Category: Local Food


A guest post from Kathy Berry

Note from Old School Gardener: I read this wonderful piece on Facebook recently and Kathy kindly allowed me to re-post it here- I hope that you find it as inspiring and joyful as I did…

An ordinary beetroot. I pulled it and weighed it’s comfortable heft in my hand. This year I grew veg for the first time in 7 or 8 years. My large garden had gone, my health had gone, my budget had gone. My ideas completely exceeded my physical capabilities.I gave myself permission to do it badly.

I did not have a perfect plan, or a well prepared plot. I had an existing ‘flowerbed’ which last year had been rammed with annual weeds. I sowed a few seeds in miscellaneous margarine containers and plastic trays. Cress, lettuce, tomato. Things I’d grown before with ease.

Their fresh green leaves brought joy and excitement to the peculiar early days of lockdown. I brushed my hand over them on the windowsill whilst the world lay eerily quiet outside. One day, I lay in my bed reading, and every time I looked up, the leaves on the windowsill were bigger. That was actually unnerving. I’d never seen a plant grow in stop motion before my eyes.

I exchanged seeds and seedlings with friends and strangers. Small envelopes or boxes left on doorsteps. My collection grew. I watered, rotated, stroked and yes, talked to my seedlings. Although some of it strayed into weirdly sinister…”I’m going to eat you” I whispered one day, before lowering my head and biting through the stems.

As the weather warmed, I hardened off my seedlings like an overprotective parent…a few hours outside if it was not too hot, or too cold, or too windy. Soon I was transplanting. A block of spinach here, rocket there. A chalked sign to remind.

A patch I’d planted but couldn’t identify. I carefully weeded around direct sown seeds, only to realise weeks later the sowing had utterly failed and I’d been lovingly tending a patch of docks.

I recognised the self sown poppies at least. I left many of them around the edges and under leggy shrubs. No need (or space) for regimented rows in my crammed-in veg garden.

Potatoes were offered by friends and duly planted. Tomatoes grew, some spindly, some sturdy. I hardened my heart and culled the runts, and laughed at my friends with greenhouses as they raised 30, 40, 50 plants.

Impromptu roadside stalls began springing up. One neighbour arrived on my doorstep with a couple of courgette and a couple of cucumber plants. “I saw you were growing, would you like these? Yes please!”. My other neighbour had passed a driveway stall “Free tomato plants”, and their toddler returned home with their tomato, in triumph.

Long empty days found me making macrame holders for my now cramped tomato plants to maximise the windowsill light. It was warm out now, but would it last? I had no greenhouse: only the toughest would survive. Checking the weather forecast became a daily habit. I did what I could, when I could.

My ‘gardening’ rarely exceeded ten minutes a day, and yet things grew, were transplanted, grew some more.

I exchanged photos and messages with friends. “What seedling is this? I forgot to label them!” Back and forth, back and forth. Gradually, imperceptibly, I developed a little kitchen garden. I harvested raggedy rocket and spinach leaves to add to a sandwich, and glowed with satisfaction.

Plants died, were culled, were eaten (not always by me). I harvested garlic and onions from sets pressed into the soil last autumn. Disproportionate reward, for an Amazon purchase and a few minutes of pressing my fingers into the ground. My completely indoorsy, computer orientated son was nudged to come out for just a few minutes for some light and air.

He found he liked hoeing, and we would sit companionably working alongside each other for ten or fifteen minutes. “This is homegrown!” became a familiar mealtime refrain.

I savoured the casual thrill of walking into the garden and selecting the biggest onion or freshest leaves to add to my meal. A mini greenhouse was researched, bought and built. My son and I worked a relay, putting a few poles together, resting to catch our breath whilst the other took over.

Tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes went out. Of course it grew cold again. I laughed and shrugged. They’ll make it or they won’t. One left over tomato was planted outside, to take it’s chance (it grew to a mighty sprawling triffid, heavily laden with large tomatoes… although they appeared late and struggled to ripen (but that is a whole other story)).

Potatoes harvested- nice taste, disappointing yield for one, great yield but waxy, disintegrating flesh the other. Succession plantings to fill gaps opening in beds. These seedlings were neglected rather more…now my attention was divided. Although I did carry them back and forth, night and morning, between my and my son’s room, to catch the most light.

One mini cucumber! A triumph! And delicious. Courgettes failed utterly. Flowers fell, promising looking swellings suddenly arrested. Nevermind. Raspberries now. So many raspberries.

I start to count how many things I have ended up growing, in my “just do it badly” garden: Rocket, lettuce, chives, onion, garlic, sage, broccoli, kohl rabi, spinach, potato, raspberries, tomatoes, cucumber. Swede, cress, mustard. Beetroot.

