Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Veg Blog - What is Food Security?

Dr Steph Smith, Teaching Fellow

What is food security? Friends have asked me; perhaps expecting suited up-bouncers, with shades and ear pieces, carefully guarding food aisles in supermarkets. As someone who sometimes has smarties for breakfast, I am never sure if I’m qualified to answer. 


Food security is, in fact, a measure of the availability and accessibility of sufficient, safe and nutritious food. Food self-sufficiency, focuses on the ‘availability’ aspect of food security, origin and domestic capacity to produce sufficient food1. In the UK, we grow 61% of the food we eat2; almost double that than production on the eves of the First and Second World War3. This varies across food types; we produce 80% of the beef and cheese we consume here but import under half of our vegetables like tomatoes4,5. As the global population rises, the ink still dries on Brexit and the current global pandemic, my mind ponders with the concept of self-sufficiency. I guess this interest likely tipped into action when I received the traditional gift of a potato grow bag for Valentine’s day.


My family on my father’s side come from a remote island off the north coast of Scotland. Whilst it has always been exciting to visit the island, it was only by camping there last summer that it was conceivable as to what life would really have been like to live there. The shells of houses remain in memory of the residents who left the island in 1965 excluding one who now farms the land. They would largely have been fishermen and crofters; growing oats, potatoes, turnips, cabbages and onions. Records show the swathes of seaweed washed up from choppy waters around the Orkney isles provided a decent source of manure6. All whilst battling gales from the Atlantic. Juxtapose to today, where one can buy Manuka honey and cherries all year round.


Single seedling
Single seedling in a pot

So I have challenged myself to see what I can grow. Being fortunate enough to have a small amount of garden space, I started with things that can be sown outside at this time; onions, pumpkin and beetroot. As my ambition (or likely impatience) grew, my thoughts expanded to those which could be started indoors; strawberries, tomatoes, cucumber and aubergine. Then things that would otherwise have been destined for the food bin; apple seeds, garlic, even the end of leeks in an attempt to re-grow them7. I planted supermarket herbs that I had, up until now, thought had been programmed to die after you’d used your recipe-specified amount. For interest, outside rosemary and thyme grow well, but basil prefers the Med. I even started to propagate plants that were already established; once I had googled what propagation meant and how to do it. My father-in-law has called me Steph-Titmarsh; but with (an unconscious?) pronunciation like the Italians, with special emphasis on the second syllable.


I must mention growing veggies isn’t a pastime for the impatient. This was my feeling until the morning where I had my first seedling. Something grew! I grew it! Well, technically, it grew it. But I think I helped. It is, as I write, 1 inch tall, so a few days shy of a meal yet. Further, in my excitement I forgot to label… anything.  


Whilst my quest continues I take my hat off to those growing food globally. Solidarity at this time.









6Young, D. A. Stroma. 1992. National Galleries of Scotland


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