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1st June 2015

Why is asparagus so expensive?..... It’s not uncommon to hear “That’s too expensive” applied to asparagus.  Sadly sometimes this comment is delivered in a disparaging way.  We don’t disagree that this veg is more of a luxury item, but we also think it is a delicacy that we would prefer to be more affordable to all – which is why we drop our margin and sell the produce to clients at a discount.

But what makes it expensive?  Growing asparagus is a challenge to any grower including farmers, not just to produce the stalks but to harvest them during the small window when they are ready and to ensure that they reach the customer sufficiently quickly.  To understand these challenges we have to understand more about asparagus.

Asparagus spears are the day-old shoots of a perennial in the lily family.  This plant grows fairly easily as long as it is well fed and weed-free. Weeding should be by hand rather than with a hoe, as the shallow roots of the asparagus plants are easily damaged.  So our first issue is that this crop is labour intensive and demanding – weeding needs to be continuous!

In spring, the persistent root mass unlocks its stores of last summer’s sugars and fuels the growth of shoots above ground. The shoots normally grow into stalks several feet high, thickening to withstand the elements and unfurl feathery branches to photosynthesize and bear small flowers and fruits.  Once through the surface of the soil the stalk can grow up 6 to 10 inches in a day. And that is our second issue.  The spears that are harvested are often a single day’s growth and harvesting is generally by hand as no machine can deal with the differing stalk lengths and cut the stalk gently in the right place. So timely resource is needed.

UK asparagus is mostly green but just as much white asparagus is grown globally including in Belgium where I recall eating white asparagus in my starter, main dish and dessert at a superb restaurant during the short asparagus season!  To produce white asparagus the spears are protected by soil or row covers from sunlight thus preventing chlorophyll production. It is somewhat bitter, sweeter and more delicately flavoured and generally more expensive.

Green asparagus spears which are cut hours after they’ve hit daylight and turned colour, are the liveliest of all vegetables as they actively turn the sugars absorbed from their roots into energy and new tissues.  And harvesting doesn’t stop this process as the asparagus spears keep growing at the tip even when they are cut off from their roots.  During this process the spears lose much of their sugars as they redirect these to toughen their wounded cut end with an increasingly fibrous sheath, which lies just under the green skin and quickly becomes too stringy to chew.  This process can be avoided if the asparagus is put into a chiller immediately after cutting.  But wait a few hours and the spears toughen significantly.  So this is issue number three – the grower must have a chiller (and not all small growers do) and the retailer must keep the product chilled until sold.

Finally our fourth issue is that the land used for growing asparagus cannot be used for other planting.  Instead the field is mulched or covered by opaque weed mat from autumn to winter to prevent weeds growing.

Oh and the bit I didn’t mention was that the spears from the first two years after planting are not used. In the third year, spears should be available for six weeks increasing to eight weeks in subsequent years!

Perhaps expensive should be put into context.  This veggie certainly requires dedication!!!  And thankfully some of our growers do just that!

 

25th May 2015

A lifetime’s joy dispelled….. For many years…ok, many, many years as it’s since I was young… I have avidly flicked through the National Geographic magazine, being particularly captivated by the stunning photography of landscapes, animals and people alike.

Last week, to my disappointment, I read that the National Geographic Society, which publishes the National Geographic and is reputably one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational organisations in the world, receives a significant amount of its income from the drug and biotechnology industries.

You may have been aware of this and are thinking “which stone have you been living under?”, but I didn’t – and I was honestly devastated as the magazine plummeted from its pedestal.

The writers of the article I was reading noted that, having previously exposed the National Geographic as actively endorsing GMOs and vaccines, they reviewed the May edition to see who's funding the magazine these days. The result?  Nearly every ad was for pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, GMOs or crop chemicals.  A resumé follows:

·          Page 6: Advertisement for "K9 Advantix II," a flea, tick and mosquito drug for dogs that's manufactured by Bayer Healthcare LLC. This particular product, which contains dangerous pesticides like permethrin, was exposed by Scientific American in 2010 for causing serious side effects in dogs, including rashes, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures

·          Page 7+: A 10-page spread promoting GM crops manufactured by Cargill poses as an in-depth article about "The Future of Food" explaining how GMOs are needed to feed the world's growing population and, moreover, giving the impression that Cargill is improving people's lives by creating food-security and, perversely, helping to protect against rainforest deforestation

·          Following the Cargill promotion: A story on milk and how 68% of adults worldwide can't tolerate it due to "lactose intolerance." Although the story notes that “lactose intolerance” emerged at the same time the pasteurization process, there is no mention of how pasteurisation destroys the lactase enzyme necessary to digest milk lactose or how raw milk drinkers don't have this problem

·          A few pages later: A story promoting a new type of GM potato. Like the recently released GM apples that don't brown, the GM potatoes contain altered RNA that keeps them looking fresher, longer. As could be expected there is no mention of any potential dangers associated with the transgenic crop

We all know “who pays the piper…” but there is no other magazine, to my knowledge, that is so widely read that can provide a counter view.  How many others are fooled too?

 

18th May 2015

Why antioxidants are so important….. Many of us diligently ensure that we include produce that are high in antioxidants to our diets to augment our natural resources. Blueberries are widely recognised as a good source of antioxidants – anthocyanins to be more precise & vitamin C of course – which is quite topical as our Horsham blueberries are in flower and should be producing their fabulous fruit by the end of next month.

I have never questioned what “oxidants” antioxidants countered, but recently I came across the answer – and it was so illuminating that I thought I’d share it with you! 

When blood sugar is raised two reactions occur, known as reactive oxygen species and advanced glycation end products both of which are potentially toxic.  The former are mostly caused by the burning of glucose (blood sugar) for fuel in the cells, in a process that attaches electrons to oxygen atoms, thus transforming the oxygen from a relatively inert molecule into one that readily reacts chemically with other molecules – something that is less than ideal. Collectively these reactive oxygen species are known as oxidants – one form of which is known as free radicals.  Not unsurprisingly oxidants oxidise other molecules and over time the oxidised molecules deteriorate (think, rust which is a deterioration of iron caused by oxidisation).  And this is where antioxidants are so important as they neutralise reactive oxygen species, thus preventing this deterioration.

The second reaction, advanced glycation end products are formed over several years by a glycation process that begins simply with the attachment of a sugar, eg glucose, to a protein without the benefit of an enzyme to control the reaction. The role of enzymes in living organisms is to control chemical reactions to ensure they conform to particular structures.  In short when enzymes affix sugars to proteins, they do so at particular sites on the proteins, for very particular reasons.  Without an enzymes overseeing the process, the sugar sticks to the protein haphazardly and sets the stage for set more unintended and unregulated chemical reactions.

Glycation, which is this initial stage where a sugar molecule attached to a protein is reversible – if blood sugar levels are low enough, the sugar and protein will disengage, and no damage will be done.  But if blood sugar is elevated the process of forming an advanced glycation end product (AGE) may continue with AGEs binding easily with other AGEs and to more proteins as the sugars attached to one protein bind to another.  In this way proteins that should ideally have nothing to do with each other will be relentlessly joined. AGEs are strongly connected with many chronic diseases.

Eating fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants are a good idea as they are whole foods that contain balanced levels of several important vitamins and minerals. Good sources of antioxidants are red beans (dried), pinto beans, many berries including blueberries and cranberries, prunes, pecan nuts, red apples, plums and aubergines.

GG at Caterham Food Festival 7th June….Following a successful attendance at Caterham’s new Farmers Market at Soper’s Hall earlier this month, we have been asked to join all the Foodies at the fifth Caterham Food Festival in Croydon Road (where the road is closed to traffic).  You can follow this event on FB CaterhamFestival or on their website www.caterhamfestival.org. We’d love to see you there.

