Long live organic growers !
Lynda Brown - 11 October 2011
I'm still basking in the after-glow of a great day out - hitching a ride at the Horticultural conference farm visits last Wednesday, enjoying every minute, and seeing both Duchy and Abbey Home Farm organic farms at close quarters. For me, producer days (which I've always been addicted to: they're ace) are an opportunity to drill deep; to find out what it's really like to be an organic grower or farmer; and to hear at first hand what everyone has to say, and what the issues are that matter to them. I'm lucky to have grown veggies most of my life so at least I'm not a total ignoramus but talk about not living in the real world - I tell you, if you think growing your own veg is challenging, try growing them commercially.
Two things struck me. First, weeding. It seems you can't get away from the subject for more than 5 minutes. I don't think anyone has any idea of the knock on effect, or how costly it is in terms of manpower and equipment not to use herbicides. Not to mention the effort involved. This alone makes me realise how cheap, yes CHEAP organic vegetables really are (and that's before you factor in not using pesticides or synthetic fertilisers, which for organic growers and farmers means building your own fertility, which means taking land out of production, which means money you can't make from crops...)
The second thing has more to do with the anecodotes you pick up - which really help you understand what it's like on the ground, so to speak. I've already mentioned the big spud scam (last blog). The 'outrage of outgrades' is another: growers who supply supermarkets with produce they've already checked and graded but which still comes back as not perfect enough. By this time, say, the carrots have been washed and no longer fit to sell, so they end up grown for our consumption but fed to livestock. How crazy is that? And how would any of us feel if we put all that effort in for no reward? (It's the same, by the way, in the conventional sector, which is rife with similar heartbreaking stories such as cauliflowers being grubbed out because when the time came, the supermarket who ordered them said they no longer needed them.)
Then there's our fickleness. Apparently, it's difficult to sell anything unless it's prewrapped - I appreciate most people reading this blog will protest vigorously, but we are in a minority. As a customer, I always want leaves of any kind wrapped please - they wilt in no time, but for everything else surely it's a positive advantage to be able to select your own? And probably the saddest tale I heard is about something called the leek moth, which lays its eggs inside the growing leek that then provides food for the larvae. The result is leeks with holes in, and white/brown patches on the leaves. It doesn't matter how much you strip away, if the leek has tiny holes in it, we as customers don't want to know. And so on.
Cue for a rant: surely the time has come to turn this stuff around, say no to supermarket spin, get some common sense back into feeding ourselves and appreciation of what our growers do for us, and support them - otherwise what future is there for the kind of veg we all say we want ie fresh healthy veg produced by local small scale growers. The answer is no future, and we will only have ourselves to blame.
On a brighter note, the bit of nifty low-tech kit we all wanted for Christmas is a Swiss wheel hoe Glaser weeder, together with a Terradonis seeder (also known as a Yang seeder), both available from Sam Eglington (www.themarketgardener.co.uk), Carbon Gold super-compost (www.carbongold.com), which I've mentioned before, is going great guns and will be available in garden centres in the New Year.
And for anyone who hasn't caught up with them yet, Delfland Nurseries (www.organicplants.co.uk), the leading propagator of organic transplants for the commercial sector, also supply the public. Great website, and one definitely to know about.
Lynda is an award-winning food writer and broadcaster, and keen advocate for organic living. She is author of several food books over the last twenty years including Planet Organic: Organic Living, The Cook's Garden, and The Modern Cook's Handbook, as well as writing The Preserving Book that was published in 2010 in association with the Soil Association. Lynda is an expert on food and nutrition and a seasoned broadcaster, regularly speaking on food and farming both on the radio and television.
04 October 2012 07:03
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