Here we are, September has arrived. All over Europe children are going back to school, students are going back to university and adults are going back to work, even if for many of us it is teleworking.

Another thing ends at the same time as August, the sea and the vacations: our Grow It Yourself challenge. Together we planted our fruit and vegetables for 5 months. In order to celebrate this accomplishment, here is a little feedback from some of the participants and organizers:

“I am very proud of the three strawberries and one mini zucchini I had on my balcony this summer! I have to admit that it was all I managed to grew but they were awesome 😉 In general I am more thankful for the farmers who manage to feed some much people by working hard and in difficult conditions (work, weather etc.)”

Claire.

“I was in charge of editing the photos for the duration of our campaign, what a pleasure it was to receive pictures of small seeds in April, and to see these same seeds become vegetables on the plates of the participants this summer. We really did something rewarding!

Manon.

Grow it Yourself was by far the most satisfying challenge I took this year. It was a very rewarding feeling to be see my own vegetables growing. Productive, efficient and self motivating, Grow It yourself is indeed a challenge i would gladly take every year!

Sara.

This challenge has brought me closer to my roots and to my childhood. As a child I used to help my family in their farm and I spent most of my summer holidays outside, in the scorching sun, bare feet on the ground and eating whatever was ripe. I particularly remember watering the onion beds, because I could soak my feet in the ice-cold water that filled the onion beds and use my small hoe to direct the water wherever I wanted. I have not felt more in control than I felt then. I realised that there is a lot of land in my yard that we now use to grow green grass and we put considerable effort into having a manicured lawn, so I start ”taking back” the land and growing herbs, such as the ones I need on a daily basis. I realised that I was spending a lot of money on things that I could grow myself, and exclude the waste that comes together with buying herbs in plastic pots and without any of the chemicals that keep them looking fresh under the artificial light of the supermarkets. I also discovered a lot of gardening enthusiasts around me and we started exchanging goods we grow ourselves. My mint, basil, dill and sage were exchanged for fennel, cherry tomatoes and cranberries. The challenge has also brought my son closer to gardening. The look on his face when the first dill threads came out is the most memorable image of this challenge. There are so many things that will stay with me but the most simple, yet powerful of the conclusions is that we have all we need as long as we have soil, water, sun and good health.

Florina.

It’s safe to say we enjoy our GIY adventure here at MIJARC Europe! If we were to launch the same campaign next year, would you follow us in this journey?

Will I have enough time?

This is the question I asked myself when the team of the agriculture committee of MIJARC Europe proposed the idea of the Grow It Yourself challenge. I would have to buy seeds, potting soil, put it all in pots and make sure that my plants get enough light but not too much, that I water them enough but not too much… I know today that most of us were wondering about these questions.

What we didn’t anticipate was that the date we had set for the start of our campaign (April 1) would be in the middle of the lockdown period.  Not knowing how long the quarantine lasted, the anxiety that came with the global pandemic, teleworking days that all looked the same, with no interruptions from taking transport or going for a walk… All this has shaken our relationship to time.  Spatial and social inequalities were compounded by temporal inequalities, between those who suddenly had nothing to occupy their days and those who found themselves with even more work, doubled by childcare.

In this context, gardening has emerged almost as a symbol of our questioning of our relationship to time. It is an activity that requires patience as well as a form of slowness. And as I watched my plants germinate, make leaves and then finally the vegetables appear, I became more and more comfortable with the idea that this totally new period we were living through had its advantages in the midst of chaos. For once, I wasn’t coming home from work so exhausted that the only mechanical gesture I was capable of was checking my smartphone.

I read, I watched old movies, I cooked and… I grew life. I hope you’ll forgive me for the possible mawkishness of that statement, but all the same, the quarantine brought me back to basics, and for that I am grateful.

The story of how I planted my own food for a social media challenge and started my dream of self-sufficiency

I have dreamt of planting my own food since I was a child, but the city lifestyle kept me from starting any concrete action. I was always wondering how to plant anything inside an appartment, if I would be able to take care of home plants and how it would work if I had to leave the place for a certain amount of time.