We’ll be at the Local Produce Market in Horsham every Thursday and Saturday, rain or shine, all day, as usual

 

4th May 2015

Iodine levels in organic milk… I was really surprised to hear last week the declaration that new research has concluded pregnant or breastfeeding women could be putting the health of their babies at risk by drinking organic milk.  It would appear that I wasn’t alone as many organisations include the NHS have been quick to respond with assurances for mums to be and new mums.

Iodine is important for the brain development of babies, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy when studies indicate that iodine deficiency can lead to children with a lower IQ.  The research has looked at the relative levels of iodine in conventional, organic and UHT milk bought from supermarkets in Reading (the study being undertaken by a team at the University of reading) and concluded that organic (and UHT) milk contains a third lower levels of iodine that conventional milk.

The NHS has responded with a press release noting that the researchers found the iodine content in a normal 346ml glass of organic milk was still enough to provide the recommended daily iodine intake. Further the NHS notes that the researchers did not actually look at the effects of milk consumption on any measure of child health, including intelligence. The study also did not consider the iodine content of other dairy products or non-dairy sources, such as eggs, fish and certain grains. As such, so the NHS goes on “This study does not provide any evidence to suggest drinking organic milk during pregnancy could have a negative impact on a child's IQ. But it is worth being aware that organic milk is likely to contain less iodine than standard milk, so you may need to balance your intake through other sources.”  Interestingly milk is not mentioned as a source of iodine on the NHS website, whereas other foods are.

So why should there be more iodine in conventional milk?  Iodine deficiency was once endemic in parts of the UK, with hundreds of thousands of people in the 1930s and 1940s suffering from goitre - an enlargement of the thyroid caused by a lack of iodine, which can lead to swollen glands and other health problems.  While some countries launched campaigns to add iodine to bread or salt, Britain solved its problem by accident with the enrichment of iodine in milk from supplements given to dairy cows.

As post-war consumption of conventionally-produced milk increased, iodine deficiency was all but wiped out by the 1990s.

On iodine levels the CEO of Dairy UK noted that it does not reflect changes in farming practices. Whilst organic cows historically did not receive iodine in feed, by the end of 2014 the industry resumed the practice of enriching feed with iodine and recent testing carried out in January 2015 on a representative number of milk samples found no significant difference in iodine levels between organic and conventional milk.

We could suggest that the media that declared organic milk could be harmful for your baby’s IQ was being alarmist and mis-quoting the researchers.  However Professor Ian Givens, who led the research, is quoted as saying: "People are increasingly buying organic and UHT milk for perceived health benefits or convenience. But our research shows that this trend could have serious implications for public health.” In my opinion, this is a grossly misrepresentative statement which draws illogical conclusions from a very narrow study which fails to consider other important variables. Or is it yet another instance of “Oversimplification has been the characteristic weakness of scientist of every generation” as written by Elmer McCollum in A History of Nutrition, 1957.

 

20th April 2015

Rhubarb, Rhubarb…..Did you know that our beloved rhubarb originated in Siberia; the first mention being around 2700 BC! The dried root of Chinese rhubarb was highly valued as a medicine and its purgative qualities and for the treatment of many intestinal ailments, liver and gut problems.

Whilst rhubarb may have been in Britain earlier, its presence is well recorded in the 14th century where it is was associated with purifying blood and “making young wenches look fair”!  But not many could afford it as the price of rhubarb root in Britain was even more than opium, whereas in France the price was 10 times that of cinnamon and four of saffron, which at the time was the most expensive spice.

Apothecaries and medics use rhubarb widely in their treatment of most ailments and the striving to successfully cultivate the high quality Chinese root closer to home was immense.  To do so would have set one up for life!!! Throughout the 17th and 18th century many British botanists, apothecaries, scientists and explorers tried to grow rhubarb, but failures prevailed. Until 1777 that is when Hayward, an apothecary in Banbury, Oxfordshire raised seed sent from Russia and produced roots of an outstanding quality. So successful was the cultivation it spread throughout neighbouring counties and into Yorkshire and still exists in Banbury today.

It should be noted that the stalk and leaves were of no value and certainly not for any culinary merit. One paragraph, however, in a somewhat lengthy text between Englishman Peter Collinson and John Bantram in, amongst other informations goes on to inform Collinson that the Siberian rhubarb along with Rhapontic (another type of rhubarb) make excellent tarts.
Hannah Glasse is attributed with what is believed to be one of the first recipe in print in 1760, 13 years after her other famous ‘first’ - the recipe for Yorkshire Pudding. Her recipe in the Compleat Confectioner is not dissimilar to that of Bantram and tells of taking the stalks of English rhubarb, cutting to the size of gooseberries, sweetening and making as you would a gooseberry tart.

GG hits the road….As many of you already know GG took a market stall at the Local Produce Market in Horsham during 2013. When we started there the main fruit & veg stall was conventional and we were the smaller “newby”. Ironically our prices were often lower than the conventional stall!  For 16 months now we have been the only fruit & veg stall at the market and have an 18 foot frontage, crammed full with our superb produce.  And we are pleased to say we have a fabulous following with customers coming from surrounding towns and villages.  You can see photos on our Facebook page. We’re there every Thursday and Saturday, rain or shine, all day.   On 9th May, Horsham hosts a Medieval Day with many different Morris dancer Teams.  It’s a fabulous, vibrant and noisy day and takes place in the Carfax where our market is located.

From 3rd May we’re at a new monthly Farmers’ Market at Soper Hall, Caterham which is an indoor market for now.  The market is held on the 1st Sunday of every month (excluding June when a food festival is booked).  It’s a morning market – 9.30am to 1.30am.

During the summer months we have a stall at several special events throughout our delivery area.  Hopefully we’ll see you at one of them!!

 

30th March 2015

‘The Roots of your Profits’…Our article this week draws from a lecture given by US soil microbiologist Elaine Ingham at a farming conference last month. It was viewed as controversial but we think it contains many tips for all you gardeners.  Good timing with the Easter holidays looming!

Soil is an infinitely complex underworld and inter-dependent web of micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and micro-arthropods and many more. Instead of nurturing the soil agriculture often destroys it. Every time the soil is disturbed, or artificial fertilisers and pesticides are applied, soil life is killed and soil structure compromised. Soil erosion, the leaching of water and nutrients, anaerobic conditions, pests and diseases all follow. The system gradually collapses and eventually the soil is degraded so much it becomes mere dirt.

Ms Ingham has trained farmers and growers to understand soil for the past 40 years. And she has achieved impressive results particularly within the commercial sector.  Her message is simple: Get your soil biology right – ensure the ‘good guys’ (aerobic micro-organisms) flourish and are in balance. Make and apply aerobic compost and compost teas correctly; it is these that contain the necessary microorganisms for soil health.

Perhaps surprisingly to many of us she has no time for:

         soil tests, noting who can say what a plant needs, except the plant itself?

         applying selected minerals or fertiliser; assays of plant tissues reveal that the nutrients present bear no relationship whatsoever to any soluble artificial nutrients applied. A plant requires all nutrients to a greater or lesser extent, and only it knows what it needs and when – the trick is having all those nutrients in a bio-available form in the soil at all times

         measuring soil acidity or alkalinity; crops grow successfully in ranges from 5.5–11 and soil pH varies so widely even along a root hair that an average value is meaningless

Quite simply, it’s the soil’s microbial life which is important. Plants use sunlight to make sugars which are sent to their roots where aerobic bacteria and fungi congregate to feed off the sugars. These ‘good guys’ have three important functions: they form a protective army to fight off the ‘bad guys’ (anaerobic micro-organisms responsible for disease); they contain the necessary enzymes and acids to break down and transform inorganic nutrients in soil particles into organic nutrients suitable for plants; and they play a critical role in the formation of soils’ structure, which is necessary for water retention, preventing the leaching of nutrients.

The types and ratios of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms determine what crops will flourish and influence the soil biology.  It follows that what grows where is a good indicator of your soil biology; and it provides clues to where the imbalances might be in the soil, which are preventing you from growing the best crops you can. Again, the simple, quick and easy way to fix this is to ‘inoculate’ the soil with the correct compost.

