Category Archives: food security

Grow to eat

There is a long tradition in the UK of holding village shows at the end of the summer. The idea is that residents display the produce they have grown which is judged and prizes are awarded. Part of that tradition is competition between men (and it usually is men!)  to see who can grow the biggest specimens of common veg.

Entries are judged against strict criteria laid down in various books like The Horticultural Show Handbook published by the RHS. There are prizes for the biggest, heaviest, longest or ‘best’ specimens.

Onions, 250g or under

Merits Firm, thin-necked, blemish-free bulbs grown from either seed or sets with well-ripened, unbroken skins free from pest, disease or other damage.
Defects Bulbs that are too small or in excess of 250g, thick-necked, misshapen, blemished, or that have broken skins or have been skinned excessively.
Advice to judges All specimens must be weighed and any more than 250g must be disqualified. Bulbs should be as near to 250g as possible, of good form and alike in size, shape and colour.

In some parts of the country winning is taken to extremes with potential prize winning veg being guarded round the clock as competitors have been known to sabotage the competition.

I am often asked why I do not enter the local village show, usually followed by it is all for charity, and sometimes with a ‘do not be so miserable’.

The main reason I have never entered a show and never will is that we grow food to eat. We maximise gross yields to grow a surplus that can be stored over winter. In this time of global uncertainty when the dire effects of climate change and environmental destruction are being felt in many countries it seems immoral to grow vegetables purely to be shown, judged, raffled and then probably thrown away.

The way food is grown is critical to the impact that it has on the world. We grow organically and have done for the last 30 years. We believe that it uses less resources, has a positive effect on the environment and produces more nutritious better tasting food.

Our produce would be marked down for blemishes and the odd bit of nibbling by slugs, snails and other pests because that would spoil the visual appearance. To grow visually perfect veg you must use chemicals.

There is mounting evidence that the climate/environmental crisis is deepening and accelerating. There is also no doubt whatsoever that climate change will affect our ability to grow food. We cannot continue the way we are which means the way we grow food including how we cultivate our gardens and allotments.

That might seem extreme, but you only have to read the evidence out there to know that we are on the edge of a precipice. There are already there are millions of people starving, homeless and desperate.

The biggest problem we face in the UK is that people cannot or do not want to understand the severity and the gravity of the issues. It is this inertia, this desire to carry on as we are,  to get back to normal when Cove is finished, which is the most dangerous aspect of climate change.

That is why we grow food in a sustainable way and encourages others to do the same. That means not using the old methods. It is respecting the food we have grown and encouraging others to do the same. It might be painful and even be unthinkable to some, but we must move on and leave beyond behind the traditional ways of doing things. There has to be a new normal  to avert the massive crisis that humanity faces.

That is why we will never grow food to show, we will never try to win prizes for the biggest veg specimen. We will work on ways of getting maximum yields from the small plot we have and share what the way we do it. In 2020 we harvested 78 Kg of food from 17 square metres. The aim is to make that at least 100 Kg in the 2021 season. That is our prize.

The environmental impacts of food

All text and graphics below are from this site

What are the environmental impacts of food and agriculture?

The visualization here shows a summary of some of the main global impacts:

  • Food accounts for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Half of the world’s habitable (ice- and desert-free) land is used for agriculture;
  • 70% of global freshwater withdrawals are used for agriculture;
  • 78% of global ocean and freshwater eutrophication (the pollution of waterways with nutrient-rich pollutants) is caused by agriculture;
  • 94% of mammal biomass (excluding humans) is livestock. This means livestock outweigh wild mammals by a factor of 15-to-1. Of the 28,000 species evaluated to be threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, agriculture and aquaculture is listed as a threat for 24,000 of them.

Food, therefore, lies at the heart of trying to tackle climate change, reducing water stress, pollution, restoring lands back to forests or grasslands, and protecting the world’s wildlife.

Growing veg in Singapore

I follow Edible Garden City on FB because I love how Singapore responded to Covid. They grew only 10% of their food so were vulnerable to supply chain problems. Their response was a big campaign to get everybody growing veg.

I found this short film today of a family growing food and running a small outlet in the city. I recognised some of the veg they grow and have been growing them here. I made a note of others to try.

What got to me most was the father’s decision to grow without pesticides. He said that they scared him and he did not want his family eating sprayed food. His main concern for his family is to  “to eat with peace of mind, to eat healthily”. I could not agree more.

Take the first step, grow some food in 2021

“…the stranglehold of corporate Big Ag on the global food system that just four companies – ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Dreyfus – control more than 75 per cent of the worldwide trade in grain.”

“As our ancestors knew very well, control of food is power, a basic truth that we seem to have forgotten.”

“If we want to live in a democracy, we need to take back control of our food.”

The truth about food from “Sitopia : How Food Can Save the World”

Not everybody has access to a large garden or the ability to take on an allotment. Microbed gardens show that it is possible to grow significant amounts of food in small spaces by using intensive planting techniques and good crop management. The idea grew out of Square Foot Gardening which was popular in the US in the 1990s.

