Food. We need it for our survival and we think about it multiple times a day... but how deeply are we considering its journey to our plate?
One of our Urban Farmers, Jacob, starting asking himself 'Where does my food come from?' 6 years ago, and hasn't stopped! Read on to hear about his quest to become more connected to food!
It all began 6 years ago...
Where does my food come from? It’s a question that started to plague me for the first time six years ago when I first moved to university and began to shop and cook for myself. Before this point I would get involved in cooking family meals and enjoyed the odd bit of growing but did not really appreciate what it took to create the plate of food in front of me. I was truly disconnected from the whole process. The seed, the first stages of growth, the patience it takes until you can finally harvest, how it got to the farmers market or supermarket and ultimately, how to best prepare it for maximum flavour and nutrition.
In order to better understand the question I first had six years ago, I began to listen to hours of podcasts, read books and watch dozens of videos around the topic of growing, soil health and permaculture in order to start bridging the gap in my lack of knowledge.
Although this was a great starting point for me and many others, I soon realised that instead of watching, listening and reading I should probably start ‘doing’ and put what I had learnt into practice. So, at the end of last year, I decided to quit my job as a trainee teacher in North London in order to pursue the question, where does my food come from?
Out of school, into nature's classroom
In January 2022 I began working on a small market garden with 3 acres of land near Bristol, which I found through the website WWOOF. The project was set up 2 years previously by a passionate woman whose aim was to restore an old Victorian walled garden back to its former glory, producing local, seasonal, organic fruit and vegetables that supplied her local community.
Day 1 and I learnt quickly what it meant to earn your dinner. We started by doing 6 hours of digging new beds for the forthcoming season whilst simultaneously pulling out any weeds we could find. My hands and feet were freezing for most of the day and my mind often drifted off to somewhere warm and comfortable that didn’t involve shifting dirt in the cold. This was my first lesson that nothing homegrown comes without hard work, preparation and patience!
Reaping the rewards - the fruits of our labour
When it finally came to harvest day (which took place every Thursday) it felt like a true treat to unearth Jerusalem artichokes, pick salad leaves, and snap kale leaves from their stalk. After a few weeks of digging, harvesting and pruning with the other members of the community, I felt like my connection with the land and food on my plate had grown. I was starting to appreciate the work that went into nourishing me and felt more in tune with the flow of nature.
After harvesting what we needed to feed our small customer base the plot became open to myself and the other members of the team. We were able to take what we liked in order to prepare lunch and dinner. Instead of bright fluorescent lights, background music and food wrapped in plastic packaging that I was used to when shopping, I found myself listening to the birds, squatting and smelling like a hunter-gatherer and conjuring up creative recipes using strictly what was on offer.
Healthy planet, healthy body
This way of eating has had a profound effect on what I think is healthy and sustainable. I now more firmly believe that what is healthy for me is also what is healthy for the planet as the two of us are inextricably linked as one. Food imported from thousands of miles away wrapped in plastic, with a lack of clarity on how it was produced needs to change if we are to tackle the global food system's contribution to climate change. We could instead begin to think of food as medicine, a life giving energy that if correctly grown can sustain and heal us. Such thinking stands in contrast with the ever developing food and fitness industries, which see food purely as a numerical figure related to calories, fats, carbs and protein. It is much much more.
Joining Square Mile Farms
Such an experience ultimately led me to want to share what I had learnt with others in the city who may not have had the experience that I was fortunate enough to have whilst in Devon and Bristol. Back in London, my work for Square Mile Farms involves working to grow vegetables and herbs hydroponically. Hydroponics removes the need for soil as a growing medium and instead allows plants to be grown vertically indoors. Through the use of light, nutrients, water and recycled coconut husks I am able to teach others about growing without the need to travel to the countryside. Although at first I was sceptical about hydroponic growing, I now see its benefit in connecting people with their food on a deeper level. The first stages of growth, the harvest, the aroma and its use in the kitchen does not change just because these vegetables and herbs are not grown in the soil.
Keep asking questions!
In summary, the last 8 months have enabled me to see that everyone desires a greater level of transparency and access to information when it comes to their food. How does it get to my plate? How do I grow it at home? Who’s my farmer? How many miles did it travel to get here? These are all important questions that people need to keep asking if we are to see changes in the way food is produced. The role that hydroponic systems can play in beginning to answer these questions is great and something that I think is only benefiting and enriching people's lives. As far as my own connection with food goes, I can now honestly say that I feel more confident in answering the question, where does my food come from?
Square Mile Farms bring vertical, urban farming to city dwellers. We aim to bring people closer to food production and help to create a culture of healthy, sustainable living. Find out more about our offering and get in touch here with any queries. You can also follow us on social media to stay up to date with our journey, find us on Instagram and LinkedIn.