Happy Easter and Happy Gardening!

 

23rd March 2015

Organic sales: how it going?…Every year the Soil Association collates statistics about organic production and sales and generates a report for the preceding year.  The latest report issued a couple of weeks ago summarises trends for 2014 calendar year.

The report indicates that organic produce sales had dropped after the financial crisis and three years ago many orators were writing off the organic market in the UK.  During that same period organic sales (measured in £s) have grown steadily – this is against the total trend of a falling food market as prices are slashed in the supermarkets and discounters’ market share grows. For those of you who like to know the statistics organic food sales were up 4% during a period when food prices were down 1.9% and food spending was down 1.1%. Organic sales have returned to the same level as 2009.

Analysis of the research data would indicate that both economic factors and personal choices are behind this positive trend. With a generally improving economy over recent years more consumers are returning or switching to organic produce driven in a large part by greater health consciousness and following the horsemeat scandal are seeking guarantees about food quality, provenance and ethical sourcing.

Some interesting trends:

·            Over 83% of UK households purchased organic products in 2014

·            Dairy products and fresh fruit and vegetables featured as the most popular products purchased

·            Yoghurt sales increasing by 13.8% and milk by 2.9% in contrast to a reduction of 3% in sales of non-organic dairy

·            Sales of organic eggs and poultry were up 15.8% and 8.2%, while non-organic sales reduced by 6.2% and 3.3% respectively

·            Sales of organic red meat and sausages fell by 6.1%

Tesco and the Easter Egg faux pas…. Tesco is the target of health campaigners wrath after it launched a raffle of a hamper of chocolate Easter Eggs to raise money for its partnership with Diabetes UK. The supermarket has apologised on Twitter and removed the prize from the store involved.  Dr Aseem Malhotra, a leading adviser for Action on Sugar described the choice of prize as “some sort of sick joke”.  Ironically one of Action for Sugar’s aims is To reach a consensus with the food manufacturers and suppliers that there is strong evidence that free sugars are a major cause of obesity and have other adverse health effects! The PR machines whirred into action and Diabetes UK purred about its relationship with Tesco, adding “Occasional treats such as those high in sugar can be included in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet.  It is important that people plan for such treats to ensure that they fit in their nutritional goals.  But Easter comes only once a year and people with diabetes shouldn’t worry about the odd one or two indulgences as these are unlikely to affect the long term diabetes management”. In response to the reaction Tesco noted “we’ll find a new prize for this raffle”! Does this mean that Action for Sugar has convinced Tesco to change its ways?  I doubt it, but the lack of engagement by some within Tesco has been revealed – which may well lead to further positive action (high profile of course) by them in the near future.

16th March 2015

Grains: convenience vs health…I was reading about the health benefits of non-refined grains recently and mused “what is the history of refining?”  Firstly, I suppose it is necessary to understand what the refining process is.  Natural grains contain three parts: the bran (outer layer), endosperm (middle layer), and germ (inner layer). The bran and germ are the most nutritious parts of the grain; they contain concentrated amounts of fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  During the refining process the bran and germ are removed from the whole grain. The endosperm, the part of the grain that is left after the refining process, is primarily composed of starchy carbohydrates and is low in nutrients.  The more refining that occurs the lower the vitamin, mineral, protein and fibre content.  The same is true of white rice which goes through a similar refining process.

White flour was a luxury for the privileged classes until the mid-nineteenth century when the invention of the roller mills for grinding grains reduced the process costs.  Until then the poorer classes ate wholemeal flour. White flour was considered more attractive and was preferred by bakers for its baking properties and because it contains less fat than wholemeal flour it is less likely to go rancid and is more easily preserved.  Additionally millers preferred it because the leftover bran from refining rice and wheat could be sold profitably for livestock feed and industrial uses.  Nutritionists argued that white flour has better digestibility than wholemeal because the presence of fibre in the latter prevented the complete digestion of the protein or carbohydrates.  Finally white flour’s low protein, vitamin and mineral content made it less liable to infestation by beetles and rodents.

The long shelf life of refined grains enabled explorers to carry vast quantities on their travels which were traded or given away to indigenous populations.  This was followed by missionaries who worked with these natives noticing an increase in incidence of illness.

Health issues from refined grains were noted from the late 19th century. The English physician Thomas Allinson who was head of the Bread and Food Reform League was the first to suggest a relationship between refined carbohydrates and disease.   He noted that the refined flours encouraged constipation of the bowel which led to other ailments (he further said …”As a consequence pill factories are now an almost necessary part of the state. Over the next 50 years researchers linked many diseases to specific vitamin deficiencies and Scottish nutritionist Robert McCarrison, whilst working with the Himalayans attributed their good health (including lack of cancers and digestive illnesses) to their well balanced diets of milk, butter, vegetables, fruit, meat and wholemeal flour.

By WWII the US Government demanded that millers enrich white flour with vitamin B, iron and nicotinic acid.  The English Government followed suit.  This practice continues today (look out for “enriched wheat flour”). But is this sufficient? The answer is No. So much of our food is made with flours, which unlike their natural whole-kernel grains are so easy to overconsume as they require little chewing or digesting.  Overconsumption results in blood sugar spikes which causes a rise in insulin – followed by hunger a couple of hours later… The body strives to maintain a ph of 7.4. Refined grains are acidic forcing the body to take calcium from the bones.  Grains are the only plant foods that do this – and the refining process exacerbates this.  Nature prevails…..

 

2nd March 2015

Beetroot - the superfood of the moment ..Beetroot is a top favourite of many chefs and consumers currently.  Whether juiced, roasted or boiled consumers have switched to buying uncooked beetroots which is a definite trend change.  Possibly prompted by a combination of renewed appreciation of the goodness within this indigenous vegetable and the tasteless vacuum packed offerings from supermarkets, home cooking is now vogue.

Beetroot evolved from wild seabeet, which is a native of coastlines from India to Britain and is the ancestor of all cultivated forms of beet. Sea beet was first domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East – although it was only the leaves that were eaten at that time (and to this day most beet leaf recipes that I come across are devised by Greek chefs).  The Romans began to cultivate it in earnest and early recipes included cooking it with honey and wine.

In early times, the medicinal properties of the root were more important than its eating qualities and it was used to treat a range of ailments including fevers, constipation, wounds and various skin problems. At that time, the roots were long and thin like a carrot. The rounded root shape that we are familiar with today was not developed until the sixteenth century and became widely popular in Central and Eastern Europe 200 years later. Many classic beetroot dishes originated in this region including the famous beetroot soup, known as borscht.  Beetroot continued to grow in popularity in Victorian times, when its dramatic colour brightened up salads and soups. It was also used as a sweet ingredient in cakes and puddings.

After World War II, pickled beetroot in jars was the most widely available form of the vegetable but the vinegars could be strong, harsh and quite off-putting. Pickled beets continued to be the norm through the 60s and 70s and quite likely led to the decline in interest in this root thereafter. As consumers focus more on the health benefits of fresh produce (or food generally) beetroot’s richness in iron, magnesium and potassium and its association with lowering blood pressure engendered renewed interest.

Add to this creative combining by “chefs of note” - beetroot and the zingy white accompaniments that it turns pink – sour cream and yoghurt as well as feta and goat's cheese and the deep red root cannot go unnoticed!  An example of a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe is Beetroot Borani: a simple dish – just cooked beetroot, roughly blitzed and stirred through with garlic, yoghurt and red-wine vinegar, then dotted with chunks of feta, fresh dill, black onion seeds and toasted walnuts.  Absolutely yummy!!