Microbed 1, Thursday 7 January 2021 at 7.30pm Please email us for more details or to register your interest.

Food, farming and biodiversity

It was great to see an extended piece on Channel 4 news tonight about biodiversity and farming and biodiversity. They even showed a UK farmer using regenerative agriculture techniques seeding directly into the ground without ploughing up the last crop. The farmer was very enthusiastic about the quality of his soil saying it was like crumbly fruit cake.
(See www.no-till.uk)

Then there was the Derbyshire Farm that has been trialling wildflower strips and a short piece with Rosemary Furness who wants to make linked wildlife corridors.

It was all good but what irked me was some of the commentary at the beginning that implied that farmers grubbed out hedges to make higher profits. Let us get this straight, they were encouraged to ‘modernise’ to increase output by government as part of the never-ending quest for the cheapest possible food.

Farmers are not like other businesses producing items to sell on the open market for the best possible price. Instead they are contracted to supermarkets to supply a certain quantity of produce when the retailers demand it. If demand drops or the retailer finds a cheaper source, wants a loss leader or to have a 2 for 1 offer, the farmer pays.  If they fail to do what the supermarket requires, they lose the contract.

The blame for biodiversity loss should not be shouldered by farmers alone as successive governments have been more than happy to divest control of the food supply to the nine supermarkets that supply 90% of food in the UK. The idea that the overriding criteria for ‘good’ food is price and price alone drives biodiversity loss.

What needs to change is the whole food supply chain from the way food is grown to the way it is sold to what we eat.  If we want more biodiversity and a more stable eco system then we, as consumers need to take responsibility for the food choices we make. We need to change the way we eat, see food as more than just pit stops to fill the tank and realise that our health is directly linked to the health of the planet that sustains us.

Time to plan your BREXIT garden!

The panic to find fresh food may be over for now but there are other problems on the horizon. When we crash out of the EU without a deal the government will cosy up to the US to import their food. When that happens how will you know what you are eating? To find out have a look at this article by Alice Keeffe in The Guardian.

“There has been much ado about the prospect of chlorinated chicken, but the implications of a trade deal with the US are equally grim for fruit and veg. The American government will insist on our loosening regulations around the use of pesticides, so we can look forward to apples containing higher levels of malathion (an organophosphate insecticide linked to cancer which can impair the respiratory system) and grapes with added propargite, an insecticide that has been associated with cancer and can affect sexual function and fertility. Oh yes, and then there are neonicotinoids, all but banned in the UK because of their toxic effect on bees, and chlorpyrifos, banned by the EU over concerns about its impact on the brains of foetuses and young children.”

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate which were used as insecticides. They used to be widespread but were banned in Europe some years back. It is accumulative poison and can be absorbed through the skin. The manufacturers continue to sell them to the developing world and the US. See this piece about child deaths in India.

Do we really want food produced using pesticides that have been banned here? It is time we grew up as a nation and looked after ourselves and the land where we live. There must be a resounding NO from anybody who cares about food, their health and the long term future of this fragile planet.

One answer is to grow your own. Now is a good time to start planning and getting your food garden ready. We are hear to help.

Email us if you need help
Please note: we do not store emails, pass on details to anybody else or send messages after we have a responded to your question.

Lawns

I rediscovered this book published 2008; it is about the tyranny of front lawns in the US and the environmental disaster caused by the huge overuse of fertilisers and pesticides. It includes a piece by Michael Pollan about his father’s reluctance to conform.

It got me thinking about the new lock down food growers, the frantic activity from March to May and now the quiet. With a lot of talk about Brexit and borders in 2021 there are more urgent issues around food security that need to be addressed. More later.

The way we live?

Suddenly the penny drops, it is the way we live that is causing pandemics. The massive increase in international air travel and foreign holidays in exotic locations have become a consumer product. The acceptance that it is meat with every meal coupled with all the expectation that we should be able to buy any food from anywhere any time we want. The complete and utter disregard for wildlife and the habitats that sustain endangered species e.g. palm oil in Indonesia and Soya for animal feed in the amazon.

And what now? After a couple of months of worldwide lockdown there is the frantic clamour to get back to ‘normal’. But the normal has become dangerously abnormal. Normal is killing us. Normal is destroying the very thing that keeps us alive – plant Earth.

Just another gloom and doom story? It need not be that. Now we have the chance, a very slim window in which to do something differently. It looks like governments will not help us, but we can act alone or as part of groups or small communities.

There is another way that is not the ‘hair shirt’ option. Living a simpler life is possible within the over consuming, selfish mad scramble to have everything at any cost. We don’t need the latest fashions to be who we are. Do your own thing, step away from the crowd, resist being a lemming!

The best way to start is at your own front door, by asking what you allow though it. Start with food, question every decision you make when you stock up each week. Ask yourself why do I buy that? Is the cheapest always the best? Where does it come from? How much do we throw out each week? Think about everything you do regularly and ask yourself is there another way of doing that.

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.

Email us if you need help
Please note: we do not store emails, pass on details to anybody else or send messages after we have a responded to your question.

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.