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Food for Good

The Benefits of Backyard Gardening. Why You Should Care About Growing Food at Home.

Angus Graham
January 29, 2024

There has been no better time in history than right now to grow food in your backyard. Are you unconvinced that growing a tomato or a fuzzy peach will solve the many and varied crises facing humanity? Prepare to have those doubts squashed (pun intended).


Living in the 21st century has never been more convenient. With the rapid development of mind-boggling technology, obtaining resources like food and medicine is as easy as tapping a button on your phone. However, numerous global crises have emerged as a result of these advancements. In a climate that continues to undergo substantial changes, a cost-of-living crisis that has seen KFC use cabbage in their burgers instead of lettuce, and a housing market that is nearly impossible to buy into, today’s major challenges are perhaps more complex and widespread than ever.

But all of this big picture talk is overwhelming. And besides, you’re just one person. Surely it would be best to find a dark corner, curl up in the fetal position, and leave these problems to the experts, right?

Well, if the recent COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything - other than how to wash our hands and use Zoom – it’s that we can’t rely on conventional systems to support us when things get crazy.

So, let’s view this shared feeling of deep, existential angst not as a problem but as an opportunity; an opportunity to take charge of our lives and to create positive, collective change through the actions of individuals. 

But, what individual actions am I talking about? What single acts could be so influential? Well, if you’ve ever put a seed in the ground, watched it grow, and eaten the produce, you know what I’m talking about.

There has been no better time in history than right now to grow food in your backyard. Unconvinced that growing a tomato or a fuzzy peach will solve the many and varied crises facing humanity? Prepare to have those doubts squashed (pun intended).


Angus and friend

The positive effects of growing food at home

The practices of gardening, and the lifestyle it creates, yields economic, environmental, and social benefits. With a bit of space, some water, soil, and seeds, there’s no reason why we can’t save money, leave a much smaller ecological footprint, and engage in mentally and physically beneficial activities that increase community togetherness. 

Gardening contributes to every aspect of our livelihoods; this is why it’s so powerful. 

When I say ‘gardening’, I’m referring to the practice of growing edible produce in your front/backyard and in the community, not the production of ornamental plants, even though they have their place.

Gardening saves you money

For starters, growing your own fruit and veggies saves you money. Granted, if you’re new to gardening, setting up the space and gathering the resources like soil, water, fertiliser, tools, and seedlings/seeds is more expensive and time-consuming than ducking into your local grocer and buying a head of lettuce. However, as with all the benefits I describe here, with a bit of patience and foresight, your initial financial investments will yield returns in spades (of edible goodies).

A study by the University of South Australia on home food gardening in South Australia found that, from a sample of 34 participants, 65% will break even in less than five years and start saving money. Below is an overview of the types of food gardens studied and their performance (the number of stars indicates the best performer in each category).

The mixed beds presented the second lowest setup and ongoing costs, and broke even after 7 months, the first of all garden types. 

Depending on your home setup, with a bit of patience, you can hope to start saving money after 2 years (closer to 5 years if you build a chicken coop). 

So, yes saving money is an important consideration when starting any new hobby, but what’s the use in growing your funds if there’s no planet left to spend them on?

Gardening protects the planet

There are lots of environmental benefits to growing food, if done sustainably. Oh no, there’s that term; sustainably. I’m sure you’ve heard it before. I’ve spent seven years learning about this idea and, with all the greenwashing that has happened as organizations have become “environmentally responsible”, I’m not sure I know what it means anymore. 

For simplicity’s sake, let’s use the definition provided by Bill Mollison (the father of permaculture) which describes sustainability as “a system that in its lifetime, had an output that far exceeded the system’s input”. Although permaculture refers to permanent agricultural systems that sustain themselves by mimicking natural processes, it is now adopted in other industries as a framework for managing sustainable systems.

Now, to understand how this definition applies to your home garden, let’s use some examples.

Your backyard crops cool the surrounding environment by absorbing heat, transpiring and acting as CO2 sinks. While our current food system is highly effective and efficient, nearly every step - planting, harvesting, processing, and distribution - is reliant on fossil fuels. 

The numbers haven’t been crunched yet, but could you imagine the reduction in CO2 emissions if tomatoes were grown on your doorstep and not in a different state like Victoria where 70% of South Australian tomatoes are currently grown? Using a packet of heirloom seeds in your backyard, watering, and feeding them with renewable sources would require next to no CO2, much less than what the plants and their soil would remove from the atmosphere. This is a sustainable system! 