Other combinations are seen in juices: beets mixed with a whole host of veggies and fruit such as apple, carrot and lemon or for cleansing your liver beetroot juice with a dash of coconut water.  Another breakfast combination which won the Great Taste awards two years running is raw, dehydrated beetroot with ginger in a muesli.  The producer knew exactly what she wanted to achieve - "Beetroot is incredibly energising, and I wanted to make something exciting that you'd want to jump out of bed and eat," she explained. This is supported by a University of Exeter led-study which demonstrates how the nitrate contained in beetroot juice leads to a reduction in oxygen uptake, making exercise less tiring.  Their conclusion?  Beetroot juice boosts your stamina and could help you exercise for up to 16% longer.  For this reason beets are likely to be of interest to endurance athletes.  Equally the study suggested that individuals with cardiovascular, respiratory or metabolic diseases would benefit from eating beets. Long live their revival!!!!

 

23rd February 2015

Two articles from Biofach Congress last week in Nurembourg:

Europe’s agriculture ministers back organic expansionSenior political figures from across Europe gave their unequivocal support for the organic food and farming sector.  The Dutch agriculture minister, said: “We should be very proud of our organic farmers. Organic is one of the fastest growing food sectors and the industry merits all the focus we can put on it. From a European point of view we really should be getting behind organic, and supporting it.”

Germany’s state secretary for food and agriculture added that organic offered important solutions in “helping ensure that we feed the planet while protecting natural resources”. The German agriculture minister noted organic had the opportunity to show that “efficiency and sustainability can go hand in hand, in key areas such as climate, soil and groundwater.” He added: “I see the regional (local) movement as a twin sister to organic – if you know where your food comes from, you have more trust in it.”

Denmark’s minister for agriculture Dan Jørgensen, said that increased engagement with the public sector offered big opportunities for organic. He explained: “Two weeks ago we published a new strategy document for organic food and one of the signatures on it was from our minister for defence. Why? Because we have thousands and thousands of very hungry men and women in our services and obviously they should be eating organic! The main part of our strategy is that the 800,000 meals we serve a day in the public sector should be in the majority organic.”

Further evidence of local support for organic growing was provided by the major of Nuremberg who noted “We want to double organic farming in Bavaria. The organic market works better – but it does need scaling up. It’s already a sizeable part of the national economy but it must now move out of its niche.”  He emphasised organic’s social role: “Food production is a vital part of global political responsibility. And global political responsibility is woven into organic values. A lot of agriculture has been for conflict, organic is about harmonious coexistence”.

Revolt grows against EC’s fast-tracked organic rules change…Leading organic industry figures and senior politicians from across Europe used the Biofach congress to call on the new European agriculture commissioner, Phil Hogan, to apply the brakes on the process of revising the EU Organic Regulation. The Commission wants agreement on the final form of the revised Regulation in place by June of this year.

A German state secretary insisted there was no need for wholesale change to Europe’s organic rules: “We (already) have a Regulation that is tried and tested. We need to enhance, not re-write the rules”. The Dutch agriculture minister warned that that speed at which the Regulation was being advanced “puts organic farmers at risk at a time when we need this type of farming more than ever”.

But Commissioner Hogan warned “failure to move forward would probably mean a delay of five years in improving the regulatory framework of a dynamic and growing sector”. He noted that “complex rules are choking further development?”.

Martin Häusling, a Green MEP, earlier made his own view on the matter clear: “We don’t want a complete revision of the EU organic regulation, but a reform that will work in practice. This is our ambition in the Parliament.”

GG notes: Some key EU states have a diametrically opposed view to our Government and are more in synergy with Scotland and Wales. It is a dynamic we should build on.

 

16th February 2015

The UK Government’s time-warp… In measuring the success of a conference I suspect the following are somewhat critical: credible and interesting speaker(s) and new material.  If this statement is correct then I would conclude that the Oxford Farming Conference” in January 2015 did not rank high in the “Successful Conferences 2015” stakes!  And one of the speakers, Lord Krebs, was instrumental in that outcome.

So who is Lord Krebs?  He is a member of the House of Lords and a distinguished zoologist who is an expert on the behavioural ecology of birds.  Lord Krebs is the chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee which comprises many climate change experts (not so Lord Krebs) and advises ministers on how to adapt to climate change.

Lord Krebs habitually shoots himself in the foot when stepping into non-zoological scientific fields.  Most notable to the Oxford Farming Conference, Lord Krebs has no expertise in nutrition or farming. You may remember Lord Krebs, who, on becoming the first chief executive of the UK’s Food Standards Agency in 2000 declared that organic vegetables were no more nutritious than those produced from other agricultural methods and that those buying organic food were “not getting value for money, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Food Standards Agency”.  Sadly for Lord Krebs, his comments were proven to be nothing more than an unsupported opinion when last year a major analysis was published which looked at 343 individual studies and showed unequivocally that there are significant differences between organic and non-organic food with 18% - 69% more beneficial antioxidants and 48% less dangerous cadmium.

Lord Krebs’ keynote speech at the Conference was that organic farming could be worse for the climate than conventional farming methods because of the greater land use required and the methods used. His argument for the greater land use is that organic farming needs more land than technological methods to produce the same yield. His argument for methods used is that “tilling” the soil releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  He argues that the use of genetically modified crops or biotechnology, with herbicides to kill the weeds are better for the climate!!!

Yet again Lord Krebs failed to do his research.  Historically some crops, like beans, peas, tomatoes, lentils, and oats produce similar yields whether organic or non-organic. A new analysis published by the University of California concluded that the productivity of organic farming has been substantially underestimated with potential yield differentials of 8-9% in favour of non-organic, if inputs are ignored.  But non-renewable inputs eg phosphates should not be ignored as their use is increasing simply to keep yields level, as an increasing number of studies is proving. When fertilisers are considered, non-organic farming is significantly less productive than organic.

Lord Krebs was factually wrong about organic farming being a net releaser of carbon. Conversion to organic typically involves putting land into nitrogen fixing clover and grass mixes, which absorb rather than release carbon to the atmosphere. Recent analysis has shown that organic farming stores significant amounts of carbon in the soil over time and is a very effective way of combatting climate change.”

To cap it all, the error prone expert brought no new ideas to the Conference, which is against the trend as many others seek to identify innovations for massively reducing greenhouse emissions whilst tackling diet related ill-health and restoring beauty, colour, wildlife and alternative cultivation methods to our farmed countryside.

 

26th January 2015

Milk: that basic foodstuff – or is it?…  The supermarket battle for survival appears to be encouraging the respective “giants” to think a bit more deeply about their image to customers and to carve their niche as opposed to all play in the same pool.  Prompted somewhat by the Daily Mail research into the price paid by different retailers to dairy farmers for their milk the outcome of this deep-thinking for Sainsbury’s is to demonstrate its support for British farmers.  On the face of it this isn’t so novel, except that in doing so Sainsbury’s is actively promoting both Tesco and M&S as more supportive of British farmers.  The national newspaper advertising campaign launched by Sainsbury’s last week highlights the cost of producing 4 pints of milk at around 68p, comparing it to the price paid by Aldi, Asda, Iceland, Lidl and Morrisons (between 56p and 59p) and more importantly that paid by Sainsbury’s (72p), Tesco (73p) and M&S (78p). Initially Waitrose declined to provide figures but has since claimed 2nd place after M&S.  The advertising strapline is farmers “who produce our milk should also make a living” and “If you buy that, maybe you should buy our milk”.

The cynical amongst us would suggest that just maybe Sainsbury’s bosses are trying to get on the right side of the DEFRA MPs who, this week, called for the dairy supply chain to be included in the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA).  This is the same GCA who sadly has proved to be so ineffective in the case of Tesco and others over their strategy of looking to their suppliers for their financial gains rather than properly addressing their sales and product lines. But I digress.  Sainsbury’s elucidated “ the long term relationships with dairy farmers” and “..of paying farmers more than they can receive on the open market in difficult times” (by which I assume they mean when the cost of production is high).  Not that Sainsbury’s is pledging to maintain the current price as the spokesmen goes on to say “in other years they may receive a lower price” …. but still above production costs.

