food poverty

LBTL day 4 – growing your own

As part of Live Below the Line, you’re allowed to use food you’ve grown yourself, as long as you factor in the cost of production into your £1 a day food budget. So we’ve been drawing from the garden a bit.

It’s unfortunate timing really, because in Britain this is about the worst time for homegrown food. If we were doing the challenge in August, it would be very easy indeed. As it is, we’ve got lots of overwintering leeks still in the ground, so we’ve been eating them every day. There’s some scarlet kale, some Welsh onions, and a little baby leaf spinach. The Rhubarb is good value, and then there’s the herb patch, which has been very useful. I’ve been drinking fresh mint tea to save on teabags, and there’s plenty of flavours there to liven up our meals. Otherwise, the main beds are full of tiny seedlings and there’s nothing much to harvest.

Of course, we’re protected from the seasons by our global food system. All our favourites are available all year round and unless you’re a gardener, the seasons are irrelevant to our diets. For most people living below the poverty line, the seasons matter enormously.  You eat what’s available. What you eat could change quite considerably over the course of the year, as various fruits and nuts come into season, as certain wild foods become available, or as birds migrate or insects spawn.

The cost of eating changes throughout the year too. Fresh produce might change, but everyone has a staple. Rice might be very cheap at harvest time, but get more expensive as the year goes on. In Madagascar, local rice sometimes ran out before the new harvest came in. People had to buy imported rice for a while, which they didn’t like as much as their own ‘Vary Gasy’.

Many people living below the poverty line will have a small patch of land for growing food. It’s often the province of the wife, while the husband grows the cash crops. Where I lived in Kenya everyone had a shamba with vegetables, a fruit tree and a few chickens. But this highlights the difference between rural and urban poverty. In the country, there’s room for everyone to grow something. That’s not true in the city, where conditions are often very crowded and people don’t have gardens. It’s much harder to supplement your diet with a few homegrown items.

On the other hand, those living in more rural areas miss out in other ways. There’s more room to grow things, but you’re more vulnerable to bad harvests. A market in a city has goods from around the country and imports, but yours might only sell local produce. If your harvest fails, chances are there’s no backup food source for sale even if you could afford it. You also miss out on services. It’s easier to provide healthcare and education in cities. A well or a road will serve many more people in the concentrated populations of the city, so the money is always spent their first. It’s a long wait for things like electricity or phone lines in remote areas.

Here’s a little tour of our garden and what we’ve got available for this week’s challenge:



  1. I just thought: well – if we’d really get desperate, we’d probably turn to fishing in our pond (and on top of it probably shoot and fry the heron visiting it regularly to feed on the fish, which otherwise we tolerate, along with the friendly crows nesting here, as part of nature). But otherwise – if I think about it again we are really well positioned. We have an enormous garden that we could expand it beyond our capability of tending to it – living on 2 hectares of arable land. We live on the leftovers of an old farm, and as it happens agricultural land still is cheap. The calories from the nuts alone that grow on our ground could keep us going for quite a while without spending a cent. The huge walnut tree and other nut trees are there, growing, producing, year after year. So here again – there is a huge difference between living in a rural region of a developing country with lack of water and possibly infertile soil and living in a temperate region – even if you own the same area of land, it is not the same. And – living in a city – you have a garden, which already is luxury compared to many others in Europe, but ultimately, when the going gets tough, access to larger areas of land and sufficient free water is what makes the difference.

    I have to thank you, by the way, for participating in this campaign and writing about it, because it really got me thinking about my own situation. In Germany the renewable energy industry – or rather the independent renewable energy industry – currently is being systematically dismantled and we suddenly ended up in what in our country is considered the poverty range. Solar companies are going bust by the dozen and we suffer from short time working. But then – the state kicks in. I paid high taxes and insurance for many years, and now I get some of it back. School is free, health insurance for the kids is free, and below a certain level you get (significantly!) increased child benefits, and the government pays for sports clubs and music or arts education as part of what they call the “social participation program for children”. Theoretically I knew that we are a welfare state, but for the first time in my life I, at age 44, realize personally what extreme luxury that is! I now earn only 25% of what I earned at my best times, but we are not in danger of loosing our house because of that. We do not have to compromise medical treatment or quality of food and water. When we had the money I also invested it in solar energy – thermal and PV – so we significantly reduced our heating costs and, being net electricity producers, we actually get paid by the utilities instead of paying them. What I want to say is that the framework provided to us by our society very much defines our options, and I currently appreciate – more than ever – that I live within this concept of a “social market society”. It even gives us the opportunity to support our relatives in a developing country a little bit despite not having much ourselves. Even from a selfish point of view it is a good system, since all of us can unexpectedly end up in a precarious situation. All it takes is a burp of “the market” or the strike of a pen of a legislator – or a sudden disease.

  2. A brilliant little tour of your edible patch. I did this Challenge last year and after our final harvests of the season decided to make sure I saved some of the frozen bounty to use in this years Challenge.

    As you say it is SO cheap to do it this way and what would have cost me pounds at the shops for veggies has cost me 10p. The maths took me a while though!!


    Sue xx

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