There has been a huge uptake in the number of people interested and actively growing their own food since the inception of the Coronavirus pandemic. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported that 42 percent of Britons had actively taken up gardening as a coping resource, with a further third of a million searches on tips for growing household vegetables being registered on the Royal Horticultural Society website. At the time of writing, 2m social distancing remains in place, reducing the probability of a meaningful, or at least a pre-virus social life being restored anytime soon. Within this social vacuum, growing your own veg remains an effective way to bolster your mental and physical health.
Getting outside can have hugely positive effects on your mental and physical health. A study in Canada found that even prior to the Corona Virus lockdown, most of us were spending only 10 percent of our time outdoors; and lockdown restrictions seem to have made us spend even more time indoors with predictable results.
The Guardian reported last month that those with no prior histories of mental health diagnoses had for the first time developed serious psychological problems, due in part to the stresses of lockdown and isolation. Getting outside in the garden or an allotment growing vegetables can be the perfect antidote to this. The Psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm termed the word biophilia, which suggested that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Starting a vegetable plot, raised beds in your garden, or tending to an allotment is an ideal way to connect to this biophilia, ward off the demons of isolation and lockdown and maintain your health.
The health benefits are indeed wide ranging. A study conducted in 2015, published in the Journal of public health, found that within a group of 269 participants made up of gardeners and non-gardeners, the gardeners had increased levels of self-esteem and mood that required just 30 mins of gardening a week, compared to the control group. As well as showing a disparity in mental wellbeing, allotment gardeners had substantially body mass indexes than non-gardeners. It was found that 68 per cent of the non-gardening group were obese, relative to 47 percent of the gardeners. The group was taken from all strata’s of society, including income and employment, health and disability, education and skills training, barriers to housing and crime and living environment.
The results are no accident, as well as the satisfaction of seeing your seedlings grow and the endorphins exercise releases, soil also contains a natural anti-depressant called Mycobaterium Vaccae which has been found to mirror the effects of anti-depressant drugs like Prozac.
During lockdown when restaurant and take-away outlets shut, the farmers couldn’t transfer their supply to the retail sector, and a lot of food was wasted. As the Tenant Farmer Association (TFA) said, “At a time when consumers were queueing up at retailers keen to buy meat, dairy and produce, it was unacceptable that this demand was unfulfilled despite the fact that sufficient quantities of food were available in the country”. This suggests that our food chains are not infallible and are susceptible to crisis and bureaucracy.
Growing your own food whilst being cheaper than buying everything via the supermarket, also gives a partial sense of food security. Whilst subsistence living may be difficult to achieve, it can certainly supplement your supermarket shop. If you have an empty fridge, it is lovely to be able to harvest enough food from your own garden for a couple a meals at least before you need to go to a shop.
If you are lucky enough to have your own garden you can devote a bed to veg. If you don’t have your own garden, here are some ideas:
- You can grow beans, salad, tomatoes, potatoes and more in pots on a windowsill, patio or balcony. See tips on RHS website and Which website
- You can get an allotment eg Hungerford Allotment Holders Association, Newbury Town Council allotments, Wantage Town Council allotments, Lambourn Allotment Society. (Before you commit, it is worth checking the longevity of the allotment plots as some may have insecurity where landlords are awaiting planning permission)
- You can trade with a neighbour who grows surplus.
- When lockdown eases you can volunteer at community market gardens such as Growing2Gether Market Garden near Kingsclere or Five a Day Market Garden in Englefield.
- You can order veg boxes from a UK supplier who delivers seasonal veg to your door. There will be vicarious benefits to supporting their enterprise and enjoying the meals you cook from them.
If you have low energy or are feeling unwell, here are some tips to make gardening easier as it therapeutic to keep gardening if you can.