Whilst we shouldn’t be critical of the action, sadly the motive is to leverage benefit from the farmers’ misfortune and is only prompted by a crisis in the sector.  At GG we have highlighted how little producers’ receive as a proportion of every pound us consumers spend.  We have declared this is wrong and have built long term relationships with our producers and have ensured that they receive a significant percentage of the sales price.  We have made it absolutely clear that it is in our interests to ensure the long term economic success of our growers and producers – which is part of the reason we adhere to seasonal foods as a core, even when the range is relatively restricted.  We work on the basis that quality, nutritional value and proven provenance is maximised if we consistently work with our selected growers, maintaining their economic wellbeing.

The price of our milk from Manor Farm has remained constant for many months – in line with the quality and the nutritional value.  And yes we buy direct from the farm which we chose for livestock welfare, homeopathic remedies where necessary and feeding on grass and other vegetation that is close grazed by sheep (producing better feeding for cows).  Manor Farm milk is not homongenised – which is just milk used to be produced when we were young and so much better tasting than homogenised. Why homogenise milk? The answer is merely so that the milk doesn’t separate and the cream floats to the top. During homogenisation the fat molecules in the cream are broken up and dispersed throughout the milk through a high pressure, filtration process. This is not required by law nor does it have any health benefits.  But I guess making this the norm allows one or two companies to dictate the market……..

 

19th January 2015

EU GMO cultivation vote passed…  Last Tuesday MEPs voted 3 to 1 in favour of allowing GM crops to be grown across the EU on a large scale for the first time. The landmark ruling gives member states the right to choose whether to grow the crops, providing they are first approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).  Currently only one GM crop – a herbicide resistant strain of maize used for animal feed (MON810, patented by Monsanto) - is grown in Europe, mostly in Spain, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Czech Republic. MON418 is banned in Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg.

Some believe the legislation is fraught with issues as one French MEP notes "in the short term, this change will allow multinationals like Monsanto to challenge national bans at the WTO or, if free trade deals like TTIP are finalised, in arbitration tribunals". TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) talks currently underway are aimed at securing multilateral growth through commerce between the EU and the US. The deal being drawn up will allow corporations to sue governments if they make public policy decisions which could harm their future profits. Regulation which currently protects people, public services and the environment could be removed

The Soil Association (SA) has a concerns too, noting that the rights of farmers who do not wish to grow GM crops are under threat by this proposal as it fails to require countries to ensure that GM crops grown will not contaminate GM free farms, nor to ensure that the cost of any contamination will fall on the shoulders of the GM companies who own the patented products.

The SA expands on this … the entire organic sector, growing rapidly in Europe and which may double by 2020, is in danger – as are the rights of anyone who wants to buy GM free foods. This is because experience from the USA has shown that growing GM crops leads to agricultural seeds and food supply chains being contaminated by GM.  Many years ago, research funded by the UK government showed that GM crops are bad for wildlife. The commercial GM crops currently in the pipeline for Europe are not those with traits associated with ‘feeding the world’. They are crops engineered by GM companies to be resistant to weed killers that they too have manufactured. The use of these in the US has led to huge problems with resistant weeds, and an increase in the use of pesticides. Yields from GM crops are lower than non-GM, and in the US GM crops are damaging wildlife. The monarch butterfly is just one specie under threat as a result of these crops.

Scotland and Wales have made it clear that they will opt out. SNP MEPs described the legislation as a "Trojan horse riddled with loopholes" which potentially opens the door to much greater use of GM crops and circulation of GM products in Europe.  Czech MEP Kateřina Konečná notes that “GMOs pose a risk to the environment, biodiversity and to human and animal health. Many impact studies concerning GMOs were financed by multinational corporations and lobbying groups. The harmful impact of GMOs on human health is not publicly discussed although we know about it from independent studies."

A German article criticises the lack of a fund to compensate farmers whose crops have been contaminated and believes the risk of cross-pollination from GM crop fields with non-GM crop fields across national borders could force the approved use of GM crops in the contaminated country just as has occurred in Paraguay and Brazil.  The German article cites England and the Netherlands as the most likely to approve GM crop use.

 

12th January 2015

EU GMO cultivation vote – 13th January 2015…As I penned last week’s newsletter about the UK Government’s preparation for GM seed usage post the EU’s expected confirmation that each member state may decide whether to ban GM crops, the Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, had not yet declared her position.  We didn’t have to wait long as two days later Mrs Truss declared at the Oxford Farming Conference that GM crops should ‘have a role to play’ in the UK, farmers should have the opportunity to grow them and the UK was actively lobbying at EU level to break down the barriers to growing them.  Furthermore, and extremely worrying for one charged with managing the environment, Mrs Truss called for decisions on issues like pesticides and GM cultivation to be ‘made on science alone’.

A clone of her predecessor, Owen Paterson and a puppet of the agribusinesses perhaps?  Well that might fit with the Tories now that they have u-turned from their promise of “vote blue, go green” but what do the other parties think?  At the same conference UKIP’s Stuart Agnew and Labour’s Huw Irranca-Davies also spoke in support of the technology. We might be grateful for failure of the Scottish Independence vote as the only hope for the UK is that the influence of Scotland and Wales is sufficient to stave off a vote in favour of using this failing technology. The Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary said Scotland would not allow them to be grown and urged Westminster politicians to listen to consumers, who oppose the technology, rather than scientists.  As we mentioned last week, Plaid Cymru has pledged that Wales will oppose the use of GM crops.

The timing of the UK Government’s declaration of support for GM crops (which was largely on the basis of putting our framers on a level playing field with overseas farmers) is ironic as this week reports from the US, including the Wall Street Journal, declared that demand for growing non-GM soya beans and maize is increasing among US farmers. Reasons for farmers returning to non-GMO varieties include weed pressure, concerns about resistance to glyphosate and seed companies producing non-GM varieties that yield better and a consumer shift to food labelled as “non-GMO” (up 28%) which has triggered a reduction in the price commanded by GM crops. As Peter Melchett of the Soil Association summarises it “As well as lower prices, GM crops in the USA are lower yielding, and now face resistant super weeds.”

The president of the pro-GM NFU indicates that, should approval for GM crop usage be given, the first GM crops grown would be maize for animal feed. As he points out vast quantities of meat from animals raised on GM feed are already consumed in the UK. Yes, he is correct. 30million tonnes of GM animal feed is thought to be imported into Europe each year to feed pigs, poultry, dairy and beef cattle, as well as farmed fish. The UK imports an estimated 140,000 tonnes of GM soya and as much as 300,000 tonnes of GM maize annually for use as animal feed, much grown in South America where cultivation is linked to environment abuse.

In the UK, foods containing GM material for human consumption are required by law to be labelled; but not so the foods derived from GM fed animals - meat, fish, milk and dairy products. Producers say no GM material survives in the final food product. But studies have detected GM material in meat and dairy products and even the UK’s Food Standards Agency agrees that this is a possibility.

The UK are out of step with Germany too as leading German supermarkets, prompted by consumer demand, are forcing the German poultry industry to return to the use of non-GMO feed.  German retailers have also intending to demand a completely GMO-free feed supply chain across dairy, pork and beef very soon.  The German Poultry Association (ZDG) had previously claimed that there wasn’t enough GMO-free feed in the system to supply Europe’s needs. But after consulting with Brazilian authorities, the German supermarkets realised that the reasons given by ZDG for turning their back on GMO-free feed had no basis of fact.

The UK cannot afford to make decisions that are against the trends seen elsewhere.  

 

5th January 2015

2015: A turning point for GM….  To date GM crops have been banned in Europe because a majority of Member States were required to vote in favour of allowing their use before any one Member State could introduce this technology.  After years of lobbying by agri-businesses a preliminary agreement was reached between EU institutions which breaks the current collective decision. Each country may make its own decision to legally declare a ban on growing GM crops – but this solely binds its own territory and cannot influence the use of GM crops in an adjacent country.  And as we all know GM seed freely travels across borders and boundaries. Where does our current government stand on this?  There is no ambiguity there.  The UK has voted time and again in favour of allowing GM crops, the ex-Environmental Secretary Owen Paterson is an avid and very vocal fan (echoing the stance of his columnist brother-in-law Matt Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley) and the National Farmers Union continues to call for access to GM crops to “level the playing field” with farmers in other countries.

