Throughout June we have been thinking about what we can all do to ensure that we and our families can breathe clean air. Growing your own fruit and vegetables is another way that can contribute to a cleaner atmosphere for us all. Have you ever wondered how far your food travels to arrive on your plate? The UK imports around 47% of all vegetables and a massive 84% of all the fruit that is eaten here. Everything that is imported has either to travel by ship or be flown into the UK and every food mile travelled increases the risk of air pollution as most ships and planes run on fossil fuels. When fossil fuels are burned, the carbon they are made of is released into the air adding to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide accumulate in the atmosphere and prevent the sun’s heat from radiating away from the Earth, so the temperature goes up.
Our climate isn’t suitable to grow every type of vegetable or fruit that we enjoy, so these have to be imported, but many things get imported that can just as well be grown here. Did you know that pack of tomatoes that say “Morocco” on the label will have travelled around 1,254 miles to get here and courgettes and peppers that have been grown in Spain will travel at least 787 miles before they arrive in the UK. Those strawberries we enjoy eating out of season will have been grown in a hotter climate than our own, quite possibly in Israel so they travel over 2200 miles to arrive on our plate in winter. Seasonally available local fruit and vegetables are more likely to have either grown in a field or in a greenhouse warmed by the sun, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels needed to grow or transport the food.
Those of us who are lucky enough to have a garden or an allotment can save many air polluting miles by growing our own vegetables, but you don’t need a big space to grow enough just for your own use. You can grow a few carrots or potatoes in a bucket and if you stagger when they are planted the produce will last several weeks. You can even grow things on a sunny windowsill or balcony.
Not only is growing your own food good for the environment it is also good for you. You will know exactly what has gone into growing your veg and whether you have used chemicals or not. Food in its rawest, freshest form is the tastiest way to enjoy it and is also the most nutritional. Food that has had to travel a long way to reach your plate may have spent a long time in transit and then sat on a shelf for a while, losing nutritional value. Gardening is good for your body and your mind too. Getting out in the garden gives you fresh air and keeps you active. Involvement in gardening helps to improve your cardiac health and immune system. Even if you are a bucket or windowsill gardener cultivating your plants improves fine motor skills, decreases stress, and keeps your mind active too.
If growing is really not for you, why not look out for locally grown food or labels that show that the produced has travelled the shortest distances? The less distance your food has to travel the better it is for all of us.