VEG team member Clare getting her hands in the dirt at Melbourne Food Hub farm.

As 2020 comes to an end and we reflect on the year that has been, we probably all agree that this has been one like no other. 

Many of us have faced significant challenges in our lives. So much uncertainty in the world around us has tested our resilience like never before, and many of us have searched in places we’ve never been in order to find joy and purpose.  

One thing is certain – we have turned to our gardens as places of comfort, security and meaning in a way not seen since the victory gardens of the world wars of the 20th century. New edible gardens have sprouted all over the world, on our balconies and window sills, in our courtyards, back and front gardens, and on our nature strips. 

And it all makes perfect sense. Food is one of the most important things to us as we need ongoing access to fresh, healthy food to nurture ourselves and our families. Through our gardens, our shared sense of connectedness with each other and the rest of the natural world is also strengthened. Being in our gardens makes us more whole. 

In our hearts we know how important our gardens are to us, but sometimes we need to tell our stories together to understand how important edible gardening is to the whole community. So earlier this year, Sustain asked over 9,000 gardeners from across Australia about their experiences with edible gardening – how they grow food, why they do it, and what it means to them in the National Pandemic Gardening Survey. This is what they found:

  • Edible gardening provides you with a reliable source of good food. Fourteen per cent of gardeners surveyed are growing about 30% of all their food in their gardens, and this continues to increase as income decreases. The more food you grow, the less you need to buy, and this food is available when the shops are closed. You also don’t need to travel anywhere to get it. 

A bountiful, colourful harvest from an edible garden. Home grown food is beautiful and delicious!

  • Growing food is good for your mental health. More than 70% of people said that gardening makes them feel a lot less stressed, more relaxed and happier. Being in the garden grounds us and helps us to tune out from the stresses of everyday life, meaning that your edible garden can act as a form of therapy. Nearly 20% of people surveyed felt that they could not have made it through the pandemic without their garden.
  • Gardening contributes to a sense of focus and reduced anxiety. Over 80% of people felt that their garden has been important to them during the pandemic. In a world where there is so much out of our control, growing food brings us certainty and stability. It also helps build our resilience on a personal and community level and bring meaning to everyday life. 
  • Edible gardens contribute to diverse and healthy diets. Almost all of the people surveyed are growing vegetables, with two thirds growing fruit as well. About 30% are also keeping chickens in their gardens now, giving them easy access to fresh eggs at home. Growing food (and keeping chooks!) is an activity that we can do with our families, helping them to connect with the food they eat and build their resilience. We also speak from personal experience when we say that vegetables picked from your garden are much more appealing for little people to eat than the same vegetables bought from the store!
Happy chickens roaming freely in an urban garden

Urban gardeners are getting excited about keeping chickens in their gardens. With faces like these, who wouldn’t be?

  • Growing food also grows connection and friendship with other people. Most people are eating the food they grow at home, but many are also sharing it with friends and family, swapping and preserving it. When you grow food you also grow into a new way of living, one that focuses on connection and creating a good life with what you have around you. Edible gardening can also be done together and allow us to connect with each other, but it can be done alone and allow us time out from our busy lives. So whether you’re looking to make new friends, spend more time with old ones, have some me time or get some more time in nature, you can do it all in a garden.

The results of this survey are everything we’ve known all along, and now it’s official: it is the simple things in life that bring us joy and give our lives meaning, especially during difficult times. Swapping our home grown broccoli for our neighbour’s home baked sourdough, sending a smile to a passer by while we tend to the herbs growing on our nature strip, and collecting flower seeds from our own garden to spread along alleyways for all to enjoy are activities that don’t cost a lot of (or any) money, and they bring a lot of pleasure. 

Sharing and swapping the bounty from your edible garden with your neighbours is one of the many joys of edible gardening.

This year has been one of simple pleasures, a time of sharing, and a time of rediscovering our true selves. It has been a time for reflection and connection, for keeping and growing the things that are important to us and leaving behind the old habits and things that aren’t serving us anymore. 

These are life lessons that we’ll never forget, and for many of us this time marks the beginning of a significant shift in the way we live our lives as we move into the new year and beyond. 

For this new year, we wish you more time with your hands in the dirt, sharing home cooked meals with loved ones, and lying on the grass staring at the clouds

Belinda and the VEG team.