Then the Covid-19 crisis happened as long as the lockdown that went with it, and as for everyone, my plans have changed. So as I was certain to be home and to have time, I decided to join the “Grow It Yourself challenge” organized by MIJARC Europe and to plant green bean seeds at home and take care of the plant during the pandemic. I must say that when I saw how people were running from one market to another, buying everything in sight, the idea of self-sufficiency seemed all of a sudden particularly appealing to me. My green beans were a good place to start.

Taking care of beans

The very first thing to do was to make sure there would be enough humidity for the seeds to germ. I found the whole process described in a video onYouTube. When seeds were ready to be cultivated, I did a little digging and tilling. A couple of weeks later the leaves appeared. Some more care was needed. I asked my grandparents who live in the countryside for help and experience sharing. I got to say that observing the whole process of a plant growing everyday is quite amazing.

Enjoying the beans

A couple of days ago the harvest was ready. Of course, it was not much (you can see from the pictures how small my plant was). However, I got to prepare a meal with my own planted green beans and this felt special.
I took the easiest way: boiling green beans in hot water, then adding garlic and salad greens to the main dish. The beans have been cleaned and washed, then the boiling process took about 30 minutes. Then I used garlic and salad greens to bring delicious taste.

Here is the main dish ready to be eaten. I personnaly think it looks delicious (and it was). Of course, I cannot cook this meal for a dinner with guests as I do not have enough beans, but it is good for one person.

Through this food planting process, I have learnt a lot. Now I am motivated to cultivate more green beans in the next spring, which will help me to share my food with others.
I hope that my own experience will motivate others to plant their food. That’s an amazing feeling when you eat the food cultivated by yourself. I encourage young people to plant their own food and get ready to those amazing feelings.
Bon appétit !

Harutyun Tsatryan

For those of us who have tried to plant vegetables in our gardens, it is clear that what at first seems easy often turns out to be an arduous task. In just a few days, the young fresh vegetables you’ve planted are infested with many species of insects, pests and birds.

How does this work for those whose job it is? Let’s compare what happens in the fields and in greenhouses.

Field farming

Field cultivation is the traditional method of farming. To be successful, the soil must be rich in nutrients, free of disease, have a balanced pH and be of good composition. Environmental risk management is paramount to achieve the highest probability of success. Generous applications of pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are often necessary to keep plants alive. We often hesitate to buy pesticides for our garden because we know the impact they can have on our health and the environment, but we don’t necessarily think about it when we buy vegetables at the market or order a salad from a restaurant.

Greenhouses

Greenhouses allow you to control the environment in which your crops grow. Not only do they protect against insects and birds, but they also allow you to better control temperature, humidity, irrigation and light. You can create the right conditions for your plants to thrive, without using harmful pesticides, to ensure the sanitary quality of your vegetables. If you are considering becoming a commercial grower, by using a greenhouse, you can actually predict the expected yield and analyze the variables of plant growth.

And of course, growing fruits and vegetables in a greenhouse doesn’t mean that your garden should look like the Almeria desert with its endless landscapes of plastic greenhouses. No! You can create a small greenhouse and make your tarpaulin from polyethylene obtained from sugar cane crops.

“He leaves his city job to become a market gardener”, “In Italy young people are returning to agriculture”, “Goat rearing, a popular activity for young people undergoing vocational retraining”… You’re bound to come across these kinds of titles in the media as they’re becoming more and more common. 

What motivates Europe’s youth, both rural and urban, to turn to agriculture? And above all, why is it actually good news?

Agriculture in need of youth

When studying the agricultural situation in each of the EU countries, two observations stand out: the agricultural population is ageing (in 2016, 60% of farmers were aged 55 or over) and the number of farms is declining prodigiously (a reduction of a quarter of farms between 2005 and 2016). In France, the Ministry of Agriculture has even announced that by 2026, 45% of French farmers will have retired.

Under these conditions, aid for the installation of young farmers has become a priority for the European Commission in the negotiations for the CAP, which will come into force in 2022. The future CAP includes provisions such as raising the ceiling for installation aid from EUR 70,000 to EUR 100,000. Income support, but also measures facilitating access to land and land transfers are among the main instruments to help young farmers.

Agricultural settlement as vocational retraining for young people

Yet, despite this rather dark picture we are painting, and despite the urbanization that frames the landscapes, we observe a growing return of young people to the land. Many are returning to rural areas, and many are also leaving their jobs to work in agriculture.

