Quiet sustainability: Fertile lessons from Europe’s productive gardeners

Smith, Joe and Jehlička, Petr (2013). Quiet sustainability: Fertile lessons from Europe’s productive gardeners. Journal of Rural Studies, 32 pp. 148–157.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2013.05.002


This paper investigates notable examples of sustainable lifestyles in relation to food systems. It explores the surprisingly neglected case of widely practised and environmentally sustainable food self-provisioning in post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe. Our argument is rooted in qualitative and quantitative data gathered over a seven-year period (2005-2011). The research considers the extent of and motivations for these practices in Poland and Czechia. The very high rates compared to Western Europe and North America have generally been explained in terms of an ‘urban peasantry’ meeting essential needs. After reviewing and rejecting those accounts we present evidence for these as socially and environmentally beneficial practices, and explore how the motivations derive from a range of feelings about food, quality, capability and family and / or friendship. Rather than relate these practices to temporal signals of quality and sustainability in food (‘slow’ and ‘fast’), or presenting them as ‘alternative food networks’ we suggest that they represent ‘quiet sustainability’. This novel concept summarises widespread practices that result in beneficial environmental or social outcomes and that do not relate directly or indirectly to market transactions, but are not represented by their practitioners as relating directly to environmental or sustainability goals. These practices represent exuberant, appealing and socially inclusive, but also unforced, forms of sustainability. This case further demonstrates the severe limitations of decision makers’ focus on economics and behaviour change, and their neglect of other dimensions of social life and change in developing environmental policies.

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