Growing food for personal and family consumption is a significant global activity, but one that has received insufficient academic attention, particularly in developed countries.
There are many benefits of growing your own food which can be categorised into: (a) those associated with the activity of food growing e.g. physical activity and personal independence; (b) those associated with the output from the activity e.g. safer and higher quality food; and (c) externality benefits that are not directly related to either the activity or the output e.g. lower ecological footprint.
Working with Andrew Church and Neil Ravenscroft at The University of Brighton and Richard Mitchell at The University of Glasgow, we used data from the European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) to address three areas of particular concern: the prevalence of growing your own food and how this has changed over time; the individual and household context in which growing takes place; and whether those who grow their own food are happier than those who do not.
On average, there was a marked increase in households growing their own food across Europe. In some cases, the UK included, the proportion of households which grow at least some of their own food has more than doubled between 2003 and 2007, to reach approximately 15% of total households. Overall, this increase is largely associated with poorer households and thus, possibly, economic hardship. In the UK however the increase in households growing their own food is predominantly associated with older middle class households.
Across Europe, those who grew their own food were happier than those who did not.
The article concludes that claims about the gentrification of growing your own may be premature. The dominant motive across Europe (despite the UK evidence) appears to be primarily economic — to reduce household expenditure whilst ensuring a supply of fresh food.
Dr Lee Stapleton is a Research Fellow in SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit) working principally in the EPSRC-funded Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand CIED. Prior to joining SPRU in September 2013, Lee was employed at The University of Brighton where he worked on projects concerned with ecosystem services, the environmental social economy and personal food growing.Follow Sussex Energy Group