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22 May 2008

How the Government Could Pay Us to Stay Home and Garden

gdnHere is a brilliant piece published recently in Organic Gardening Magazine, which contains a brilliant idea that something like the Tax Credits system could be used to support localised food production. Thanks to John for permission to republish it here.

John Walker is spending two days a week growing his own food – and being paid to do it. It’s all part of the Home Growing Act. And, by the way, it’s 2027. Read on…

It was quite some autumn. The United Nations Environment Programme released their ‘Global Environment Outlook 4’, which contained such sobering phrases as: ‘Much of the ‘natural’ capital upon which so much of human well-being and economic activity depends – water, land, the air and atmosphere, biodiversity and marine resources – continue their seemingly inexorable decline.’

Our greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning were rising faster than climate scientists had predicted; ‘food miles’ were clocking up rapidly; some forest fires caused by climate change were adding more carbon to the atmosphere than transport; more species than ever faced extinction; green groups were fighting for a watertight climate change bill; and my auntie’s ‘Bramley’ apple started flowering in October.

And even though scientific studies showed that organically produced food is without doubt more nutritious and healthier, organic gardening still got a drubbing from the pro-chemical lobby. There were also ecologically driven political rumblings. Plans for a ‘bin tax’, where households would be charged for the amount of waste they threw out, was raising the political temperature.

I still have the yellowing newspaper cuttings from that gloom-laden autumn of 2007. But now, 20 years on, things are very different. The spring of 2028 will be a special one; there will be more ‘homegrows’, as we’re affectionately known, than ever before. I’ve been one for over ten years. A few folk still refer to us as ‘gardening cheats’, or accuse us of being on state gardening ‘benefits’, but their voice is dying as more and more people start growing some of their own food.

veg

All food must now be grown organically and as close as possible to where it’s eaten.

So what is a homegrow? In a nutshell, it’s someone who is rewarded, via the personal tax system, for growing food in their garden, or on their allotment. It all grew up, or rather blew up, after the disastrous introduction of the bin tax in 2009; people simply revolted and dumped their rubbish in the streets. It was the year fly-tipping came to town.

We’d had enough of ‘negative’ taxes. It took a bunch of rapidly greening politicians to realise that punitive taxation aimed at mitigating environmental meltdown wasn’t half as effective as persuading people, with the help of a real financial incentive, to do something about it in their own gardens. The Green Party laid the foundations of what became the Home Growing Act, which was included in the King’s Speech of 2018. No British monarch has ever looked quite so chuffed at seeing his own personal passion enter the statute book.

The Act changed the face of gardening. At its core was a determination to get everyone growing organically, whether they wanted to homegrow or not. This trugful of long-overdue legislation banned the last few garden chemicals, outlawed patio heaters, taught children from the age of five how to grow food, and gave every adult citizen the legal right to a piece of land on which to grow their own. The wizened pro-chemical gardening spinmeisters soon came to be treated with the same derision as the few remaining climate change deniers.

New and greener planning laws guaranteed that as new homes were built, new allotment sites – sexed up a bit and called ‘growplots’ – were automatically created in tandem. They must be reachable within half an hour on foot, or by bicycle or public transport. Where space allows, new homes now have to include a realistic growing area – a far cry from the ‘postage stamp’ plots seen at the start of the century. Homes with larger gardens, provided they are used to grow food, attract a ‘growback’ payment – a hefty tax refund – plus a ‘growgrant’ toward the purchase of things like fruit trees.

compost

 Landfill is now a thing of the past. Food packaging is minimal, and has to be fully compostable and safe to return to the soil.

Some incredible things followed, like the discovery that within every few streets in every town in the land, there was an established organic garden. Mine was one of them. These became ‘growcentres’ for the first generation of homegrows, and people around the corner, who these new gardeners had never met before, suddenly became their mentors and friends.

Finding the time for teaching and mentoring wasn’t a problem; the Act freed up those with organic gardening experience so they could teach others, through a combination of tax breaks and government-sponsored sabbaticals. Revenue from the envirotax escalator, charged on the most polluting forms of transport like air travel, was used to begin building truly local and sustainable food webs.

Local food growing was already established when the Act was passed, with community-supported schemes slashing carbon-hungry food miles. But too much food was still travelling too far, and the nation still needed to bring its carbon emissions down; we’d already exceeded the most pessimistic estimates for global warming, and things weren’t looking good. Bramleys were regularly flowering in October by this time.

