My eldest son insisted on a vegetable garden. I thought it was a whim, but he persevered. That vegetable garden should and had to come and I agreed. Full of dedication he researched YouTube, and slowly he converted our kitchen into a nursery for the germinating of avocado seeds, potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, and peppers. He literally talked to the plants to grow. Full of wonder and amazement I watched.
Apparently, we weren’t the only family who had been gardening in the last few weeks. Reuters and BBC reported that the number of ‘home growers’ in America and England grew exponentially. Not necessarily because of their children’s obsession, but because they were shocked by the empty shelves in their supermarket. Suddenly it dawned how dependent they were on a vulnerable distribution system.
In the Netherlands we noticed that too. We may not have had empty shelves, but we destroyed all kinds of harvests. In other countries this also happened. In Spain, 300,000 tons of strawberries were destroyed, in France 1 billion litres of wine and in the US the quantities were even higher.
At the same time, the number of hungry people worldwide grew–and is growing– in a humongous way. In Lebanon, for example, the government called on citizens to use every available piece of land or balcony to grow fruit and vegetables. Prices in shops had risen so much due to the economic crisis, that many people no longer had enough money to go shopping. As a result, vegetable gardening became a bitter necessity.
That there is a mismatch between surplus and deficit is not new, but, again, it became very visible. Just like the complexity and vulnerability of the distribution systems, because all those products are dragged all over the world. Can’t that be different?
I don’t have an answer to that question, but small-scale innovations in agriculture can contribute to solutions. Consider big cities such as Bangkok, where local food is produced on rooftops, New York with vertical farms in empty buildings, and in London even underground. Supermarkets with their own rooftop farms in Belgium, community gardens in a food forest in Atlanta, or a dairy farmer in Twente, the Netherlands, also producing soy milk. The common denominator running through these initiatives is that sustainable and local food is produced in or near large cities. That could mean a gigantic difference in the future.
In the meantime, I continue to help my son develop his vegetable garden, because I suspect that this knowledge may come in pretty handy for him later on in life.
Asceline Groot is ondernemer bij hetkanWEL, schrijfster van ‘Het Nieuwe Groen’ en PhD kandidaat aan de Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. In haar columns schrijft zij over (start-up) sociale ondernemingen en trends en ontwikkelingen op het gebied van duurzaamheid.