‘Grow your own’ no economic saviour

Ah, spring.

I’ve been out in the vege garden, spreading compost and planting potatoes.

The weather has been great for it, too.

I’m trialling a new seed mix that’s worked well.

We have lots of baby plants — peas, tomatoes, silverbeet, and more.

We should have potatoes and peas for Christmas when the kids are home, and maybe even the first cucumbers.

I tell you what I’m not doing, though.

All this gardening isn’t saving me any money.

That seems crass — why would I bring that up?

The cost of living has people talking about home gardens and food security.

The idea is that people can cut their grocery bills by growing their own food.

We have a garden and some fruit trees.

So, yes, in the summer we buy almost no fruit, and we have lots of fresh veges. We probably save $20 or $30 a week at the supermarket.

The problem is that all the tools and materials for gardening cost that much and more. We had a real win with cucumbers last season. The greenhouse produced one a day when they were a few dollars each in the shop.

We probably saved $100. Of course, the greenhouse cost a couple of grand, so we are still behind in dollar terms. I built a cage to protect the strawberries from birds. We got a punnet of strawberries a day for a month.

But the cage has metres of wood and screen in it. Any food savings went straight to the hardware store.

You don’t have to spend as much on a garden as we do.

But then, you probably won’t produce as much.

You’ll also have to spend more time on it.

For example, we have automatic watering set up. Without it, we would spend a half an hour every day watering the garden.

The thing about the industrialised agri-food system — the way we grow, process and distribute most of our food — is that it is economically efficient.

Per hour of labour and per dollar of inputs, it works really well compared to the alternatives.

Our home garden just cannot compete with that system on costs.

Food security should be about making sure that everyone is well served by the agri-food system.

Otherwise, they are spending money and time on inefficient alternatives.

There are lots of other reasons to garden, of course. Freshly dug waxy potatoes at Christmas are delicious.

But they are not making a dent in the cost of living.