A friend gave me a few stray beetroot seedlings in a yoghurt pot. I teased them gently apart and transplanted them in a short row at the back of a bed. And then did nothing, and neither did they, for many weeks. But one day, suddenly, as if they had found their feet (roots?) they began to grow. And only short weeks later I harvested my first beetroot in over twenty years. I boiled it. It was delicious.

I’ve waited another four weeks or so for this one to swell. Today felt like a day I could spare the energy to boil a beetroot. And here it is. Just an ordinary beetroot, but like every plant in my garden this year, I know it’s story; it’s origins, it’s setbacks and failures.

Holding it now, I try to put into words what I’m feeling. It’s quieter than joy. Contentment? Satisfaction? Connection. This beetroot exists because I planted it there. I smile at my beetroot, and go to write an essay of celebration.

Kathy and her son, Hugh

c2w1drbwgaasqt_-jpg-largeMore progress to report at the food growing project at the local high school in Reepham.

Teacher Matt Willer and his colleagues have started to broaden out the participation of students at the project, most recently extending this to a group focused on ‘Care of the Countryside’, who also carry out regular sessions at a local Field Study Centre. by all accounts this was a great success, with the students putting in a full shift to improve the recently dug soakaway.

Another recent project has been to create a brick path using recycled bricks. It’s planned to fill in the gaps with some fine wood  chippings.

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Matt is also interested in the possibility of offering qualifications in association with a local college – and maybe also seeing the wider, unused site developed for more ‘full blown’ agriculture…all very relevant for this School set in the heart of rural Norfolk.

Oh, and a recent plea for surplus gardening equipment has resulted in a good number of additions to the project’s tool shed; I donated a wheelbarrow and selection of border and hand tools, which will also also give me a bit more space in my shed! Here’s just a few of the donations so far…

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Old School Gardener

 

wp_20161126_11_43_39_proI mentioned that I’d attended the 10th anniversary celebration of Norfolk Master Composters last week at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Norwich.  Apart from the tour of the Cathedral roof and tower we were treated to a tour of the Cathedral Garden by head gardener Zanna.

Zanna, formerly a horticultural lecturer at nearby Easton College, is a volunteer and works with a group of others to develop and maintain this quiet space ‘wrapped in the arms’ of the cathedral. Over the last few years she’s led the design and development of a series of spaces where people can relax, contemplate the world and get stuck into food growing alongside ornamental gardening. Inspired by the former Priest here, who wanted the garden to be free of any religious iconography, Zanna has stayed true to that vision and despite pressure, has managed with her fellow volunteers,  to create a special, ‘neutral’ place.

I especially liked the recently completed retaining  wall on top of which sits a wonderful lead urn that has been turned into a water feature. This was created around the same time as the cathedral (i.e. towards the end of the 19th century) and features Ibex and Mouflon heads in relief as well as fruit and flowers. This is lit from underneath and because of its elevated position is a real eye catcher. Nearby a stone seat has been created as a ‘wedding seat’ for those all important photo opportunities.

Another nice features are a wire net figure set under an ancient Cherry Tree (she’s called ‘Nettie’!) with surrounding planting and stumps that help to soften the bare walls of the cathedral Narthex. And there’s wildlife area where children in particular can learn about different plants, birds and insects.

And tucked away and a tribute to Zanna’s recycling and upcycling skills, is a food production area featuring low raised beds, composting area and fruit garden. And an interesting feature is the large underground reservoir that provides the garden’s water … this created from former underground cells in Norwich Gaol, which stood here before the cathedral was built.

This is a special place for the volunteers who work here and it provides a calm space in which to get in touch with self and nature…a true place of spirit one might say!

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nfNorwich FarmShare is a community supported agriculture scheme providing delicious seasonal, organic vegetables to their members at a weekly Hub in Norwich. Their vision is for a fair and sustainable food system that roots a healthy resilient community in the land and to each other.

A not-for-profit cooperative it works with small-scale, agro-ecological farmers and growers in Norfolk, modelling sustainable urban food supply. In October 2015, Norwich FarmShare received notice to quit their growing site to the east of Norwich, the land had been leased for five years from a local farm.

The Trustees decided to commission a feasibility study to consider other potential growing sites in Norfolk and the potential for restarting the scheme at a new site. A grant was received from The Big Lottery’s Awards For All programme to appoint an assessment team and external consultants, and fund relevant research and local consultation. The study commenced in June 2016 and is nearing completion.

captureThe Group now want to further consult on the feasibility study and are holding a community gathering on Sunday 11th December, between 3pm and 6pm at the Friends Meeting House, Upper Goat Lane, Norwich.

