPherson’s non-future is to be avoided.

One is to eliminate burning fossil fuels.  As unlikely as that is, it will not avoid catastrophic climate change as the carbon already in the atmosphere will continue to drive warming for decades yet.

Second is to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

High tech Carbon Capture and Storage processes are seen by many as the way to save the world.  But they either do not work yet, or are too expensive.  While politicians wait for technologic fixes, the risks become ever more dire.

There are two low tech means to sequestering atmospheric carbon that could be implemented from tomorrow if there was the political nous.

First is planting trees.  We can and should do that, but it will have only a small impact in the time scale McPherson talks about.

Biochar_1694Second is to make biochar and bury it in agricultural soils.

Making biochar from forestry and municipal waste would give us the win-win-win of renewable biofuels, improved soils and less atmospheric carbon.

This sounds an easy do but the scale of the challenge before us is daunting.

To hold global warming to under 2°C, atmospheric carbon needs to be under 350 ppm.  If emissions reductions had begun in 2005, a reduction rate of only 3.5% per year may have sufficed.  Starting today, the required reduction rate is 6% and if delayed until 2020, then it is 15%.   Biochar sequestration can achieve a 12% rate.  So doable it is if we start now.

As discussed last week, it is our perception of the risks that determines whether we take precautions or not.  If we assess a low risk to catastrophic climate change, Guy McPherson will be proved right.

Without healthy soils, our changing climate matters less.

Today, Monday December 5th 2016, is World Soil Day.

Who knew? Who cares?

There are more than two reasons to care. First is that nearly all of our food production requires soil to grow in. Second is that we have only 60 years of food harvests left at current rates of soil degradation.

The 60-year estimate comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their first Status of the World’s Soil Resources report published last year.

The FAO argue that “Without soils we cannot sustain life on earth and where soil is lost it cannot be renewed on a human timeline. The current escalating rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their needs.”

a hand full of wormsLet’s be clear what soil is. Soil is one of our three major natural resources, alongside air and water. It is so much more than the dirt that covers much of the earth’s land. Soil is made up of three main components: the minerals that come from rocks; organic matter from the residues of plants and animals; and the living micro-organisms that live in soil.

It takes nature 200 – 400 years to make a layer of soil one centimetre deep. To make it fertile, may take 3,000 years.

The FAO estimate that between 25 and 40 billion tonnes of topsoil are eroded by wind or rain every year.

Not only does this loss lower farm profitability, it is also a major driver of climate change.

Soil organic matter is exposed when forests are clear-felled and when agricultural lands are tilled. The exposure of soil organic matter to oxygen means that previously sequestered carbon joins the carbon cycle and is added to the atmosphere as a new source of carbon dioxide.

To avoid catastrophic climate change, the world needs us to stop putting new carbon in to the atmosphere. The longer it takes us to act on that need, the harder it is to avoid catastrophe.

As well as driving climate change, the loss of soil organic carbon reduces the availability of nutrients and minerals to plants and so affects the quality and safety of our food. It also leads to increased pests and diseases which, in a downward spiral, further reduces food availability.

For the sake of our climate and our food supply, the health of our soils needs to be assured. This can best be done through regenerative farming and gardening practices.

One regenerative action that anyone can take, is to add carbon, in the form of compost and biochar, to our gardens and farms.

By looking after our soil, so the soil will look after us.

The Justice of Communal Food Gardens

There are four broad aspects of sustainability that we individually and collectively need to face up to: energy, food, water and waste. This post focuses on food sustainability and adds justifications for the Anglican Diocese of Auckland’s sustainability project introduced last week – Communal Food Gardens.


Last week I introduced Communal Food Gardens as a food sustainability project that provides a number of social justice benefits as well as being an action that mitigates the effects of climate change.

Following organic growing principles, our gardens yield food that is healthy, nutritious and safe, and thus helps improve positive health outcomes in the community.

Each parish will decide for themselves how to distribute the food grown in their gardens. This can be to the workers who planted the seed and nurtured the growing plants, to the sick or elderly, or to those in greater need. The choice is the parish’s to make.

