Category Archives: food security

A garden heals the worried mind

The stresses of the last few months have been hard to live with and there seems no end to the situation. For me the garden has helped enormously, I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it.

I found this article today by Helen Chesnut a well-known garden writer from Canada. What she says resonated deeply with my own experience over the years while trying to cope with what the TV now calls a life changing event. The garden healed in many ways, emotionally and physically; never underestimate the power of even gentle exercise. And, growing fruit and veg improves diet.

Helen says: “Then, there is the garden. Whether it’s a landscaped acreage, an allotment plot, or a collection of potted balcony plants, a garden is refuge and solace in the face of stress and anxiety. A garden heals. The worries of the world that buzz about in our minds slip away as we delve in the soil and tend our plants.” See the whole article here or click on the image below.

Photograph By Helen Chesnut

Now that lock down has been eased in the UK, for the time being, the urgency to grow food to fill the gaps left by food shortages may have diminished. There will be other critical events which have the same effect. Some say it will be a no-deal Brexit or climate change as new and unpredictable weather patterns decimate once reliable crops. We cannot know what the future will bring but we can be better prepared to look after ourselves.

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Hydroponics – not a sustainable way forward

Covid-19 has affected food supplies across the globe. Singapore was hit hard as it imports 90% of its fresh produce. The government was quick to react both to combat the virus and to tackle food shortages.

Part of the response has been to build roof top hydroponic gardens. They can be installed and producing very quickly and in many ways are ideal for roof tops.

Results are also fast especially with lettuce and other leafy greens, the climate helps. The problem with hydroponics is that it uses artificial fertilisers which are very energy intensive to produce and not sustainable. They will also have to be imported so it could be argued that it makes hydroponic food production liable to shortages from future world events.

When Russia suddenly withdrew support from Cuba, the country was left with a massive food crisis. The USSR had supplied Cuba with a network of hydroponic gardens that produced most of their fresh food. When they left supplies of nutrients stopped so production ceased.

Cuba converted the hydro systems to Organopónicos or organoponics. They became totally self-sufficient and organic. They grew food without chemical fertilisers and did not rely on supplies from any other country. That is THE way forward – it produces total independence and sustainable, organic food.

If Covid-19 teaches one thing then it that we need a diverse and resilient food system that does not depend on imports. It must also be sustainable and have the smallest carbon footprint possible. Nothing else is good enough, there must be no quick techno fixes and so side-stepping the difficult decisions needed. Anything less means widespread hunger the next time a world wide disaster strikes.

The human cost of cheap food

This is a video about rural poverty in Derbyshire. It totally blows the popular myth “there’s no such thing as a poor farmer”.

This is the reality of cheap food in supermarkets and it is repeated all over the world. Somebody somewhere picks up the tab, it’s usually the farmer.

 

“Urban dwellers yearn for ‘Good Life’ allotments”

By chance the BBC are running this piece today, it is well worth a read. They say:

“Land set aside for allotments in the UK has declined by 65% from a peak in the “dig for victory” and post-war era.”

“Lost allotments” could provide 6% of the UK population with their five-a-day fruit and veg

“We have already seen a huge increase in the number of people interested in growing their own food as a result of coronavirus, with garden centres and online shops selling out of seeds in the first weeks of lockdown.

“Coronavirus has… highlighted to people the fragility inherent within our globalised food system. In a time of crisis, interest in self-sufficiency rises.”

What more evidence do we need to take this seriously?

What are people for?

Wendell Berry’s book “What are people for?” is more appropriate today than when it was published 30 years ago. In one paragraph he sums up exactly what it means to be a passive consumer of food.

“We still (sometimes) remember that we cannot be free if our minds and voices are controlled by someone else. But we have neglected to understand that we cannot be free if our food and its sources are controlled by someone else. The condition of the passive consumer of food is not a democratic condition. One reason to eat responsibly is to live free.”

Wendell Berry, “What are people for?”, North Point Press, New York, 1990. P.147

We need new food systems

It is 30 years since the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services was opened by Margret Thatcher. She said; “What it predicts will affect our daily lives. Governments and international organisations in every part of the world are going to have to sit up and take notice and respond…” They have not done that.

What the scientists are predicted 30 years ago was exactly right; the climate has changed. The weather patterns we are seeing now are here to stay. They affect everything we do especially growing food. It is no use saying that if things go wrong here we can go to ‘the market’ because the effects of climate change are worldwide.

We need is to change the way food is grown and distributed or starve. That means radical new solutions that serve local communities and get away from a centralised system that relies on huge farms selling though a few large retailers or the dwindling number of wholesale markets.

One solution would be to move to community supported farms, CSAs where people invest in a farm in return for a weekly supply of seasonal veg. Farms, in CSA terms, would more likely be known as market gardens in the UK.

This is a good example of how an American CSA responded to Covid-19

This is how a CSA adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic

CSAs are similar to how food used to be grown and sold 50 years ago in areas like the Vale of Evesham, Kent, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. There are still remnants of it on the Lincolnshire Norfolk Border.

