Tag Archives: local food

April Diary 2017

It’s been an early, dry Spring in most of England this year. Here in our southwest corner, the rhubarb is thin and the potatoes slow to come up. On the positive side, the slugs are discouraged and the seedlings are getting a good start. Watering them is a daily chore now.

Well watered rhubarb in a pot
Well watered rhubarb in a pot

Having failed to negotiate a supply of wheat seeds – it’s hard to buy a small handful – I planted some old gleanings I found in the seed box. They seem to be coming up, but look exactly like grass just now. If the experiment doesn’t work, I’ll dig over and plant out squashes, or grow a catch crop of cress.

We managed to subdue most of the really wild quarter of our new Resilience Allotment while the soil was still soft. To clear the established perennial weeds – couch grass, bindweed, dandelion and horsetail – we turned the matted turf over to a spade’s depth, pulling the exposed roots out by hand as we broke up the clumps. These went to the tip for recycling, as they can sprout again from fragments.

The rough bit of the allotment before digging
The rough bit is on the left
The weed roots we are removing
The weed roots we are removing

A layer of leaf mould covered with cardboard sheets was laid on the sections we dug over, topped with another layer of leaf mould. Holes were cut in the card and our vegetables planted through it, in a handful of compost. The thick mulch will discourage the weeds – though we haven’t seen the last of them – and give our plants a head start.

The leaf mould was free, from a huge pile dumped in the allotment car park. It’s not ideal; in this dry weather it starts to blow away, and I worry that the potatoes may not like it.

“Do not dig your potatoes up to see if they are growing” – a modern Zen saying!

There was an urgent need for a weed suppressant though, and the leaf mould was available in large amounts. Resilience gardening is about making use of local resources, in a very permaculture-like fashion.

It’s also about low maintenance. While I’m concentrating on the allotment, the original Resilience Garden is ticking over nicely. The leeks and purple sprouting broccoli are finishing now, the kale going to seed, and the new peas coming up. The wild garlic is getting a bit ragged, but other salad leaves are coming up fast. The remaining small piece of lawn takes me more effort to maintain than the vegetable patch does.

You can learn the basics of starting a Resilience Garden from the Handbook...the best way to learn is to try things out. Even a windowsill pot of herbs is worth doing!

Musing on the process of writing

When I returned from my trip to Hebden Bridge I pitched straight into completing the first full draft of my new book, on food resilience. I’ve been working on this book for some years, piecing the content together from field trips, networking events and out-takes from the Resilience Handbook. Cultivating my own resilience garden supplied me with the vegetables’ point of view!

I’ve been living on experiments for months, as I calculate exact quantities for recipes I’ve used for decades without measuring. Food resilience combines rotating your emergency stores with whatever you can forage – your own produce, special deals, community orchard fruit. This has kept me so busy that I just don’t use the supermarket any more, except to replenish heavy items in my stores.

home made marmalade jars
You can’t make just a little marmalade!

I find I become quite obsessive at this stage of writing. Once I get past 40,000 words, I encounter continuity issues, even with non-fiction. Did I write on that subject in a previous chapter? Or did I just pencil in some notes? Finally weaving all the threads of a book into a single narrative requires intense concentration on my part.

turkish style rug on a frame loom
The knotted rug pictured in ‘Diary, September 2014’ finally completed this winter

As I rewrote the ‘Table of Contents’ ready to create a master document, and reach my personal milestone – the first word count of a full manuscript – I had that indefinable feeling that it was finished. There’s still a lot of work to do – chapters to revise, recipes to refine – but the book suddenly felt whole. I can take the scaffolding away; it’ll stand up on its own!

After over a month of relentless concentration, I can relax back into my normal writing regime. The book still requires work, but not to the exclusion of all else. Spring is coming, the new Resilience Allotment is prepared for planting, new adventures await!