Any one of these social justice benefits is in itself, a sufficient reason to start a food garden. So what additional climate change benefits do communal food gardens bring?

First is that food grown locally means a reduction in the green house gas emissions from the transport fleet required to bring produce from the growers to the market.

Second, by adopting organic growing principles, we do not requires fossil fuels to be used to manufacture and deliver fertilisers and various poisoning ‘cides’, to the garden.

Third, by eliminating the risk of individual exposure to pesticides, herbicides and insecticides, we eliminate risks to human health.

Fourth, by eliminating the excessive use of nitrogen-based fertilisers, we eliminate the degradation of our soils and the microbial soil-based life that plants depend on.

Fifth, our gardens will not be tilled so organic materials in the soil will not be oxidised and returned to the atmosphere as climate-warming gases.

Sixth, if we do this right, we can actually remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil where it may remain for many years.

Seventh, the planned introduction of an integrated composting system for our kitchen and garden wastes, means a reduction in the volume of refuse going to landfill sites. This waste sustainability action will itself significantly reduce methane emissions as well as maintaining the fertility levels of our gardens.

So many benefits to a communal food garden!

Why would everyone not want to start one this spring? Why not contact me, John Allen, right now and find out how easy it is to start your own food garden. Just use the contact form below.

Communal Food Gardens – a sustainability and social justice initiative

Of the four broad aspects of sustainability that we individually and collectively need to face up to: energy, food, water and waste, this post focuses on food sustainability and introduces an Anglican Diocese of Auckland sustainability project – Communal Food Gardens.


My last post introduced food sustainability as an issue of importance to each of us.

Our industrialised food production and distribution systems have served us well for many decades but some now see that industrial approach to be unsustainable.

What is needed, is a food system that is equitable and meets the food needs of our local communities without degrading natural or human resources.

The Anglican community can take a step towards natural farming systems by getting involved in the new Anglican Diocese of Auckland project to establish communal food gardens.

community garden
Community Garden in San Diego (image courtesy Wikipedia)

The project matches Anglican beliefs around care of creation – safeguarding the integrity of creation, and sustaining and renewing the life of the earth. It also advances the Diocese’s response to the House of Bishops Statement on Climate Change and their media release in November of last year – We choose to fight climate change rather than drown.

Communal food gardens are a tool in that fight.

Communal gardens is a term heard less often than community gardens. How do the two differ?

Community is a noun and defines a garden that members of a like-minded group of people might access. A community garden could be a food, decorative, or flower garden and is a place for people to enjoy. This is the what of our project.

Communal is an adjective, related to community, and describes how the community garden is owned/worked/harvested – together. This is the how of our community project.

We name this project as Communal Food Gardens and distinguish them from other community gardens as in the Table below.

Type of gardening Description and/or example(s)
Allotments A garden in a public place where individuals or groups each garden their own plots
Communal gardening A garden in a public place where the gardening is carried out communally (that is, by members of the community)
Shared gardening Where a resident offers spare land for neighbours to garden or neighbours assist each other with their home gardens (often on a roster or working bee arrangement)
Revegetation projects (a variation on communal gardening) These projects usually focus on planting indigenous vegetation on public reserves. These sites sometimes also include community orchards and/or community gardens.
Guerrilla gardening Planting without permission on public or private land such as road reserves, traffic islands, parks and empty sections.

This definition embeds some reasons that Communal Gardens are beneficial – they are: a place for social activity; for bringing communities together; a means for city dwellers to connect with nature; and a healthy place for individuals to just be.

We see our communal food gardens providing all these benefits alongside their primary purpose – being a community learning and demonstration resource that expresses the Diocesan Climate Change Action initiative and extends the role of the Diocesan social justice initiative.  That extension is from researching and communicating justice issues, to providing equitable access to good, nutritious food as a means to better health.

The project is rolling out this month so for further information on the establishment of a communal food garden in your parish, either email me, visit our resource page at Communal Gardens Project or leave a comment below.