Earth Day

By Mike Musgrave, Faculty, SOWC

As we marked Earth Day 2022, I’ve enjoyed the change of season from winter to spring. I’ve enjoyed a week of warm sunshine, but now I’m enjoying a few days of soft, soaking rain. There is only one kind of person that can get equal enjoyment from these very different weather events, and that is anyone who grows their own food. There is a growing regenerative agriculture movement that is sweeping the world on both on a commercial scale as well as locally empowering people to grow their own food.

We face a global climate change crisis that makes many of us feel powerless and vulnerable and Africa is at the center of this coming disaster. Despite the fact that we did almost nothing to contribute to global warming, Africans will feel a disproportionate range and severity of effects from climate change. What can we do about it? Although each of our actions may seem insignificant, when we multiply these by the hundreds of millions of us, we can collectively have a huge effect and that must give us all some hope for a better future. So what do I do? I grow my own food.

The Covid-19 pandemic was the main motivation for me to start a vegetable garden. I had time on my hands because I couldn’t travel for work anymore. I was also worried about how the pandemic would affect food supplies and I felt a strong urge to make my own small contribution to a more sustainable lifestyle. The land I had access to was overgrown and was treated as a dumping ground for years by the previous owners. It was full of plastic, glass, old food tins and the soil was contaminated from years of herbicide use. So I started with the soil. I cleared the land and painstakingly picked out as much of the rubbish that I could. I started composting all the food waste from our kitchen and added the cardboard and paper waste we generated. Grass clippings, leaves and weeds were all piled onto a heap and then something magical started happening. After 2 weeks steam slowly drifted from the top of the pile! The bacteria that occur naturally to break down organic matter were so active that the internal temperature of the compost heap had reached over 60 degrees C! After several months I had rich, black compost that I was able to spread on my cleared plots of land. Before spreading the compost there was not a single living organism visible in the soil. However, within weeks of spreading and digging in the compost I found earthworms. The land was slowly healing.

I planted tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, courgettes, cucumbers and beans and they grew strong and healthy. I left a few trees and some thick bushes near the vegetable patch so that predatory insects had somewhere to hide during the day. I saw wasps grabbing the caterpillars off the spinach. Small birds would fly down from the trees and snatch a grasshopper as it tried to eat my lettuce. I had created food not only for me and my family, but for other animals too. A small ecosystem was developing. At the end of the summer the harvest was so abundant that we gave away boxes of food to our neighbors and filled the fridge with pickles and preserves. Not a single dose of fertilizers or pesticides had been used.

Imagine if we multiplied this story by hundreds of millions of similar experiences? This is what I’d like everyone to think about on Earth Day 2022. What small actions could I take that will change the world? Regenerative agriculture is a good way to start. The satisfaction of growing your own food without fertilizers or pesticides, the creation of healthy soils and the habitats they create for other animals will be part of the solution to climate change and you can make a start today. You will be fitter and healthier and both sunshine and rain will bring you satisfaction as they feed your garden with the energy and water that sustain all life.