The Resilience Allotment
The Resilience Allotment

 

Apologies to my followers for the long hiatus! I do appreciate you, and the whole blogging community. I learn marvellous things from these windows you open into other places and lifestyles – I hope I’m giving you food for thought.

The links on this site are selected to provide stepping stones to further knowledge. Inform yourselves through many sources, and fake news will stand out like the wrong piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

February Diary 2017

It’s been a busy year so far! The astrologers say there may be a short respite in early autumn, but otherwise things promise to be relentlessly hectic.

I’ve set aside the time from January to April to finish my book about food resilience. It’s based around the seasons; it became quite disorientating, writing about the warmth of May when it was January outside.

I took a break, wrote an essay for the Nine Dots Prize then went up North on a brief networking mission. I stayed at the splendid Hebden Bridge hostel – used as a refugee centre during the 2015 floods – and spent a day in nearby Todmorden.

The Incredible Aquagarden was running a course that day, which was lucky. I caught the morning session, on soil science. It was interesting to compare the teaching styles with those of our local Feed Avalon organisation.

The Incredible Aquagarden from the outside
The Incredible Aquagarden from the outside

I met up with Estelle Brown from Incredible Edible Todmorden at lunchtime for a quick tour of their edible landmarks. The medicinal herb beds beside the canal had survived inundation, though nearby buildings had suffered badly. Pollinators’ Avenue, originally a temporary installation, was still going. The locals were fending off a planned retail centre on the site, having a perfectly good market next door.

A new mural in Todmorden
A new mural in Todmorden
the iconic police station vegetable beds, Todmorden
the iconic police station vegetable beds, Todmorden
People hang old teapots in trees to encourage robins to nest; the boat on the canal is just strange
People hang old teapots in trees to encourage robins to nest; the boat on the canal is just strange
Pollinators' Avenue
Pollinators’ Avenue

Although it was chilly and getting dark, I trekked back through the amazing park to the Aquagarden for the last part of their course. This dealt with aquaponics itself; I was able to thoroughly explore the process by viewing their demonstration equipment, complete with pet fish. This aquagarden is evolving into an educational centre, unlike the one at Mark, in Somerset, which is a commercial operation.

The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden
The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden
Spring courses at the Incredible Aquagarden
Spring courses at the Incredible Aquagarden

At the end, I was presented with a set of hydroponic pots to take home – and, fortunately, a lift to the railway station. You’ve no idea what a novelty local trains are to someone from Mid-Somerset!

There was some time the next day to visit Hebden Bridge before we left. The Bookcase is open again – you can buy the Resilience Handbook there now! The comic book store is back too, though there is still a scattering of boarded windows in the main street. The water level overtopped defences based on previous floods by several feet.

At the old mill, the Archimedes screw survived, though it was a near thing. Everyone had flood stories, but the millkeeper’s tale highlighted an unforeseen hazard. Tree branches caught on a bridge just upstream, creating a dam which suddenly burst, hurling a tidal wave at their mill house. Only the window glass held back this surge; fortunately it wasn’t broken by the debris. Riverside properties in similar situations could consider adding metal grids to their flood protection strategies.

Archimedes screw
The Archimedes screw generates all the electricity for the mill building. You can see some heat exchange pipes in the water at the right of this picture, which provide some of the heating. 75% of the energy harvested at the mill is resold to the Grid.

Back to Somerset, night driving in the rain through relentless traffic. It was worse than my last visit; yet more housing was planned in the area. Is there some kind of crazy motorway Jenga going on – a game to see how much traffic you can pile into a system before it collapses?

And so back to the writing desk…an icy rain sweeps the garden as I imagine the chore of watering plants in hot summer sunshine, whilst browsing on fresh raspberries…

Worried about  global uncertainty?  Buy yourself a Resilience Handbook and start learning the power of community resilience!  We need informed debates centred  around practical, ground level solutions.

October Diary 2016

It’s about time for another diary post, since it’s been a busy week here in Somerset.

