Emergency Gardening 1 – the context
After the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake a friend of mine drove down from Picton to evacuate some elderly friends from Redcliffs. He stopped at a Blenheim supermarket to stock up on food supplies to take to the stricken city. Unfortunately a lot of NZ Army soldiers going south on a similar helping mission had got there before him – and were stocking up to feed themselves! That got us both thinking about how well-prepared New Zealanders are for a real emergency.
Last month Environment Canterbury and the Nelson City Council declared a climate emergency for their jurisdictions, and Auckland City. This is a fine stand to take in light of the global heating that is currently going on, creating local emergency after local emergency around the world (the most recent being the devastations of cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique). There is a climate crisis underway, and the sooner we start our civic and household emergency planning for it the better.
One of the things that is always an issue in emergencies (as we saw with the earthquakes) is food. Concentrating our food supplies in large buildings mainly accessed by small private vehicles, holding only three days worth of supplies (much of it imported) before they have to be resupplied by large private vehicles, creates huge vulnerabilities. What are the alternatives?
There’s no one simple supermarket/private vehicle alternative solution. During New Zealand’s last big global emergency (World War Two) the whole food system had to be reconfigured. A big part of the reconfiguration was the encouragement and support given to home gardening. I researched this for a Heritage Week talk I gave at Stoddart’s Cottage in Diamond Harbour in October 2009. When it became clear that commercial farming and gardening could not supply enough to meet the needs of the troops and civilians the government launched the Dig for Victory campaign in 1943. It made sure that gardeners had all the information they needed to make a success of their efforts. This included messages in gardening books, such as the one in D.K. Pritchard’s 1944 Vegetable Growing in the Home Garden. Under the heading WHEN IN TROUBLE readers were told ”When results from growing your own seeds and plants are unsatisfactory and you are worrying over the probable cause, why not consign your troubles to the Director of the Horticulture Division, P.O. Box 3004, Wellington. He may be able to assist you. Write to him now.”
Ah, those were the days! I wasn’t even born then, but my grandfather was busy gardening while his son my father was away fighting (and being a prisoner of war). The love of gardening has been passed down to me, emergency or no emergency, but in time of emergency – what a great love, and skill, to have. Even if these days we Dig for Sustainability rather than victory, isn’t it always better to have food to share rather than nothing in the cupboard? In my next post I’ll write about how we can do it the MEME way – Minimum Effort, Maximum Effect. Meanwhile, if you want to read some good thinking from Illinois on how to prepare for a food emergency by growing more at or close to home, check out What To Do About Predictions of Imminent Food Collapse by Sandra Lindberg.