About 50 years ago, the then Finance Minister Dr. N.M. Perera proposed that Sri Lanka should grow its own nutritious food and the people should cultivate their own home gardens instead of showing a preference for imported food. He said he saw the “dim light of a distant dawn” but pro-capitalist forces scoffed at him and his dream. They conspired to create food-shortages such as today’s rice shortage, which is not entirely caused by climate change but is aggravated by a powerful paddy mafia.
In the 1970s the so-called “Satanic forces” brought about queues and quotas for food, forcing NM and other Socialist parties to quit the United Front Government. Some forty years later we see a Sri Lanka overloaded with imported fake food including processed rubbish.
In 2016 President Maithripala Sirisena launched a national mission for Sri Lanka to grow its own nutritious food, including rice and other grains such as gram or cow-pea, vegetables and fruits. This came amid widespread reports that not only imported food items, but even locally grown food including vegetables and fruits were being polluted if not poisoned by the excessive use of toxic agro-chemicals and preservatives. Fruits such as grapes and tomatoes are the worst affected, with many chemicals being used to preserve them.
People-friendly nutritionists say one important way to avoid eating poisoned or polluted food is to grow whatever we can in our home gardens. This is a more difficult process, but it is most certainly the safer and better one. For instance, murunga or drumsticks is known to be one of the most nutritious vegetables, and could be easily grown in our home gardens. So could murunga leaves and other greens like gotukola, which are nourishing and good for health when they come without chemical pollution.
The United States, notorious for its food items, which have caused an epidemic of obesity, is now setting a good example in home gardening. With all the talk about even plastic rice being sold in Sri Lanka, let us look at the latest trend in the US.
Growing your own vegetables and fruits is one of the best ways to ensure ready access to fresh, nutrient-dense and chemical-free food. This trend is growing, with 74 percent of US households taking part in lawn and garden activities last year, a four per cent rise from the year before.
The 2015 national gardening survey revealed that food gardening and flower gardening top the list of most popular forms of gardening, with 36 per cent of US households growing their own food. The National Gardening Association’s 2014 special report “Garden to Table” also highlighted the “US food revolution” as more Americans recognise and enjoy the benefits of homegrown food.
“Countless communities, schools and families are growing more of their own food. Today, food gardening is at the highest level in more than a decade. In the past five years alone, spending on food gardening has increased 43 per cent; urban gardeners have increased by 29 per cent.
Most encouragingly, young people - the Millennials - have become the fastest growing segment of the population to start a food garden. Young people have begun to champion the connection between growing food, eating well and healthy living.
What do we gain by starting our own vegetable garden? If we are on the fence about starting a garden, we need to be glad to know that the payoffs are many. When asked why they participate in food gardening, the top three reasons given to the National Gardening Association (NGA) include, to grow better tasting food, to save money on food bills and to grow better-quality food.
These are excellent reasons, but the benefits don’t end there. The physical aspect of gardening is invaluable in an age when many people sit for far too many hours each day. We need to spend more time outdoors in the sun while increasing our daily movement.
A study in the journal titled Preventive Medicine Reports, also said, “A regular dose of gardening can improve public health,” noting that gardening is associated with reductions in depression and anxiety and increases in life satisfaction, quality of life and sense of community.
These are good lessons for Sri Lanka. We hope city and urban dwellers especially would take this example and start growing – not only in good health but in maturity also.