Why Grow Vegetables?

This is a question I get asked a lot - why do you go to the effort of preparing ground, sowing seeds, caring for the plants, protecting them from pests and diseases (and hens) and harvesting and storing them when you can pop along to your local supermarket (or greengrocer - remember them?) and buy fresh vegetables for not very much money? The stock responses are not usually very convincing - 'well, I enjoy it', I might mumble, or 'it isn't that much work'.

In truth there isn't a single reason, but a whole combination of benefits and positives which make the thought of not growing fruit and vegetables difficult to contemplate. I'm going to list them below, and in future when someone asks me I'll just refer them here. That way I don't look like a bumbling fool who wastes a whole heap of time producing something the local Tesco can amply provide, and they can come here and consider the many compelling reasons for growing fruit and veg.

  • Flavour
    Have you ever tasted really fresh peas, popped into your mouth a matter of seconds after picking? It's one of the greatest food pleasures, and one which no supermarket on earth can compete with. The sugar in peas starts to convert to starch the moment they are picked, explaining why they are so much sweeter straight from the plant. So, our first reason is that we can grow tastier vegetables than we can buy in the shops.
  • Variety
    Supermarkets naturally have to cater for the masses, and so stock the most popular and reliable varieties of fruit and vegetables. By growing your own veg you are freed from the mainstream and are able to select and grow varieties renowned for taste rather than uniformity. I can't ever see my local Tesco or Safeway stocking the nobbly, low yield Pink Fir Apple potato, yet they have the most sublime flavour of any early spud I've ever experienced.
  • Money
    Organic vegetables are more expensive to buy than those produced using herbicides and pesticides. You might save money by growing your own. If you factor in your time you are unlikely to do so, but your time is your own and your bank won't mind if you fritter it away on growing food. If you have the space and motivation to grow in large quantities saving money is easier - I'm certain that we save a heap of money each year on onions and potatoes, because we produce in sufficient quantity for that efficiency to kick in. Oh, and growing organically is certainly cheaper than growing with chemicals!
  • Seasonality
    When your primary source of vegetables is your garden you start to appreaciate the wonders of seasonality. Fresh green beans and sweetcorn in February disappear as options, but sprouting broccoli, parsnips and leeks more than make up for it. There seems to be a natural balance to our seasonal crops too, with vegetables suited to hearty meals like stews becoming available in the coldest months, and the freshest, zestiest crops like peas and spring onions ready for your plate in the warmest.
  • Provenance
    A fancy word for knowing where it comes from and how it was produced. We know that the vegetables we grow are free from harmful chemicals, and that they haven't exploited anyone's labour in their production. You just can't say that about most vegetables you buy in a supermarket. You may be able to wash away chemical residues from the outside of vegetables produced using today's herbicides and pesticides, but you can't do anything about the residues inside them. In the UK at least some labour on large farms, particularly at harvet time, may be provided by illegal workers from eastern european countries, who are underpaid and unprotected by their employers.
  • Fun
    It can be great fun to grow vegetables, especially if you've got someone to share it with. Kids will delight in the sprouting of growth from seeds, and the transformation from seedling to crop. And (whisper it), it can be educational too.
  • The Environment
    Next time you're browsing the shelves in the produce section of your local supermarket have a closer look at the origin labels. Chances are that some of the produce will have come from the UK, but it's a certainty that some of it will have come from further afield. South Africa, the US, Kenya, South America, France, Spain, Italy - all of these and more will feature. Sure you can't grow pineapples on a commercial scale in Europe and they have to be imported, but it's still a fact that much imported fruit and vegetables could be grown and supplied by UK producers. The key here is the concept of Food Miles - if your food is better travelled than you are, there is something wrong with the world. The supermarkets will tell you they are merely responding to consumer pressure and offering choice - I say that choice should be about variety of produce not variety of country of produce.
  • Satisfaction
    Last but not least growing your own vegetables can be tremendously satisfying. Every time you sit down to a meal that features something you've grown yourself, you will feel a sense of something approaching pride - you grew that carrot, you did.
Dan Champion

About Dan Champion

A self-confessed geek, Dan would spend 20 hours per day in front of a computer if he didn't live on a 12-acre smallholding in the east of Scotland (and if his wife would let him). He also built this website.

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