Thursday was the Community Food Forum, an annual event organised by Feed Avalon. Around forty people gathered this year – its third – to network and exchange ideas. It was great to see projects like Plotgate, a community supported agriculture venture near Barton St David, developing from their initial fund raising to a successful business!

There seems to be a steady increase of interest in growing food, with new sectors engaging every year. This time there were people who work with mental health, where its therapeutic benefits are being recognised.

Saturday saw the Glastonbury Town Council hold a public consultation on possible uses for a splendid old building they have just acquired for the community. It would be ideal for a practical crafts centre; I’d like to see that combined with an ‘eco-college’ like Dartington Hall in Devon. We could explore local materials for textiles and ceramics – Somerset having a lot of wool and clay.

edible flower baskets in Glastonbury
edible flower baskets in Glastonbury

In the evening, I went to the energy evening hosted by Green Wedmore. The purpose of the presentation and following debate was to explore future energy options for the local area. The range of these on the table was impressive. Not only solar, wind and hydropower, but also biomass from the surrounding RSPB nature reserves and anaerobic digestion using farm waste.

Vince Cable, former business secretary, gave the introduction and Pete Capener from Bath and West Community Energy provided an inspiring talk on how the renewables industry is adapting to a hostile government. I chatted to a long-serving member of the parish council, who’d recently had an impressive 16Kw array installed on the roofs of her farm buildings – using panels built in Wrexham. We snacked on excellent smoked trout vol au vents from the nearby aqua farm. The people of Wedmore intend to take quality with them into their sustainable future!

Someone had brought a particularly backward article just published in the Times. After spending much of the last forty years off grid, I view people who harp on about ‘the lights going out’ with the same astonishment as I’d view a flat-earther. Lights are easy. Washing machines, even freezers, are well within the scope of a modern personal renewables system without mains backup.

Tumble driers now, you could have a point.  It’s not such a rousing battle cry though – ‘without nuclear power, you might have to actually hang your clothes out to dry!’

Meanwhile, the smart consumer is considering the benefits of making their own electricity…..

solar power regulator

The best way to start this process is by looking at the devices you use already, and finding out how much electricity they use.  In the Energy chapter of the Resilience Handbook, task eight asks ‘can you calculate how much of your home could run on a supply of 2 kilowatts?’  This level of supply is not only possible with a personal solar array, but designed to use a small ‘suitcase’ generator as emergency backup. ( More power requires a larger, noisier generator.)

Once you know the answer to this question, you’ve got a much better idea what local energy can do for you – it’s more resilient than a centralised power supply!

For more information about food and energy resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

Wells Food Festival

It was a glorious autumn day, dry and sunny. The rows and swirls of colourful stalls filled the grassy spaces around the ancient stone walls of the Bishop’s Palace, spilled over into the antique Recreation Ground next door, surrounded its bandstand and carried on down the lane, where our Food For Thought marquee was.

The venue looked splendid, thanks to the lovely Laura and the Wells food group team. It was decorated with vintage bunting, lit by electric chandeliers! After an early set-up, there was a little time to wander among the booths outside admiring the huge variety of local produce on sale.

My advice – go there hungry, and with plenty of spare cash! I couldn’t resist the Gilbert and Swayne chocolates, each one a tiny work of art. Some huge chunks of fudge for another birthday present – I sampled the Marmite flavour, which was not at all awful. Then it was time for the show to begin and the 15,000 visitors to start exploring.

We were so busy that I didn’t manage to photograph the enormously entertaining Human Fruit Machine, nor even get to the cordon bleu cookery on a budget demonstrations at the far end of our tent. I spent the whole day chatting about food resilience to a stream of fascinating people. I learned that people in London still don’t have much to do with their neighbours, that mountain sheep in Snowdonia have their own culture passed down over generations. We discussed Tyre Gardening with pictures and I gave away all my ‘fourteen day stores’ recipes/ingredients leaflets.

