Will Anderson: The green House

If you have a bright window-ledge you can buck a trend and break the inverse lettuce law
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The Independent Online

Growth, growth, growth. It seems obvious to me that gross domestic product (GDP) is a poor measure of a nation's well-being. Yet growth in GDP remains the bedrock of Government economic policy. Rich may be better than poor, but a pursuit of riches that has no regard for quality of life is likely to end in tears.

This point is well illustrated by the Inverse Lettuce Law: the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to grow your own food, so instead of picking a fresh, nutrient-filled lettuce for lunch from your window-box you settle for an anodyne bag of supermarket produce, grown for shelf-life rather than taste, doused with chemicals and shipped thousands of miles.

The Inverse Lettuce Law is very evident in times of economic collapse. In recent years Havana, Buenos Aires and Pyongyang (the capital city of North Korea) have all seen a resurgence of urban vegetable gardens following serious economic crises. Such crises bring great hardship but the stimulation of self-reliance is their silver lining. Cuba is now a centre of organic agriculture and a third of Havana's food is grown within its boundaries.

If you think you don't have the time, space or skills to grow vegetables, think again. Anyone with a bright window-ledge can grow cut-and-come-again lettuces with remarkably little effort. If you have anything more than this - a balcony, a back yard or a garden - then you are laughing.

Paul Waddington, a neighbour of ours just down the hill in Brixton, is passionate about urban vegetables and his new book 21st Century Smallholder from Eden Books is an appeal to us all to "go back to the land without leaving home". Paul is keen to throw off the shadow of Tom and Barbara Good, as anything that smacks of lifestyle-change will, inevitably, put most people off. Instead, he insists that we should all begin with a brutally honest assessment of our time, space, sunshine and personal energy. You can then identify an approach to cultivation that will be rewarding, however small your ambition may be.

Your decisions about what to grow should match your personal profile. You're a complete novice with very little space? Grow garlic, lettuce, rocket, tomatoes and strawberries. You're an aesthete with a decent back garden? Grow globe artichokes, French beans, crab apples, kohlrabi and medlars.

Most vegetables are annuals that have to be sown every year but a few are perennial, as are most fruits. So, if you have a decent patch of land but very little time to tend it, you could grow a forest garden where everything you pick just keeps coming back. Fruit trees and bushes would be complemented by artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, sorrel and many herbs.

Smallholding was never just about growing vegetables and Paul has plenty of advice about keeping bees, chickens, pigs and cows. As yet there are no bovine inhabitants of his Brixton back-yard but, should London ever return to wartime austerity, I have no doubt that Paul will be enthusiastically milking for victory.

For inspiration this weekend, The Greener Homes and Buildings Show is at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells on Saturday and Sunday ( www.greenerhomeshow.com). For those in the south of England, there is a Sustainability Event at the delightful Weald and Downland Open Air Museum on Sunday ( www.wealddown.co.uk).



Suttons Speedy Seeds cut-and-grow-again mixed-leaf salad. Sow them in a pot on a window-ledge and you'll be cutting fresh salad-leaves in weeks.


For all the produce that you can't grow or rear yourself, visit your local farmers' market. Find details of when and where they are at www.farmersmarkets.net.