In The Ecologist this week an article indicates that the government is preparing for the planting of GM crops in the UK by putting in place 'rules' to govern their use once the EU has finalised its new regulation - which could take place next week. This disclosure follows the sighting of a ministerial letter which states that "the government will ensure that pragmatic rules are in place to segregate GM and non-GM production, so that choice is facilitated." The article continues…And GM crops might not be ready for planting in the UK in 2015 or even 2016 - but the ground is being prepared for them now, as is the GMO creep onto our supermarket shelves and into our food.  This indicates a weakening of the Conservative’s 2010 manifesto.  Plaid Cymru, on the other hand, “do not want to see their high standards and high quality produce …jeopardised by GM contamination”.

It’s a while since we have written about GM technology and some would suggest that it is ”old-hat” as synbio products (completely synthetically produce) are the new kids on the block.  I was shocked to read recently about new generation seeds produced by Dow AgroSciences that have been approved by US Department of Agriculture and are likely to be in use by Spring 2015.  A bit of background first.  In 1996 farmers were told by Monsanto that Roundup Ready (RR) technology would make crop production easier, safer and “one spray was all they’d ever need”.  The reality was that the weeds and some insects became resistant to even large dousing of Roundup, leading to the generation of superweeds and superbugs and the destruction of many insects and predators which were integral to the natural balance.  Ironically to help fight resistant weeds, farmers are now encouraged to “develop” integrated weed management such as mechanical weed control and crop rotation….you know, what farmers used to do before this new-fangled technology – and of course the basis of organic farming pest and weed control.

The shocking element of the new generation GM seeds is that they are developed to be used in conjunction with 2,4-D (one of the components of the defoliant Agent Orange).  In 1996 Roundup was actively touted as the safe alternative to 2,4-D which was then described as “a dangerous pesticide”.  2,4-D is highlighted in Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring as being the cause of high levels of poison in fish miles away from the source of the poison in Colorado – it having travelled via underground streams.

Many who have accepted the advent of GM food will be unaware of these latest progressions in the technology. Read The Ecologist online and find out what you can do

 

24th November 2014

“Hospital food”…no, don’t groan….. GG was enlightened on hearing a story of collaboration between a farm and hospital aimed at improving the nutrient quality of the meals served to hospital patients in order to improve their recovery.   Hospital food is generally talked about disparagingly indicating that the link between food goodness and healing has been lost.

Not so at six hospital campuses of St. Luke's in Pennsylvania which have teamed up with the Rodale Institute, working together to provide organic produce to patients; produce that is being grown in the fields next to the hospital. The health-promoting foods provide employees, visitors and patients with a diverse selection of farm-fresh produce.

The hospital President noted it is setting a valuable precedent for other hospitals to follow. "Working with the Rodale Institute to develop an organic, working farm onsite will allow St. Luke's to continue providing patients with a holistic health care experience that creates a positive atmosphere for health and healing," he said. "By providing patients with locally-grown organic produce, St. Luke's is showing a commitment to the environment and promoting the health of its patients and the community."

The hospital acknowledges the numerous studies that prove organic fruits and vegetables offer many advantages over conventionally-grown foods, particularly increased amounts of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants and their effect on reducing incidence of heart disease and some cancers as well as a lowered risk of common conditions such as cancer, heart disease, allergies and hyperactivity in children.  Therefore making the decision to improve food quality as part of their programme to stimulate patient wellness was pretty simple, albeit seen as a revolution by many.  The Rodale Institute has providing the hospital with 44,000lbs of organic produce in first year.  Rodale's organic farming practice only takes up five acres of the sprawling 500 total acres that make up St. Luke's Anderson Campus. In the first year, the fresh produce included lettuce and salad greens, a plethora of herbs, peppers, kale, cucumbers, summer squash, broccoli, tomatoes, Swiss chard, garlic, cabbage, beets and potatoes. The produce from the five-acre farm is distributed to all six of St. Luke's hospitals which use the organic produce on a daily basis for patient care and for equipping the hospital cafeteria.

The Rodale Institute employs an organic vegetable grower to ensure the highest quality produce who oversees the USDA Organic Certification process and ensures that the land was transitioned and will continue to be sustained as organic. A 1,120 sq ft. polytunnel was constructed in the spring of 2014 to make way for an extended growing season.

The farm is expected to double in size in the near future, providing more than 100,000 pounds of organic produce yearly.

A Rodale director said, "In addition to providing patients, families and staff at the hospitals with fresh, organic produce, organic agriculture builds healthy soil. Organic agriculture reduces pollution from run-off, prevents toxic chemicals from building up in our ecosystem and is a primary driver in carbon sequestration. This partnership presents a 'farm to hospital' model which can be replicated around the world. We're proud to be proving concepts once thought impossible."

17th November 2014

Pass the parcel, supermarket -style… GG avidly supports the Fairtrade marque and where we have the choice we will buy Fairtrade labelled produce.  Recent revelations from our home soil prompted me to look at the Fairtrade Foundation website to properly look at their objectives.  Their description “about them” explains: What Fairtrade does Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers and The impact of our work Fairtrade supports small scale farmers and workers who are marginalised from trade in a variety of ways.  Their Map of Fairtrade producers notes there are over 1.4 million farmers and workers in 1,140 producer organisations across the Fairtrade system. The map demonstrates their involvement in primarily Africa, India, Asia and Mexico.

What irony that the principles of fair terms of trade is not applied by the UK supermarkets to their suppliers (large and small and many from the UK). And how ironic that they stock Fairtrade produce alongside products from suppliers that they are forcing into financial distress.

36million people in the UK are employed in for supply, representing 13% of national employment.  The gross value of food supply in 2012 was £97bn.  300,000 agricultural enterprises supply food and 7,400 business process foods.  Many supply UK supermarkets who over for several years have augmented their turnover by “suppliers’ income” – a complete misnomer as it represents monies charged to suppliers. These charges represent a whole host or “reasons” including the cost of storing your produce in our premises (despite the supermarket having ordered the product).  At least this “reason” has some relevance to the products supplied.  The Tesco investigation has revealed (to the public, that is; it appears to be common knowledge if you are in the supermarket sector) the supermarket demanded large sums of money from suppliers under the threat of “…pay up or we’ll delist your product”.  And this was no idle threat, as many suppliers found out.  And the sums could be in the millions.  An expert from accountants, Moore Stephens, notes that 1/3rd Tesco’s gross profit (ie before many expenses that are called overheads) come from supplier income; 2/3rd comes from the takings at the till.

Tesco is in the spotlight at present but even Waitrose has a price list from which suppliers can choose to make their contributions (far more genteel than Tesco’s bullying tactics).  Sadly I read last week that Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe vowed to strip millions from the company, including a £150 million price cut this year and £500 million of operational cost reductions, which are likely to include job cuts and squeezing suppliers.  The reason for this action? The advent of their first loss and an admission that one in four of his stores are failing and 40 planned openings have been mothballed.

GG can find no evidence that this practice occurs in the EU generally but it does occur in the US.  There, companies must disclose the amount of supplier income that they receive.  Not so in the UK.  When evaluating the potential value of this income to UK supermarkets, the US figures could be a guide. According to Fitch, the credit rating agency, the payments are the equivalent to 8% of the cost of goods sold for the retailers, equal to virtually all their profit.

Perhaps some reason will come about from these latest revelations.  Cheap food has its cost – in jobs & security as well as quality of food.  And therefore in health & wellbeing.

