Self Sufficiency – The Growing World Need

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe

What drives our desire for self sufficiency

In December we posted on this site www.gardenspain.com an article relating the considerable extent of our self sufficiency for Christmas. It is entitled ‘Holistic gardening pays off at Christmas’. Although money is tight these days and this was one objective the main drive was to eat and drink healthy produce free of internal and external unnatural chemicals such as inorganic insecticides and pesticides on the fruit and vegetables, the absence of residual antibiotics and growth hormones in the turkey and absence of natural flavourings, colorants and sulphite levels in the wines and liquors.

The more important drive was that very little of what ones requires for a traditional Christmas is now available from our valley which was still sufficient and exporting to local towns when we purchased our current home twenty one years ago. Since then most of the almond olive and orange groves, extensive fruit orchards and acres of vegetable huertos (allotments in English terms) are abandoned even for family consumption. The Saturday before Christmas we breakfasted in the village with four Spanish friends after an early morning walk – very early ..we started walking at 6.30 and were back by 10.00 as the Spaniards love their Saturday breakfast chatting away until midday!

Knowing that we have a holistic self sufficient botanical style garden around the house supplemented by a large vegetable and soft fruit allotment and an old olive grove that we are recuperating we were offered two more allotments, an orange grove and two more olive groves to use free of charge! Rather different to the UK where parents put their children’s names on the waiting lists for allotments at birth and are willing to pay high prices for allotments including in the gardens surrounding new blocks of apartments.

Since then there have been articles in Spanish newspapers suggesting that the vegetable growing lands surrounding the expending city of Valencia which used to make the city self sufficient since Roman times could well go totally stop producing within twenty years. At the end of the nineteenth century our local town Gandia the historic home of the Borja family hHad a population of some 8000 persons, still had it’s solid perimeter wall and guarded gates and was surrounded by rich agricultural land from the mountains to the sea. Early in the twentieth century the wall was demolished to allow for expansion. In the 1980’s the town had grown to 25.000 persons the new houses and apartments mostly built on the richest areas of agricultural land. Now eight years into the 21st century the population is nearing 80,000 and the last of the ring of cultivated agricultural land has gone.

No wonder we chose to conclude the introductions to our books ‘Growing Healthy Fruits in Spain’ and ‘Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’ with the following sentence –

‘ Perhaps never in the history of mankind has their been such a need for people of all ages to return to an element of self-sufficiency for the good of their health and enjoyment of life’.

The wider world food dilemma regarding self sufficiency

Luckily some town halls in Spain such as Bunol in Valencia, Barcelona in Cataluña and Villamartin in Andalusia are waking up to the dilemma and making allotments available on council owned land to the retired and young people.

But the dilemma is not only within Spain. On the strength of our books we were privileged to be invited to attend the 2008 Terra Madre Slow Food conference in Turin attended by over 8000 participants from over 150 countries. Discussions with other participants indicated that traditional food supplies are under threat in many countries. One cannot recount all in this brief article but the following will suffice.

  • The gardens in front of the city hall of San Francisco has been turned into a vegetable garden and to provide food parcels to poorer families.
  • The successful school garden programmes of countries such as Italy, USA and UK are being copied by many countries to stimulate the next generations to eat slow versus fast and return to the soil if only as a weekend hobby.
  • African villages are suffering as more and more of their traditional lands are being hired out or sold to multinational agricultural for the growing of hungry and thirsty GM crops or countries such as Saudi Arabia whose green dessert programmes have proved not to be self sustaining .
  • Many foodstuffs are now travelling the globe and ships full of grain travelling the oceans while being sold and resold – in the same way as oil tankers -several times on the worlds food exchanges.
  • One speaker quoted research that suggested that it can now require up to ten calories of energy to produce two calories of edible foods and that the water content of food stuffs being moved from producing to consuming countries now equates to the fifteen times the annual water flow of the river Nile.
  • A Nigerian participant searched out Dick to explain that his team was using his books of the late 1990’s to plan and implement their agricultural programmes . Interestingly although now out of print and originally in Spanish as well as English second hand copies are now actively traded on internet sites such as Amazon. The titles are:
    Strategic Leadership – The missing links and The Product Management Handbook. Both books emphasised the need to better understand the real needs of end user/consuming customers and the benefits of using the most appropriate technologies performance wise, energy wise, ecologically and economically. Both books were published by McGraw Hill.
  • South American, Caribbean and Spanish participants asked why our books Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain, Growing
    Healthy Fruit in Spain
    and Your Garden in Spain – From planning to planting and maintenance were not yet in Spanish. The simple reason is that an international publisher needs to discover the books and be interested in the publishing rights. If that is you let us know!!

© Clodagh and Dick Handscombe January 2009.