It was a great day out, an excellent start to the Wells Festivals season!

Thanks to Sean and Elliot, the visiting chefs from the Ale and Oyster, Ventnor for the leftover pasta dough from the workshops – I managed to cook real pasta for the first time back at home!

Knowing that you have fourteen days’ supply of food gives you confidence in a situation where supplies are interrupted, or you can’t use the roads. You may not be flooded yourself, but the way to the shops could become difficult. Give the emergency services space and stay in, living well from your stores!

They’re also useful for unexpected dinner guests – and for those who suddenly announce they are vegan!

Recipe list and ingredients for 14 day food store  – download the leaflet 

For more information about emergency planning and food resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

morsecodeletters

Storing Food

Storing food is an ancient human habit, taking advantage of a surplus to get your tribe through leaner times. The range of storage methods available to us today are considerable, yet fewer people than ever take advantage of them. The most popular strategy seems to be stocking up on frozen ready meals, then zapping them in the microwave. No actual cooking involved.

Is this resilient? Of course not.

In an emergency, the mains electricity may fail. After a few days, your freezer stores will be turning into a waste disposal problem. There could be extreme weather outside which forces you to stay at home. You need a back up.

Tinned and dried foods keep well, even in challenging places such as your loft or shed. Only store what you’re prepared to eat. These stores will need to be rotated as they go out of date. Your survival recipes should be planned to incorporate any other food which might turn up – garden produce, a delivery of rations, a community food share.


a box of emergency food supplies

This 32 litre stack box fits under an average bed and contains enough supplies to last a fortnight. Porridge for breakfast, pan bread if you’ve no oven, a selection of stews and curries. I haven’t calculated the calorie intake, or added up grams of carbohydrates, just worked out a sensible meal plan covering all the food types.

There’s a more scientific estimate here. “4.9 kilograms of cereal-based products like rice, bread and noodles per person per fortnight…… 5.6kg of veggies, 3.7kg each of milk products and fruit and nuts, and 2.1kg of fish and meat.” It seems like a lot. Might not fit under the bed, and remember you have to find space for all the water as well.

A fortnight’s worth of emergency supplies can be a valuable asset to a household. Using a selection of your normal foods, as pictured, you have a back up when you run out of tomato ketchup, milk, beans, coffee. You can restock as these foods come on offer!

These stores are tailored to my preferences; what would you keep? Remember that, in an emergency, you may not have mains services. Stick to recipes which can be achieved on a camping stove (have you got one?), or even an open fire. Learn about Dutch ovens, understand the principles of cooking and how you can use ingredients inventively.

For more information about emergency planning and community resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

This exhibition of food stores will be on display in the ‘Food for Thought’ venue at Wells Food Festival Sunday 9th October,  10 am – 4.30 pm, where I’ll be chatting about resilience and signing Handbooks!

Why was ‘Brexit’ such a surprise?

Could it be possible that a significant number of voters lied to opinion polls all along? If you admitted to voting Leave, you could expect your friends to turn on you and call you a stupid racist – an expectation justified by present events. Why risk it when the result might go their way in any case? It’s a secret ballot. Lying to pollsters was a win-win situation.

The finance markets, going with these potentially distorted polls, speculated on a Remain result, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath them during the night. For an entertaining analysis of this, watch the Max Keiser show, episode 932. Complacent in the projected result, no-one made a plan to cover the details of leaving.

No-one? Of course there are plans. The Treasury has a plan, the civil service have plans, the EU has a plan. Things that work will continue, until the politicians regroup and interfere.

Which politicians? The opposition parties are in total disarray. Refusal to abandon an open borders policy has cost them the rest of their agenda. Green Party rallying posts on Facebook are deluged with comments from their supporters denouncing their refusal to accept that Britain is overcrowded. It’s a serious situation. Exceeding the carrying capacity of your environment always ends badly for the species concerned. If anyone should be leading on this difficult issue it should be the Greens.