A Norfolk market gardener who has a small shop next to his house.

Villages and towns should start to harness the power of allotments through food shares and mini produce markets. That might require some changes to allotment regulations, but it would be far better than allowing surplus produce to be wasted.

We could also return to selling at the garden gate like many used to do in the 1950s and 60s. Again, there are probably regulations that prohibit it but we desperately need to be creative or face food shortages very soon.

Most of all we need food to be grown sustainably i.e. in the most environmentally friendly way possible without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers.

Bountiful green ‘playgrounds’

Another interesting article from The Straits Times Note: the circuit breaker is the Singapore version of lock down.

Having just sown a lot of radish seeds this caught my eye “….. no vegetable goes to waste. Radish roots are used to make fried radish cake, while the radish tops go into soups and stir-fried dishes.”

Singapore has long been a leader in growing food in cities. Chengi Hospital has a roof top farm which produces fresh vegetables for the kitchens, no cook-chill there! There has to be innovation cities where space is at a premium. There are also important lessons here about local food as Tim Lang says:

“Food may come to consumers locally – in your shop or home – but is actually the result of international , national and regional dynamics”
[From: “Why UK Food Security Matters” Page 66 · Location 1538 Kindle edition. Accessed 18/05/2020 0653]

Much more could be done in the UK if there was the will to do it. That means accepting that our food supply is at best precarious and that we need to produce more locally. The current politics is set on abandoning UK farming and trusting ‘the market’.

The usual shop bought lettuce

Ever wondered where those bags of bright green lettuce come from? The answer is from massive fields harvested by big machines.

Notice how perfect they are. How is that done? The answer is simple by repeated application of pesticides including insecticides and fungicides plus lots of artificial fertiliser to make then look very green.

Modern pesticides are systemic which means they get into every cell of the plant. They are designed to poison any insect that bites the plant. Systemic pesticides cannot be removed, no amount of washing will get them out.

The government sets the maximum amount of residual pesticide for each pesticide in common use. But there will a cocktail of different pesticides in every plant. There is no limit to the number pesticides used. There is little research as to of effects on human health of regularly consuming  pesticide cocktails, even if the residues for each individual chemical stays within the limits. Nobody knows how they might react with each other. Things are changing as concern grows about the food we eat, see this report.

Lettuce are fed a lot of artificial fertiliser to ensure that they grow quickly and look very green. That produces more problems. First, not all the fertiliser is used, the surplus is washed into ditches, then rivers and then the sea. Excess nitrogen in water is a big problem yet is virtually ignored.

The other concern is that the soil used on farms has become depleted. It does not hold together well so get washed off in heavy rain or blows about when it is dry because it contains very little organic matter. Soil loss from erosion is a massive issue for the UK and the world with a prediction that we only have about 40 years of topsoil left. What then?

When the lettuce will be ready to harvest they are picked by hand and packed into plastic bags ready to be shipped to the retailer. Supermarkets will control the whole process from telling the farmer what variety to grow, how to manage the crop and how many bagged lettuce they want on a certain date. The field becomes an extension of the shop floor, part of a mass production process geared to make the maximum profit for the retailer.

All this because consumers have been led to believe that the cheapest, mass produced factory food is best. Bur cheap food comes with hidden costs –  read about mineral deficiencies in modern food.

People often ask why bother to pay the extra for organic produce. The answer is simple, choose food that is grown in rich fertile soils without the use of pesticides that produces more nutrient dense food that is much more sustainable or stick with factory farming. It’s you choice!

Our first lettuce of the season, grown in soil with absolutely no chemical pesticides!

This is a link to a lettuce table we made a few years back where you can grow your own even without a garden. We are about to make another so stay tuned – video to follow.

Can’t find it – grow it!

It’s the same the world over. If people cannot find the produce they want in supermarkets they are growing it. This article is about a woman in Singapore who could not find Okra in her local supermarket so started gardening again. “We rely on other (countries) for our food, if they don’t sell to us we have nothing to eat…”

Things like lettuce and other salad greens are easy to grow and can mature in as little as 5-6 weeks. And you don’t always need a garden. We are about to start a trial of a very simple system made from recycled parts that can be used to grow salad crops. More coming soon.

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UK government and food supply chain during Covid 19 emergency

This is an audio file on BBC Sounds, it is the Farming Today radio broadcast from 28 April 2020. The interesting bit is where Prof Tim Land is interviewed about the way the UK government has handled the food supply during the Covid 19 national emergency. It starts at around 09:21 – towards the end of the piece.

Listen Here the link connects to the BBC site

Tim Lang has been saying that the food supply in the UK is precarious for over 10 years yet nobody has listened. We need a hell of a lot more diversification in the supply chain – more market gardens, more local markets more independent retailers and more organic growing! As he says, to put the whole food supply chain in the hands of 9 big companies is daft. I would say that it is more like criminal negligence.