Forget about stockpiling toilet paper - start pouring your energy into planting, planting, planting. Planning for a green world to get you set up for your future is not only going to be great for your health, wellbeing and ability to fight off disease and infections, it will also ease your anxiety about the current state of play regarding food security and COVID-19.
These are all things Food Is Free Inc. has been actively educating people on for our five-and-a-half years of our existence in Ballarat. While we know it's not possible for all people - particularly those without a backyard as well as other limitations - we do encourage those in our community who can to utterly wrap their arms around gardening.
Even if it means popping some parsley in a pot at your doorstep, or simply growing some indoor plants inside for increased wellbeing. It's my view that we all need to band together.
When you break up the word "community" it is no coincidence it contains the words "common" and "unity". Let's really think about that and what we can do to look after ourselves, plus our community, particularly focusing on the vulnerable around us.
Coming together in a crisis is what we do well. I have witnessed hundreds of countless acts of random kindness at both of our food security sites: Food Is Free Laneway and Food Is Free Green Space. Now is our time to really shine and be mindful of others.
Our advice is - if you have got some spare vegetables, fruit or herbs drop them into the Laneway. Got some space to grow food? Do it - for yourself and your neighbours.
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On our Facebook page, we will continue to focus on our food security education for our community. It will particularly ramp up too as we have a lot of guidance to give. So expect to see a lot of free advice and care planning rolling out in the ensuing months.
Right now, I'm telling anyone who asks - especially our Laneway visitors - that it is brassica season ... so get in your broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts. As well as growing coriander and lettuce which people often associate with summer - but both grow so much better in cooler months in our region. Also think about leafy greens, Warrigual spinach, spring onions, beetroot, broad beans, radish, kale, Asian greens, silverbeet, parsnip, leek, carrots for soups over winter. Clear the last of your summer veg and focus on autumn and winter plantings.
When you are ill, soups are a good source of sustenance. Really go hard on growing herbs inside or in a sheltered position if you can, to avoid the upcoming frost season - these are medicine, so make sure you are eating loads of them! Run don't walk to your local independent nurseries and grab a citrus in a pot or two, to arm yourself with nature's goodness held within a lemon, lime and orange and all associated agrumes.
My advice too is get gardening as a family. With social distancing and potential lockdown on our doorstep, along with school holidays, it is a great activity to do together. Growing food with kids will keep them interested in the process, including cooking and eating it. And a family that gardens together will enjoy all the many benefits associated with it including boosting of mental health.
Gardening really takes you out of your head if you are anxious about the future, and is a great release from impending unknown outcomes of the coronavirus spread and other present confronting world issues. It grounds you, will calm you to know you have food in your yard given supplies have been compromised at the supermarket lately, and putting your hands in soil actually triggers the release of serotonin in your brain to ward off depression. Not to mention home-gown taste is far superior and chemical free.
I also recommend succession planting. This means planting a little one week, then planting a little the next week and repeat. That way you won't get a glut of food all at once and should guarantee a constant supply. It will also mean you need to pop outside more often to tend to your new plants, which is a win-win situation considering how much time we are bound to be indoors soon.
Never has a time been so vital to hold dear our green spaces in our communities. We have watched our very own Food Is Free green space be heartily adopted by our citizens as a sister site to the beloved Food Is Free Laneway. Proving itself as a great destination to de-plug from life's busyness, gather gardening inspiration, connect with others, or eat some food from our garden beds if in need. Since running 50 spring to autumn workshops, so many extra visitors now pop into our green space (located at Western Oval) which has really raised the profile of the space, especially now we have our new outdoor classroom infrastructure in place to help us grow even more food for our community, as well as educate all on self-sufficiency.
We also urge anyone keen to start their gardens to visit the Food Is Free Laneway to grab the free pots, seeds from our toolbox, seedlings (if available), gardening book from our street library and get cracking. Other great resources will appear on our Facebook page. Gardenate is a free online resource.
Grow some for you and your neighbours. The fallout of the economy and wages is going to be a strain. Nature heals. It is time to get green.
Lou Ridsdale is founder of Food Is Free
- Food Is Free Laneway is located on corner of Ripon Street South and Warrior Place. Food Is Free Green Space is a short walk from Laneway on corner of Ripon Street South and Urquhart Street. For more, visit www.foodisfree.com.au