Further information: Norwich Farm Share

Old School Gardener

dsc_1100551You may recall that I’ve become involved with a food growing project at the local high school in Reepham. ‘The Allotment Project’ is the brainchild of teacher Matt Willer who has put energy and ideas into action on a not very promising (very wet) plot at the back end of the School playing field.

Matt and his colleagues have got an enthusiastic group of students working regularly during lunch breaks, including most recently a group working towards their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Matt kindly sent me an update which is very encouraging.

You might recall that I suggested that they might like to sow a ‘green manure’ to give cover and eventually added nutrition, toa large raised bed and Matt says the mustard plants are growing really well (see below).

dsc_1101Also, as you will see by the photographs, the Sixth Formers have done a great job at preparing the largest raised bed by using old bricks (donated by a parent who is a builder).

Matt is also now thinking of following Sepp Holzer’s very interesting idea of a raised bed, usually referred to as ‘Hugelkultur’ (see below). I have never seen this in practice and it would be great to experiment with this permaculture-inspired approach to ‘no dig’ food growing.

Another teacher at the School, Mr.Crick, and his construction group, have also joined in the project and built a compound around the well to make it a bit safer, more attractive and organised. You may recall in my earlier post on this project how Matt and the students have dug this well into which the playing field run off descends, and from here he plans to pump it into a large storage container from where it can be drawn off for irrigation.

I also hear that the broad beans I helped the children to sow are on the way up!

Old School Gardener

 

food sharing cupboard holland free

A great idea for dealing with food gluts- a free food sharing cupboard! This Dutch example reminds me of the growth in mini, free libraries in redundant phone boxes around the UK, and in some ways, sadly, Food Banks. Maybe this is another use for an old Telphone box in your area, or perhaps you can put up a ‘cupboard’? I could certainly have stocked one with cucumbers and courgettes this summer!

Old School Gardener

One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

ID-100136355In the wake of the 2008 food price crisis, which exacerbated food insecurity and increased smallholder farmers’ vulnerability to shocks and stresses, recognition of the barriers smallholders face in becoming more productive and developing their farms as commercial businesses has been growing. In 2010, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation implemented the Multidisciplinary Fund (MDF) project to help develop policies supportive of smallholder commercialisation in Africa, in particular identifying the heterogeneity amongst smallholders in terms of their attitudes to commercialisation.

A new report, Understanding smallholder farmer attitudes to commercialisation – the case of maize in Kenya, by the FAO, focuses on maize producers and rural youth in Kenya by investigating “attitudes, strategies and opportunities related to maize commercialisation” in Meru and Bungoma regions in the country. The report is based on key informant interview, focus group, farmer survey and stakeholder workshop data.

At present farm management is not undertaken…

View original post 500 more words

One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

ID-100203114As the threat of climate change, natural resource scarcity and declines in the provision of the majority of ecosystem services continue, agroecology is increasingly being explored as an option for addressing the stress conventional farming systems put on the environment. To date, however, agroecology is still a niche farming method, relatively underutilised in agricultural development, policy and research despite growing evidence of its benefits for both productivity and sustainability. A new paper by Laura Silici at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) explores what agroecology is, why it is not yet being scaled-up to any significant degree and recommends future action for integrating this social and ecological movement into modern farming systems.

Agroecology is defined as “an ecological approach to agriculture that views agricultural areas as ecosystems and is concerned with the ecological impact of agricultural practices”. The paper explains that it consist of three facets:

1)      The…

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I recently attended a lecture by Sir Gordon Conway, the gist of which I hope to reflect on and share soon- its all about ‘sustainable intensification’ of food growing as the way forward to tackle global hunger…fascinating projects and innovations from around the world point the way. Here’s an article that captures the approach.

One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

ID-10088298Professor Sir Gordon Conway and Katy Wilson highlight the need for innovative solutions to food insecurity

Article originally appeared on The Economist Insights

With global population expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 the world faces unprecedented demands on its resources – not least water, biodiversity and land. Add to this the likely impact of climate change, and the challenge of feeding a world where some 870 million people are already chronically hungry appears a difficult one.

Governments, NGOs, academia and the private sector are searching for long-term sustainable solutions to global food insecurity and future resource scarcity.  One solution, first proposed by Jules Pretty in the 1990s, and backed by the Montpellier Panel, a high-level group of European and African experts in the fields of agriculture, trade, policy, and global development, is sustainable intensification. At its heart sustainable intensification is about producing more food, more efficiently.

Achieving global…

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Community Food Growing in a Garden City – New project

‘Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation and the RHS are joining forces in an innovative community-focused programme to create three new sustainable green spaces in the heart of the town.

It is hoped that the project will ultimately be used as a model for how communities, especially those in low-income areas, can best utilise their public green space for food production and to create affordable and attractive areas, which are a benefit to local wildlife as well as the community…..’

Click on link above for more info.

Old School Gardener

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