Starting your own garden can be a cheap and easy way to feed your family, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
New Zealand’s Edible Landscapes Architect, Shai Brod says carbon and nitrogen are the key ingredients for making good compost and soil for growing food. “It doesn’t have to be weeding and watering and all this long hourly work,” Mr Brod says. “It’s actually simple. If you get the structure right from the start, the soil takes care of itself.”
No one doubts the benefits of homegrown produce, but poverty researchers say it’s often hard for low-income families to get started. “A garden is really a long-term project. A garden takes three or four months before you can harvest crops and the crops may fail, and if people are hungry today they are not going to sit and wait for the silverbeet to grow,” senior lecturer at Waikato University (New Zealand), Ottilie Stolte says.
Researcher Kimberly Jackson agrees that growing food is a great idea, but it’s not viable for everyone. “One of the things that we found with our participants is when you’re running around day after day trying to cope, without enough to stretch out to everyone, you can become a bit risk-averse,” Ms Jackson says. “So it’s fine for me if my crop fails, but if I’ve invested money that’s very precious and then have nothing to eat – then that’s a disaster.”
Another significant issue is having to move home regularly. Sarah Oliver, a student at one of Mr Brod’s gardening workshops, has always enjoyed growing her own produce. But when she was renting there were occasions where she had to walk away from her gardens. Until now. Ms Oliver has her own property so she can grow her own organic produce at home in Waituna. But for low-income families that’s not always possible.
One solution could be community gardens which are now popping up right across the country. But there’s no denying that if those living in poverty can get some stability and plant their own garden, the rewards can be plentiful.