Controversially, a recent study found that the footprint of urban agriculture is 6 times greater than conventional agriculture. The paper concluded not by rejecting the environmental potential of home-grown food, but by highlighting the importance of heading sustainable practices, like extending the life of infrastructure and using recycled materials, to make urban agriculture more climate-friendly. 

Unfortunately, we can’t just scatter a handful of seeds in our backyard and assume that our gardens are environmentally sustainable because we’re practicing urban agriculture. It’s important to plan our gardens carefully to ensure that they align with our understanding of a sustainable system; systems that present a greater output of resources across their lifetime than input. 

This understanding of sustainability can be applied to all stages of the “home food system”. The following diagram provided by the University of Melbourne summarizes these stages nicely.

Let's use the resource and waste recovery stage as an example. It only takes a quick walk around a store’s fresh produce section to realise that a lot of plastic packaging is involved in the preparation and distribution of produce. While many supermarkets have committed to removing single-use plastic bags from circulation, there is still a considerable amount of plastic involved in the sale of various fresh produce items like herbs and tomatoes, not to mention grocery and dairy goods. These plastics can be recycled, if only we knew which bin to put them in!

Perhaps what is even more important to consider though is the wastage of the products we actually pay for; not the cardboard and plastic encasing your vine of truss tomatoes but the tomatoes themselves! 

According to Food Bank, Australia produces 7.6 million tonnes of food waste each year, 70% of which is considered perfectly edible. This is enough waste to fill a 100,000 seat stadium nine times.

Now, how can home food gardening reverse this trend? Well for starters, by growing your food at home, no plastic is involved in its manufacture and distribution; the plants take care of those steps for you. 

By growing crops from seed, you know what’s required to produce a harvest of apple cucumbers or silver beet and you know where they come from. It’s harder to justify wasting fruit and veg if you grow it. 

Lastly, your fruit and veggies will naturally be preserved until you’re ready to eat them. And, if you miss a harvest, don’t worry, the plants will naturally break down in the soil as the seasons pass, improving the organic content in your garden beds and next year’s harvest.

Yep, I’m pretty sure nature has an answer for everything and so it should; it’s been around for approximately 470 million years (a few million more than us). 

Gardening supports people

The significance of urban agriculture is its capacity to generate benefits beyond sustainable food production. The social benefits are perhaps more important than the veggies themselves. Although it is notoriously difficult to measure how digging your hands into soil or picking the first apple cucumber of the season makes you feel, research into what is widely known as “therapeutic horticulture” is growing. 

The Pandemic Gardening Survey, conducted by SUSTAIN during 2020, found that edible gardening significantly improved 82% of participant’s mental health and wellbeing, and was important in reducing anxiety and creating a sense of focus for 81%. 

The study also found that for many, home food gardening increased participant’s peace of mind as it gave them control over their accessibility to food and its quality. With regular media stories on supermarket shortages (yes, toilet paper hoarders I’m talking to you) and disruptions to global supply chains, it is little wonder that individuals were concerned about the security of their food.

Of course, it’s not just the direct benefits we gain from food growing that are significant, it’s critically the connections with like-minded green thumbs that have the power to generate meaningful change. A study investigating the food-sharing network Grow Free found that 86% of participants joined the network to engage with their community. Through the sharing of food-related surplus, the network’s outreach has grown right across Australia and online, with over a half-a-dozen facebook pages collectively with more than 30,000 members promoting the importance of building community through food sharing.

Can the simple act of growing and sharing food change our society for the better? According to Grow Free, yes it can. 


After reading all the information I’ve shared here, surely you’re eager to source some seeds, pick up the tools, and start getting your hands dirty, right? Well, if you’re still hesitant to get stuck in, I can understand why. Words on a computer screen do little to inspire. And what’s more, the idea of starting an entire garden is daunting; it’s a big undertaking. 

So, if there’s one thing I would like you to take away from my post, it’s this; start small and live the benefits. Indeed, it’s these individual decisions that inspire collective action and have the power to incite global change. 


Community building through collaborative food production and consumption:
A case study of Grow Free in South Australia
Productivity, resource efficiency and financial savings:
An investigation of the current capabilities and potential of South Australian home food gardens
SUSTAIN: Pandemic Gardening Main Findings
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: CLIMATE CHANGE 2023 - Synthesis Report - CLIMATE CHANGE 2023
World Population Clock: 8.1 Billion People (LIVE, 2024)
What is Permaculture?
TOMATO INDUSTRY IN AUSTRALIA | International Society for Horticultural Science
Food Systems | Foodprint Melbourne