At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, when people fearing they would have to self-isolate started to buy a bit extra just in case, it knocked a finely-calibrated ‘just in time’ food supply chain out of kilter. The result was empty shelves for some product lines. The sight of empty shelves prompted more in the way of people stocking up, which only made the situation worse.
The end of the transition period for the United Kingdom leaving the European Union also sparked fears of shortages of some foodstuffs if a trade deal couldn’t be reached. A “No Deal” Brexit and the resulting rigorous customs checks would have led to bottlenecks at Calais for foodstuffs coming into the UK which would have meant loads spoiling. The fear of this prompted a number of hauliers to say that if there was a no deal situation, they would avoid using this route into the UK for a few months to assess how serious the delays were. As it happened, a trade deal was reached at the last minute and so far, apart from a few glitches, there have been no major problems. However, minds were focused on how it doesn’t take much to disrupt a complex food supply chain.
When everything works, a ‘just in time’ food supply chain can guarantee a year-round supply of fresh vegetables and fruit amongst other foodstuffs. This incredibly complex operation, developed and refined over decades, has consigned to history the practice of seasonal eating that was familiar to those of us growing up in the 60s and 70s. Yet it doesn’t take much to threaten or disrupt a ‘just in time’ food supply chain.
In the course of our activism with Alternative Estuary, we had a fair few conversations during 2020 about the need for us to be able to grow more of our own food. Many of the people we talk to who are considering growing more of their own vegetables and fruit cite the security of food supply as a major motivation. Also, a combination of lockdown and being furloughed gave people more time and opportunity to focus on what they could do in their own backyard. This is probably one of the very few positive things to come out of lockdown…
Being able to grow as much of our food as possible is great for food security. However, there are other big questions to think about. The more control an individual or a neighbourhood has over their food supply, the more independent they can become from an increasingly toxic system. A system that favours corporations over small, local producers. A system that wants more control over more aspects of our lives and will utilise technologies such as smartphones to realise that objective. (A system that makes it harder to function in society without owning a smartphone!) A system that wants to divorce us from the natural world and make us increasingly dependent on a technocratic elite for every aspect of our existence. The more control people have over their food supply, the less they’re dependent on this dehumanising technocratic system. It could even be the start of a genuine revolution…
Full off-grid self sufficiency is what some people we know are aiming for. That requires land and here in the UK, securing the land needed to achieve this is fraught with obstacles. However, there are many steps along the way to food self sufficiency that can be taken. Depending on your circumstances, you can make the full journey or just take a few steps. The point to bear in mind is that taking a few steps is a start in getting a degree of independence from the system. Even if you only have an average sized garden but can achieve three months full self sufficiency in vegetables, that’s still taking a few steps away from the system. It may be that just taking these few steps gives you the self confidence and inspiration to go further along the road. If this is being done collectively as part of a neighbourhood project, then the buzz of people learning from each other during inspiring shared experiences can really drive things forwards.
The thing is to make a start. Obviously at first we are still dependent on outside inputs such as seeds, compost, etc. and by definition, still plugged into the system. Don’t worry, we all have to start somewhere! The thing is, as you learn and gain experience, there’s more you can take control over such as producing your own compost, saving and preserving seeds to use in the next growing season – the list goes on. The aim is to end up with pretty much a closed loop system with little or nothing in the way of external inputs.
Don’t let people tell you that on a supposedly crowded island, such as the United Kingdom where we live, there isn’t enough room to achieve a much greater degree of food self sufficiency. Take a close look around your neighbourhood and it will start to become apparent how much land is underutilised. Be creative about how you secure that land to grow some food. Simply asking permission from the landowner may be enough. If the landowner can’t be tracked down or bothered to respond, a bit of “guerilla gardening” may be in order. Part of this movement is about challenging the system of land ownership that over centuries has served to deny us our freedom.
These are just a few thoughts. Alternative Estuary will be writing more about this as we go through 2021. As for the resources to inspire and guide people in growing more of their own food, the key ones are listed below:
Crops NOT Shops – https://www.facebook.com/groups/824963631333587/
South East Essex Organic Gardeners – https://seeog.org.uk/
Southend in Transition Community Allotment – https://www.facebook.com/SiTcommunityAllotment/
Permaculture Association – https://www.permaculture.org.uk/
The Orchard Project – https://www.theorchardproject.org.uk/
Seeds For Change – https://www.seedsforchange.org.uk/
Spiralseed – https://spiralseed.co.uk/