I now only ‘work’ three days a week, and I homegrow for the other two. I don’t get ‘paid’ for being a homegrow; it isn’t like having a second job. How it works is that by growing vegetables, fruit and herbs in my garden, as opposed to mostly ornamentals, I’m entitled to a substantial tax break. This allows me to work for three days and still earn a comfortable living, by keeping more of the money I earn. The more space you dedicate to growing food (walls and fences count, too), the more self-sufficient you become – and the higher the tax break.

There’s a catch, but it’s a welcome one. My area homegrow assessor calls every few weeks to see how I’m doing. She brings news from the local grownetwork, asks how my mentorees are doing, makes sure I’m hitting my composting targets (all food packaging is now compostable), does a beneficial insect count, and checks that the productive area of my garden tallies with what it says on my tax return.

Back in 2007, talk of ‘green taxes’ was about taking more of our money in order to help ‘save the planet’. Twenty years on, some creative political thinking is empowering us, while doing something we love, to play a personal and direct part in slowing the climate change rollercoaster by cutting carbon in our own back gardens. It’s working. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are stabilising – though the future is still uncertain.

Next spring, if we can still call it that (it’s November now, and I’ve already got tadpoles again), I’ll be taking part in a pilot project to trial the feasibility of bringing other people’s gardens into the homegrow scheme. Some belong to those who simply don’t have the time or the inclination to homegrow, others to elderly folk whose digging days are over. The eventual aim is to get all gardens and allotments into homegrow, so as much growing space as possible becomes as productive as possible, as close as possible to where the resulting food will be eaten.

Who knows, with all that extra gardening to be done, I might only need to ‘work’ two days a week. The rest of the time I’ll be growing from home.

Text and images Copyright John Walker. This article was first published in Organic Gardening magazine, www.organicgardeningmagazine.co.uk

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8 Comments

[...] Andrew Wafaa wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptgdn Here is a brilliant piece published recently in Organic Gardening Magazine, which contains a brilliant idea that something like the Tax Credits system could be used to support localised food production. Thanks to John for permission … [...]

dooberheim
24 May 11:35pm

Would that I could do that. Likely I’d be out of a job, and sitting on my porch guarding my garden from thieves with a rifle.

There is little evidence that “organic” veggies are more nutritious and less harmful than conventionally grown food. In fact, “organic” foods have made a few people, a lot of money, and they are often transported further than corresponding conventional crops.

Trust me, in the future, people will resort to any means to grow food. If you had access to a supply of DDT, and there was a 1:10,000 chance using it would give you cancer, would you use it to avoid a 1:5 chance of starving to death over the winter because grasshoppers ate your crops?

Most people I know would go with the DDT. I would. I’d outlive you, too. Do the math.

DK

Robert
26 May 9:10am

My immediate reaction to this story was: What makes the author think that there will still be something resembling today’s British government in 2027? Or to imagine that there will ever again be a national government that places a high priority on vegetable gardens? (The Churchill government is the only British example that I know of.)

Nice fantasy. Don’t hold your breath.

Bexy
26 May 9:51am

If it is only a nice fantasy Robert, it sure beats your stance on reality and I want to be counted in today as living for a tomorrow.

Rich
29 May 10:03am

I’d like to ask the question, why are people so anti-organic? What is the problem? Why is it seen as something ‘other’ from ‘normal’ gardening? Yes the article is a ‘fantasy’ but then so was space flight at one point. What’s wrong with looking at the future with (for a change) some optimism? I say this as someone who invariably is pessimism personified.

sera
29 May 7:34pm

mmm well i think its a beautiful idea for the future. I must disagree with dooberheim i’m not entirely sure how DDT is made but I’d place a bet its very energy intensive. In a future where energy resources look unpredictable I imagine any other way to grow food that prevented the use of chemicals would be encouraged due to a lack of resources!

I admit there is no actual proof yet for the damage pesticides has on our bodies but has anyone run research on longterm effects??

I think its very feasible the government would give tax breaks, they encouraged people during the world wars why not in the war against climate change?!

Robert
2 Jun 4:09pm

It’s not organic gardening that I’m skeptical of, but the government’s role in promoting it.

In my view, the UK government – in the reality that we live in, not some fantasy throwback to the 1940s – is in the business of promoting unsustainable activities that are profitable for big party donors and influential elites, while placing obstacles in the way of small-scale solutions that empower ordinary people.

I think a future based on organic cultivation is the only option once fossil fuels start running out. But thinking that the government (as currently constituted) is going to step in to make this happen is a fantasy, and believing in that fantasy make this future less, not more, likely to come true.