<a href="http://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blogs/richard#">Life in the Slow Food Lane</a>

Life in the Slow Food Lane

A look at the eco side of eating, with Richard Cornish

City peasants living off surburban land

Urban Garden

Suburban vegetable gardens make financial sense.

Credit: Richard Cornish

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Seeds in the City - Growing Food in Havana

A friend of mine in finance told once told me that immigrants from the Mediterranean during the 1950s and 1960s paid their homes off fast. They paid their homes off faster than the immigrants from Britain.

I suggested it was because they worked harder and put more aside. He suggested otherwise. He said the Brits worked just as hard but had less disposable income. The Mediterraneans had more money to plough back into their income because they were spending less on food.

My friend is quite a bright bloke and the brother of a girl I once fancied but had to leave my unrequited love undeclared because that’s what mates do. He told me that Britain was one of the first industrialised nations on Earth.

People moved from the country to the mills of the cities across Britain, leaving behind their skills as people of the land to learn a raft of reduced skills to operate the machinery. With the money they earned they bought food from companies and factories.

The birth of food industrialisation was born and the essential skills of sowing, growing, reaping and preserving food were lost for almost all of the British population.

He went on to explain that even by the end of World War II the Italians, particularly in the south were still a population of peasant farmers. They had the skill to eke a living from the land. The people from Calabria could (and still) pickle olives, salt fish, bottle tuna and preserve their vegetables. The Southern Italians in particular were responsible for not only their own welfare but also their own survival.

In the suburban Australian context the Brits and the Mediterraneans worked just as hard to build a new life for themselves. They were in, ostensibly, a foreign country with a different culture. It was a hard life for all. One difference was that the people from Italy and Greece spoke less English and they held onto their culture. This included growing and making their own food.

Instead of spending their money on industrial foods where there was a cash premium to be paid for the sourcing, manufacturing, packaging and transport of foods the former peasants had skills to grow and make their own. They grew lemons, grapes, figs, tomatoes, capsicums, olives and other produce. They bought meats and made and cured them into sausages.

A family growing a few vegetables could save the equivalent of, in today’s terms, $25 to $50 dollars a week. Over the course of a 25 year mortgage this works out to between $32,500 and $60 000. That is a lot of money.

With that in mind I have started work on the garden on our first house. This week I planted a bay tree, olive tree and two lemon trees. In doing so I ran a spade through the gas line in the front of the house spewing gas all over the suburb. It cost over $300 in repairs.

Knowledge of not only how to grow food plants but also where the services go is also a great way of saving money – and wasted fossil fuels.