Our Marketing and Communications Manager, Helen, with thoughts from the UK.
Recently I’ve noticed that in the UK there has been increasing talk about agriculture. By this I mean the economic and environmental sustainability of our current agricultural system. And it’s not something I thought much about before, but learning about the loss of bees, soil structure and nutrients, to the subsidies required to make farming profitable I have started to find how and where I get my food fascinating. This was partly exacerbated during pandemic lockdowns with many (including myself) rediscovering the importance of outdoor space and growing food at home.
Could it be that bubbling under the surface an agricultural revolution is starting to take hold? There is a steady increase in young gardener influencers on social media, more and more people discovering their local veg box schemes and I’ve noticed an influx in homegrown tomatoes – seriously… did everyone in the UK grow tomatoes last year?!
Growing food at home or on an allotment is one thing, but on a slightly larger scale there is market gardening – a term that is emerging (or re-emerging, it’s not new) on the scene. Market gardening is the relatively small-scale production of fruits, vegetables, and flowers for sale. At around 1 – 2 acres in size, these gardens are bigger than the standard allotment, but smaller than an industrial farm.
What’s this about veg boxes?
Veg boxes became a thing in the UK in the 1990s when small-scale producers realised that they could build up their own local customer base. Veg boxes are sold direct to consumers from the farm and usually contain a selection of local, seasonal produce.
During 2020 there was a shift to more locally grown food in the UK as queues for supermarkets and social distancing pushed people to explore different options. According to the Food Foundation, UK veg box sales increased by 111% in the first few months of the pandemic lockdown, with weekly veg box sales more than doubling on pre-pandemic levels. A lot of these boxes originated on small plots through a network of community growing schemes.
What’s really interesting about this is how the small producers were able to adapt to this demand and meet people’s needs. Whereas the large mono-cropped farms of the agricultural revolution were less adaptable.
For those new to gardening, you could be forgiven for thinking market gardening as we now know it is a new concept, or only done as a hobby. As a society we have grown so used to the quintessential UK countryside views of fields hundreds of acres in size. But small-scale gardening for profit has actually been around in some form for centuries (earliest traces of “vegetables raised for market” can be traced back to 1784).
The concept of a market garden
Typically, a market garden will grow a diverse variety of crops (polyculture) and rely on manual labour and smart gardening techniques rather than big machinery. The idea is to focus on efficiency in production over a small area. It is a business model that has the potential to be significantly profitable as well as sustainable.
In fact, an efficient market garden can earn 100 x more per square meter of land than industrial farming. This incredible statistic may have you wondering why all farms aren’t like this. The answer lies in the beauty of the market garden model – there is a practical upper bound to tending your crops this way. The magic is lost as soon as big machinery is involved.
A Futurepump point of view
At Futurepump we are proud to be advocates of small-scale farming. It is our belief that small-scale agriculture forms an integral part of our future. We enjoy working with farmers from all around the globe each with farming techniques suited to different climates and societies but all with the same fundamental goal – to produce enough food to feed the world.
Futurepump solar pumps are designed to cater for farmers growing on this scale by providing a sustainable and efficient way to irrigate. We believe robust and efficient tools are essential to promoting the re-growth of productive and profitable agriculture whilst minimising environmental degradation.