 

10th November 2014

When a bumper crop is not necessarily a good thing…“UK apple crops have been the best we’ve ever had” said one conventional grower in a newspaper article this week. The weather has been perfect starting with a cold winter that gave the trees a good rest, then plenty of rain particularly during August helped plump up the fruit and then a dry September allowed the picking to get off to an early start. Great, you may think at last the British grower can see some decent returns. But sadly the weather has been very similar throughout Europe and abundant harvests coupled with supermarket price wars has led to apple prices for the grower barely covering costs. Indeed many growers will sell masses of fruit but still return a loss.
The strength of sterling against the Euro and the trend of the British consumer towards more exotic fruits have conspired to exacerbate the situation. The UK demand for apples fell 5% in 2013 and 3% in 2012. This may have redressed this year as early statistics suggest a slight upward movement in demand but the sting in the tail is that two-thirds of all apples sold in the UK are imported. Of course this year we have the added issue of Russia banning imports from the EU resulting in the EU grower looking to other markets including the UK.
The supermarket wars lead to early-season promotional price cuts which are paid for by the farmers. This isn’t the only influence from the supermarkets as the sheer range of choice on the shelves mean that products must be selected for their appearance. The traditional Cox is being replaced by Gala and Braeburn. Red apples are more bright and more attractive to the consumer. Russets are an absolute “no-no” as they do not catch the eye. Whilst totally understandable that the colour and shine should completely compelling in the first instance, it would seem quite logical that the taste would also be a factor. I do hope that the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t get lost. Russet apples have never been that appealing to look at or even handle, but the taste is just out of this world (well ours are anyway). I also note that the juice content of our apples is so much more than those I have bought from a supermarket (a rarity I must admit…and probably only done in the interests of research)!
Although some with cite the supermarkets as the reason for redder, more consistently sized and shaped produce I think the media has a key role in this as well. Ironically the apple in an advertisement (whether for apples or the apple being a mere prop) is highly likely to be a red, glossy (probably waxed), perfectly round specimen…very reminiscent of those in children’s books. Will the UK grower’s story end happily ever after?

 

27th October 2014

Golden pumpkins…I’ve noticed a complete lack of pumpkins on producers’ availability lists this year and have resorted to begging and coercing to obtain some small and medium sized pumpkins from Cherry Gardens over the past two weeks.  Normally we can supply 5-6kg specimens. But not this year.  2kg is our limit from our growers…never mind, I thought, I’ll resort to the wholesaler……….think again, not one pumpkin on their list this week!!!!

So what is going on?  It comes down to the recent wet weather (which has been very wet over a short time).  There is a shortage nationally with hundreds of thousands rotting in the fields and destined for pulping rather than retailing – making 2014 the worst pumpkin season in a decade.  Supplies from Lincolnshire, the worst affected area, were expected to run out last week.  And to put all of this into perspective an estimated 10 million pumpkins are grown in the UK every year and 95% will be carved into lanterns for Halloween.

Apparently supermarkets have sought to play down suggestions of a shortage, saying that shoppers wanting to buy pumpkins ahead of Halloween this Friday would not be disappointed.  But we have to question where the supply will come from when the director of a major fruit and vegetable supplier has said his company was taking the unusual step at this stage in the season “of now ceasing supply to wholesale customers which will unfortunately cut off supply for the smaller independents. With the other suppliers in Lincolnshire facing worse issues we are doing what we can to cover the inevitable stock shortage in the lead up to the main Halloween celebration.”

After good, sunny, growing conditions in August and September, the heavy rain of October has made pumpkin skins soft, he said, which means that with extra humidity they get soggy and collapse before they are harvested. On some farms JCB diggers are being used to remove the wasted crops.

Waitrose said there might be supply problems in the north of England, despite a plentiful crop of giant and carving pumpkins following an increased level of rain and higher temperatures. A spokeswoman said: “As pumpkins continue to grow based on the volume of water they have access to, the giant pumpkins continue to absorb as much water as possible – this has resulted in a larger than normal percentage of pumpkins seeing levels of breakdown.”

The picture was better in the south, she said: “Reports from our southern producers (based along the south coast, Southampton and the Isle of Wight) have seen a very different story to our northern growers in Lincolnshire. Our southern growers have enjoyed warmer weather earlier in the growing season – this inevitably results in smaller, green pumpkins turning orange before they have fully developed, this then creates an abundance of carving pumpkins available, rather than the giant pumpkins.”  And there was me thinking that the giant pumpkins were the most sought after!

But GG have some!  Thanks to Cherry Gardens.  And if you are one of those that looks at the pumpkin in your box and says “Bah, humbug” just remember you have a valuable commodity … and a product worthy of bartering … worth a swap for a ..car wash?.... a haircut?...some cakes?.... If you are brave, wait until closer to the end of the week and watch the value increase!!!!!... It’s not just a pumpkin in your box – and it IS just for Halloween!!!

 

20th October 2014

Lifting the lid on the ex-Environment Secretary…. So Owen Paterson, ex-Environment Secretary, has proposed this week that the UK’s Climate Change Act should be scrapped.  Ironic given that his poor performance at managing the extreme floods particularly in South England early this year which undoubtedly contributed to his demise are commonly believed to be as a result of climate change.

GG was often critical of Mr Paterson as Environmental Secretary as his support for fracking, GM crops, badger culling and cutting of funding for climate change impacts appeared diametrically opposed to preservation and care of the environment.

Writing an article about Owen Paterson is quite difficult. Much more difficult than a book; my dilemma…which anomaly/potential conflict to expound?  Let’s plump for GM food, as Mr Paterson has been vocal recently about Golden Rice (GM rice supposedly high in vitamin A, but after 10 years still not meeting expectations) and condemning Greenpeace (and similar groups) as being the main reason 3,000 people are dying daily from vitamin A deficiency.

Mr Paterson is a firm supporter of GM food.  Whilst in office he is recorded as saying it would be immoral for rich countries like Britain to not help developing countries adopt GM technology. In a powerful speech to research scientists, he claimed GM crops would prevent death, blindness, hunger, loss of wilderness and the overuse of herbicides, and would make farmers richer and the environment better.  Extremely big claims; not even the GM companies (Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer and Dow) make these total claims!  So what is his agenda?  And just who are his pals?  Or family? By pure coincidence Mr Paterson’s wife, Rosie Ridley, is the sister of Viscount Matt Ridley.  If you’ve not heard of him – you will have heard of the bank of which he was Chairman t the time of its collapse - Northern Rock. Mr Ridley is no “one-trick pony”.  He had other interests and when banking would offer him no more lucrative appointments he has turned to his other career as a pro-GM blogger and science writer.

Interesting stuff about Mr Ridley (who is also in the House of Lords) – He is a shareholder Blagdon Farming Ltd which operates on the family Estate. The farm is certified by the LEAF organisation, which promotes "environmentally responsible" principles.  A dichotomy you may think…but be reassured…more in keeping with his love of genetic modification our Ridley is also a shareholder in California-based genetic research company Illumina Inc, which includes "agrigenomics" among its fields of interest; oh, and Greggs, the UK bakery shop.

The big five agribusinesses have stepped up their lobbying and their attempts to patent natural products.  Why? Well, time may be running out for them.  It is 15 years since Monsanto commercialised the crops ad in that time conventional plant breeding has massively advanced. In addition, there is much greater understanding that GM is not going to increase yields that much, and that the problem of hunger will not be solved by a few giant companies imposing a discredited technology on vulnerable populations.  In what may be a sign of what is to come elsewhere, the price of seeds has spiralled in the past five years as the market concentration of the companies has grown. GM seeds contaminate areas around where they are sewn.  An Australian organic farmer has recently lost his claim against a GM farmer for contamination and loss of his business.  The stakes are high.  And these guys know how to fight.  Moreover they know the window for success is closing progressively.

