I used to shop once a week – or rather my better half did – but I saw a ¼ of all the food I bought go off, packaged to suit retail space, not how much I eat and when, and if there’s one thing that I can’t do, it’s waste food,

so all the more reason to produce it myself.

Having ripped up my front lawn, and transplanting some of my seedlings from the greenhouse, my garden was starting to take form. Like the greenhouse, this was a weekend venture for me, even though I had a much bigger idea for the project in my head, I started small. The point is that you don’t have to spend your life savings on building your garden; nature is simple and will thrive with the simplest of assistance. I used whatever I could find:

  •  Old tyres – punctures from our many travels on rough dirt roads
  • Old treated timber that I had lying around
  • Bricks, concrete blocks and rocks

Becoming a FarmerI did most of the landscaping myself but it will probably be necessary to get someone else on board. I have a really good relationship with a farmer called Gray who comes in twice a week and tends to the garden, plus he walks home with fresh produce for his whole family. But the real value for me is that we are both learning what I call forgotten knowledge. These are things that we all used to know and needed to know, but as our lives became more convenient, we forgot how to grow our own tomatoes. It’s a valuable resource that I know he will take home and pass on to his family. This is my hope through my personal efforts at home and the greater Green Town project. If we can educate people and teach them the skills necessary to produce their own food in the cities, we can empower the people who need it most.

Once the operation is in full swing you will be amazed at all the fresh produce that you have – I don’t even know what to do with it all. And you won’t believe the difference in taste. If I pick a leaf of lettuce, I have to eat it within the hour or it will wilt, but somehow the lettuce that you buy in the shops can last for a week? How does that work? The only way to really understand the impact that this can have on you and your family’s health and well being is to do it yourself, and I guarantee that you’ll taste the difference. The biggest issue in this whole situation is also the ultimate solution: us. It’s easy to blame the farmer or the retailer, but ultimately it has to start with the consumer; with you and me.

PhotosGARDEN

 “The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.” – Michael Pollan

My greenhouse was working great, but I soon realized that I would never be able to compete with what nature offered for free: sunlight, water, soil; which brought me to the next logical step and an obvious but profound realization:

I don’t eat grass.

The greenhouse is the realm of the scientist in me. It’s the place to learn, experiment and make mistakes, but the garden is the realm of the farmer and a necessary part of growing your own food. I’ve always grown my own food, like most people, but never with the mindset of it replacing my supermarket. We like to grow herbs and maybe a couple of tomato plants, but why not rip up your ornamental front lawn and turn it into a vegetable garden? That’s what I did – after all, I don’t eat grass.

I tried to apply all that I learnt through my greenhouse, but I soon realized that this was a completely different ball game. Again, there were many learning curves and failed experiments, but I hope that I can make these mistakes so that you don’t have to. After about six months I had made some progress and was producing about half of all the vegetables that my family ate on a daily basis – and it tastes amazing – but I suppose that’s what it’s supposed to taste like.

recipes

Having a full on vegetable garden is quite a big setup and obviously requires much more care and attention – which is probably impossible for any working man, including me – but this issue is too pressing for me, especially in all my years of trying to track down where our food comes from, so I went full steam ahead. It’s a great weekend project to get started on and an opportunity to give up the remote for a spade and get those green fingers dirty.  We’ve been fed this lie that we can’t do it ourselves; that we don’t have the time; that it’s too difficult – and it is hard work, make no mistake – but not nearly as hard as the lie would have us believe.

PhotosGRASS

“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.”

– Michael Pollan

If we we’re supposedly smart enough to put a man on the moon, surely we can figure out how to marry human smarts with natural systems in a way that allows us to exist more harmoniously with the planet as a whole in the places we live and work.

This, I believe, will be the human species’ most pressing and important challenge in the immediate future; the will to effect change in the areas we live and work without hiding behind ignorance or apathy, to actually do good and deliver for our communities.

With my eyes set on this new mission to start growing my own food, I decided to build a greenhouse. This is like my green laboratory where I can learn the science behind growing my own food in a contained environment. And my greenhouse isn’t just an organic workshop, it’s my man cave.

I think it’s important that everyone has a space for themselves – not just men – but for me it’s my greenhouse. It’s a place where I can come for an hour after work and just wind down, forgetting the stresses and pressures of running a business – it’s almost like therapy or meditation for me. I tend to my seedlings, make sure the growing plants are all looking good and check that all the equipment is still working properly. It’s a place where I control the environment…well mostly.

GreenhouseI think that this idea appeals to most healthy people in South Africa and at the moment there is a growing trend to go green and eat organic food. I needed to know where my food was coming from and how it was produced and since no one could give me any good answers, I was going to find out for myself by going back to its roots.

Now, straight off the bat, there are two things that often deter people from even trying this: time and money. The common perception is that organic and free-range foods are much more expensive and in many ways reserved for those who are wealthy enough to afford it – the rest of us have to settle for the cheaper, substandard products available at our run-of the-mill supermarkets. Obviously, if you are growing your own food – as we all should – the cost is essentially nothing; free food for the most part! The downside then becomes the time cost: tending to your plants, watering them, checking the soil, and tending to pests – it can seem almost impossible and ultimately deters people from even trying.

GreenhouseThe truth is that growing your own food is easier than it’s ever been. With even the most modest technology, you can automate nearly the entire process so that your greenhouse will be fully tended to while you’re at work. All you have to do is pick what you want for dinner!

This is what I hope to share with everyone reading this and if you stick around I’ll show you how easy this can be, using my experiments as an example so that you don’t have to make the mistakes that I’ve made. We can all do this, and if we do, we could change the way that we eat for the better, so I’ll keep you posted on how we can do this!