Instead they are talking about an alliance with the Liberal Democrats. Really? I remember the wave of adulation which swept this party into government. In the enthusiasm, one small voice stood out for me. An elder statesman wondered if they had the experience to lead, being so long in opposition.

Turns out they didn’t. Aware of the Lib Dem’s huge youth following, the Conservatives’ opening shot was raising university tuition fees. Expecting Nick Clegg to respond ‘not on your nelly, what else have you got?’ they must have fallen over backwards with surprise when he caved in.

A similar thing has just happened with the Scottish National Party. Instead of dashing off to Europe on the outrage bus, they could have murmured ‘regrettable’ and ‘considering our options’ while having secured a deal for an independent Scotland behind the scenes some time ago.  After all, the vote may represent a fear of change rather than a desire for EU membership.

Labour turns on their popular leader and shreds him, expecting this to…do what? Complete the disarray of the opposition and leave the Conservatives to set the agenda? Lose any remaining trust from their voters?

There’s change coming. It was already on its way. Look on this referendum as a defining moment if you like, but it was part of a process sweeping across the globe. A country alone can try out strategies too risky for a complex federation to embrace. You’re going to have to pay attention.

I have a plan. It’s not a quick fix but it’ll work. Get the Resilience Handbook and find out. Meanwhile, buy British. Your continuing prosperity depends on it.

June Diary 2016

I expected June to be a quieter month than it usually is for me, as I’m not going to the Glastonbury Festival for the first time in many years. There’s no going against the rhythm of the seasons though, and events conspired to make this month every bit as hectic as before!

I’ve been working hard on my next book, about food and resilience…this involves a lot of experimental cooking and field studies. We finally got an allotment garden for our project; it’s quite overgrown. Although late in the season, we’ve managed to plant out the last of our seedlings, and there are quite a few food plants there already which only need the undergrowth cleared away.

Linda hoeing our new growing space
Linda hoeing our new growing space

It was the Green Scythe Fair on 12th June, which is an annual fixture for me. Strolling among the colourful stalls is like visting a future where everything has worked out fine. People gather around to admire the latest electric car on display, discuss the merits of the various tools offered for sale, consider hand made clothes or choose a pair of angora rabbits to breed for wool. The faint tap of peening scythes underscores the murmer of conversation. A woman plays her fiddle while children dance; other youngsters make nests from the cut grass.

A tremendous selection of local delicacies are to be sampled here, from crystallised flowers to venison steaks.

sea buckthorn juice stall
A stall selling juice made from sea buckthorn

You can get anything you can think of to do with honey, including a hive of bees. All the brand names, the shiny labels, are absent though. The cafe heats its water by wood-fired rocket stoves; the electrical power is from storage batteries recharged by renewables, including the lights and entertainment at night.

In the Craft area, one can see blacksmiths, stone masons and thatchers at work. There’s a stall selling hemp twine, another with leather pouches. A man haggles for an enamel basin, a woman picks a new copper kettle. The plough horses watch curiously as you pass by; yesterday they were demonstrating techniques for a land workers’ training session.

The centre piece of the event is the scything. A grand marquee is set up like a scything supermarket, with blades, whetstones, files, all the odds and ends of the craft. You are ‘fitted’ for the right size of handle, consulted about the appropriate blade and shown how to attach it. The complete novice is given a introductory pamphlet, but it’s wise to enrol on one of the day courses. Like any skill, it’s best learned alongside a master.

On the day of the Fair, however, all these craftspeople were out on the long grass in the centre, where the competitions were taking place. There were trophies to be won, reputations to be made! A sudden downpour had flattened much of the grass – how would this affect the form? The skilled scythers – men and women in separate heats – would cut their allotted square down to the length of a well trimmed lawn in only a few minutes. Assistants raked up the fallen grass while the judges inspected the quality of the job and considered points.