It is easy to draw up a typical profile of these young people: often around 30 years old, over-qualified, they have been working for a few years in an office job in which they do not flourish. Many of them are aware of the uselessness of the tasks entrusted to them in the context of their work (often in fields such as marketing or finance, among others). This is a phenomenon that anthropologist David Graeber describes perfectly in his essay Bullshit jobs: a theory, published in 2018.

Why should we encourage them?

This kind of conversion to farming, by young people with little or no experience in farming, sometimes annoys farmers. It is an understandable reaction: working the land, in all its science and complexity and especially its hard work, cannot be a playful activity to which one turns when tired of “city” jobs, thinking that it will only be a matter of breathing more fresh air and swapping one’s office for open spaces.

However, we would be wise not to make fun of these young people in retraining too quickly. While it is easy to point the finger at the ‘trendy’ aspect of this kind of retraining, it is way less easy to make the decision to abandon a comfortable lifestyle with a guaranteed salary and turn to farming, which, let’s be honest, is no longer an attractive job today.

It would be rather caricatural to paint a portrait of these young people as city dwellers in search of “connection with nature”, unaware of the difficulty of the work that awaits them. They are actually often fully aware of this, but they are driven by something much stronger: the desire to participate in this gigantic effort to feed the population. Above all, they belong to this new generation which carries ideals: a sustainable agriculture that would be more respectful of the environment and the health of farm workers and consumers, a willingness to innovate, to produce locally etc.

So as rural inhabitants, and even as farmers, let us encourage, support and guide them. We should help them in their learning and when they face the first difficulties, because these young people represent an unexpected succession at a time when agriculture is so much in need of support.

What are superfoods?

Super foods generally refer to foods that are particularly rich in nutrients, especially fruits and vegetables. Super foods are therefore often full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which can have beneficial effects on health. Most super foods are plant-based foods that naturally have high levels of individual micronutrients, enzymes and secondary plant substances.

Why don’t we enjoy them as we should?

Fresh super berries, cereals or leaves are usually rich in valuable ingredients to begin with, but the journey from growing areas in exotic countries to our supermarket is a long one. The products are often harvested too early, sometimes heavily processed to make them edible, or are stored in shipping containers for weeks on end. This raises the question of how much of the advertised benefits actually reaches the consumer and benefits his or her health.

Grow your own superfoods!

Growing one’s own superfoods gives certainty about the ingredients they contain and is also more environmentally friendly by saving a large amount of transport CO2 emissions.
Berries that contain many antioxidants are perfect examples of superfoods. Of course, it is not easy to keep a large raspberry bush on the balcony, but there are smaller plants with just as much benefits! For example, spinach is a natural appetite suppressant, broccoli contains anti-inflammatory substances and pumpkin seeds are good for our magnesium needs.

So… Will you join us in planting your own food? 


Early April, about two weeks after the start of the quarantine measures taken all over the world, MIJARC Europe made the most of the fact that everybody was confined at home to launch its new social network campaign: Grow It Yourself.

The goal of this campaign: to offer a fun challenge, through the publication of photos on social networks, to encourage people to grow their own fruit and vegetables or herbs.

The aim, of course, is not to downplay the fantastic work done by farmers, nor is it to lead people to believe that everyone can become self-sufficient with a snap of the fingers. On the contrary, it is precisely because the theme of the year for MIJARC Europe is agriculture, that the Agri-Commission wanted to highlight one of the key elements of this subject, that is the food system, from the production of food to its arrival on our plates.

This is the reason why each post is associated with a caption or a link to an article that we publish on our website, in which we discuss topics related to these issues. These can be light-hearted topics such as tips on growing beans or a list of the easiest vegetables to grow, or even poems!

But we also try to think about more serious issues: what does the covid-19 crisis and its impact on the production, transport and sale of food say about our food system and our consumption habits? Why is it that by consuming locally, we are taking care of our health in addition to the environment? Why do we need to support young people who want to enter agriculture?

You can find our posts on our Facebook page or on our Instagram account. And above all, you can join us in this challenge! Grow yourself a tomato stand on your balcony and publish the picture by tagging MIJARC Europe. You can even send us texts about topics you would like us to talk about!

The Grow It Yourself Challenge is an experience we want to live with you!