Jay Rayner grows a pumpkin

Renowned journalist and food critic is reminded of the difficulty in growing produce and the skill of large-scale agriculture.

Pumpkin growing

To be more accurate, his wife grew the pumpkin but it’s none the less interesting to read the prominent critic discussing his small-scale agricultural experience in the Observer. Though thrilled with the result and enjoying a meal nurtured by one’s own hand, Rayner is critical of the effort required to produce one’s own produce. “Does this mean I think people shouldn’t grow their own? No, quite the reverse. We need to keep reminding ourselves just how difficult it is to keep a mass population fed, and what a brilliant job large-scale agriculture does. And the best way to do that is by trying to mimic it at home”, writes Rayner.

According to Rayner, environmentally it doesn’t quite stack up. “Using an LCA (whole life cycle analysis) means that when you talk about the footprint of food production you can’t just consider the fertilisers or the fuel used to transport the food produced. You must include the carbon in any tools and machinery, in the fencing and the irrigation and in the lifestyles of the people involved. Did you drive to the allotment? Oh. Then you divide that by yield”, he explains. His point being that feeding a population of 60+ million will always need mass agriculture, which – if done right, should be more carbon efficient.

Despite being so carbon inefficient, the pumpkin was enjoyed and the Rayners intend to have another go next year. He credits the experience as a reminder just how hard growing (significant amounts) produce. Skills which frustratingly are still continually overlooked.