After the business of the day was done and the cups awarded, the music and carousing began in earnest. The stalls closed up and stole away; the families left. Only the crafters and campers were left to wind the evening up in traditional style and wobble gently home across the dark, empty fields.

Shop Local for Xmas

It’s beginning to seep into national awareness that independent, locally based businesses might serve their communities better than identikit chain stores with obscure agendas.

With the destructive competition these small enterprises face from multinationals, the few that still populate the High Street need your support. It’s estimated that around £40 billion will be spent on Xmas in the UK this year; over £750 per household.

Spent locally, remaining in your area instead of instantly vanishing into a remote Head Office, this money could bring about a serious increase in prosperity.

Take a long tea break to think about this, and plan your holiday spending. Shopping in the scattered local outlets will take longer than a trolley dash. Spread it over a few weeks. Be organised so you don’t buy something twice in the last minute rush.

Set a budget for presents. See what you can find at craft fairs. Socks, especially good hand made ones, are underrated. Bath products are often welcome.  Of course you’ll be able to buy more industrially produced items for the same money. Quality is the point here. It’s a gift; it’s the thought that counts not the weight.

Traditional crafts are struggling to stay alive, despite their key role in a resilient society. The few people who persevere have to price their goods at the luxury end of the market to compete with factories. They need your custom more than the supermarkets do, and give far more back. Choose your loyalties.

Half of the total Xmas spend is on gifts. In Somerset alone, this comes to over £80 million, the same as a quarter of the annual County budget.  Another third is spent on food and drink.

Write a shopping list. There’s plenty of food you could buy well in advance. Farm shops often sell chutneys, jams and pickles. Xmas cakes keep for weeks and are often on sale at markets. Consider making your own mince pies.

The best way to buy your Xmas dinner is to order fresh locally reared organic meat from the independent butcher. If you’ve never done this before, consider there may be a bit of a queue on collection day. Bring an umbrella, a newspaper, be prepared to chat to people, live a little slower.

Spend your Xmas surrounded by food, drink and gifts which that have meaning, not just labels. Start planning now!

local craft shop
Buy craft materials for friends at shops like Glastonbury’s Over the Moon
Stevens butchers on Glastonbury High Street
and while you’re in the High Street, check out the more exotic preserves at Steven’s Butchers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Rocket

Rocket leaves are good in salads. Once you are used to the slightly peppery taste, you may find ordinary lettuce too bland.

It’s this taste which makes it resistant to slug attack. Rocket is easy to grow, and can be sown any time of year for a crop of fresh leaves. These contain the essential vitamin C not found in preserved foods.

If sown in autumn, the plant will overwinter as a small form, about 20cm (8 inches) high, with many leaves. These are densely packed, providing good ground cover so that little weeding is required.

You can use this as cut and come again for winter salads. Even if covered by snow, the plant can quickly regroup to produce more leaves. If it is protected from frost, you can browse on it all winter.

When spring arrives, though, it will grow quickly, with long tough stems. Flowers, as shown in the picture, appear. The energy of the plant will be directed to seeding, so the leaves will gradually become tatty from the attacks of small pests. All parts of the plant remain edible, though, and the flowers make a pretty decoration for summer salads.

The leaves become more fiddly to collect, so once the wild garlic is out and if you can use the space for more seasonal vegetables, dig up most of the rocket at this point. Leave the best looking plants to carry on flowering. They’ll produce seed, which you can harvest when the seed pods are dry. You can use this seed to sow your next crop of rocket.

It is a prolific self seeder as well, so learn to distinguish these seedlings from inedible weeds. If you allowed any rocket to go to seed this spring, the seedlings will be coming up right now. Sowing on a different patch with saved seed can be left until September.

flowering rocket plants

This article was written to accompany packets of rocket seeds donated to the Fair Frome Food Bank in Somerset.  For more information about this project, please visit here