 

13th October 2014

Real effects on growers: monoculture & the supermarkets influence....Over the past few months we have written about the inefficiencies (or dangers) of monoculture with regard to pests and more.  In early May we wrote “the intensification of agriculture ie growing a single crop on an immense area, specific insect populations have increased massively, unchecked.  Nature works on the basis of variety (diversity) with different varieties acting as a check and balance over the dominance of specific varieties.  One important natural check is a limit on the amount of suitable habitat for each species. An insect that lives on wheat can increase its population to much higher levels in a large field of just wheat than one in which wheat is intermingled with other crops to which the insect is not adapted.”

We have also reviewed analysis of the influence of supermarkets on reducing the varieties of produce grown by farmers and the resulting wastage of food that is considered “not acceptable” – often for cosmetic reasons.

For several years the Scottish potato industry has been experiencing an increasing problem – eelworm (formally known as the Potato Cyst Nematode or PCN). The Scottish Government Agency SASA estimates that 33% of potato growing land across the country is infested by the highly persistent G pallida species – and eelworm is on the rampage.  The other common and once dominant species, G rostochiensis, is now in slow decline thanks to the effects of growing resistant varieties such as Maris Piper – but this is little comfort as G pallida is now spreading very rapidly largely as a result of growing potatoes in close rotations.

Half of the growers who have ceased potato growing during the past 30 years have cited PCN infestation as the main reason for doing so.  And those numbers are growing.

The 33% infestation level is an estimate from random testing of fields intended for potato growing but more accurate figures are available from seed land where testing for PCN is compulsory.  Even though growers have been taking precautions to avoid fields being rejected and scheduled, some 5.3% of the area sampled each year fails.  Since July 2010 and the introduction of a new EU Directive the area testing positive for PCN has increased two-fold.

A possible control measure is “biofumigation” which involves growing brassicas such as yellow mustard and oilseed radish then macerating and rotavating in the foliage before seed set. Biocidal compounds within the plants are fatal to PCN but to make the most of the technique the land would be out of agricultural production for a whole year.  Chemical options are being considered too – but none is considered totally effective.

Experts who are studying the potentially devastating issue agree that using an increased range of varieties with dual resistance to both strains of eelworm would be key to an integrated control strategy.  But, as the experts also agree, a greater challenge is to make sure that as well as being pest resistant these new varieties would be acceptable to the supermarkets. This has to be done in advance otherwise there will be little chance of uptake.  Whether the supermarkets would take the chance on introducing new varieties when they have invested so much effort in promoting specific varieties is yet to be understood.

Our potato growers utilise both crop diversity and crop rotation.  Eelworm has not been an issue for them.  I’ve not seen their varieties in the supermarket either – which is a shame for the supermarket shoppers…. But great for us!

 

6th October 2014

How much do we really value our producers?....The plight of dairy farmers has hit the news again this week as farmers protest at the price they are being offered for milk. In the past seven days all of the top four UK dairy companies announced heavy price cuts taking prices below the cost of production for many dairy farmers.  Blaming a worldwide glut which has led to a 20% fall in the cost of milk since the start of the year, farmgate prices have fallen as low as 25p/litre for some producers.

This reduction has followed a period where higher sustainable prices were established two years ago after the SOS Dairy campaign, which saw blockades outside milk depots.  Since then, and on the expectation that the bare minimum price for a litre of milk would be 29p, many farmers borrowed and invested money in their farms to improve efficiencies.

Some farmers have questioned the relevance of global prices as over 85% of milk produced in the UK is used in the UK.  But despite increased domestic production this year (due to the increased investment perhaps) the UK still has a dairy deficit ie we produce less than the population consumes.  Imported cheap milk, extrapolated by Russia’s ban on EU milk, accounts for the difference.  And so we understand hospitals, schools, prisons and other services do not necessarily have a buy British policy and approximately 25% of our food is imported.

Grocery pricing and the purchasing power of has been the subject of much debate, examination and latterly legislation over the past 10+years. Following an investigation by the competition authorities in the groceries market, in 2001 a code of practice was introduced to govern the relations between the major supermarkets and their suppliers. Over the next few years there continued to be many complaints by suppliers, smaller retailers and commentators that supermarkets were using their market dominance to compete unfairly. In April 2008 the Competition Commission completed a second enquiry, and as part of its recommendations, it proposed a strengthened and extended code, to be overseen and enforced by an independent ombudsman. This culminated in the passing to law of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill in April 2013. The Adjudicator can apply a range of sanctions it he/she finds that retailers are breaching the Groceries Code.

Over the years Tesco has been associated with passing discounts to their suppliers in their entirety, with devastating effects for some.  It is no surprise then to learn that the Groceries Code Adjudicator is asking Tesco to examine its behaviour towards suppliers as part of its investigation into its £250m profit overestimate.

Christine Tacon, the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA), said she had talked to Tesco following its profit warning last week, which city analysts and food chain experts linked to the retailer’s payment methods with suppliers. Experts claimed the retailer had been delaying costs by extending the time taken to pay suppliers, while bringing forward income by asking suppliers for earlier “contributions”. These could include payments towards promotions and shelf positioning.  Which demonstrates that “old habits die hard” in some quarters.

Our milk prices (both buying and selling) have remained the same over the year.  Maybe some would find this disappointing but we can put our hands on our hearts and say we do value our producers and wish then to have a fair return. 

 

15th September 2014

An apple a day.… For many breakfast is a “on the go” meal, often eaten in transit or at the workplace as e-mails are taken in.  As a result convenience foods feature quite high – one being fibre bars. We all know we should eat fibre which are associated with lower blood cholesterol, less constipation and weight loss.  Fibre is found naturally in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, grains and legumes.  So what is in fibre bars? Many are full of sugar, high maltose corn syrup, honey, palm kernel oil and/or fructose – with the fibre added in; in short very different from the natural fibre option such as an apple.

So what is fibre?  Fibre is something the body needs and uses but cannot digest – and this is the key to its benefit.  It comes in two forms, insoluble and soluble, and most plant-based foods contain both.  Soluble fibre turns into gel in the stomach and slows down digestion and lowers cholesterol and blood glucose (blueberries and cucmbers are high in soluble fibre).  Slower digestion should result in your body being able to extract the minerals and nutrition it requires and ii) make you feel full.  Insoluble fibre remains unchanged throughout its journey in your body, adding bulk to your waste to ease movement.  Foods that are high in insoluble fibre are leafy vegetables, green beans, celery and carrots; there’s a common feature of foods high in this type of fibre – they take time to chew.  Other good sources include split peas, lentils, black beans, peas, broccoli, artichokes, brussel sprouts, raspberries, avocados, apples, pears, whole what pasta, pearled barley and oatmeal

As you sit down to a bowl of leafy salad and beans how could your body benefit from the experience? Here’s a few proven benefits:

Blood sugar control: soluble fibre may slow down the breakdown or carbs and the absorption of sugar

Heart: an inverse relationship has been found between fibre intake and heart attachs with some research showing a 40% lower risk of heart disease

Stroke: Researchers have found that for every gms of additional fibre eaten daily the risk of stroke decreases by 7%

Weight loss and management: Fibre supplements have been shown to enhance weight loss among obese people, possibility as a result of increasing feelings of fullness

·     Skin health: Fibre may help move yeast and fungus out of your body, preventing them from being excreted through your skin where they could trigger acne or rashes

·     Additionally the risk of haemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gallstones and kidney stones may be lowered by a high-fibre diet.

Check out your box today.  It should be full of wonderful produce containing the fibre you need for this week.  Not to mention the nutritious minerals and vitamins to keep you healthy.  So put down that fibre bar and tuck into the real thing!!

 

8th September 2014

Organic September… OFA couldn’t help noticing that Waitrose has jumped on the Soil Association’s Organic September bandwagon as the front page of their September newspaper is splashed with “It’s time to go organic”. Their lead article leverages off the same annual analysis that we covered in our pre-holiday article although their focus is that organic food’s biggest fanbase is a new generation of young foodies. They quote SA’s Chief Executive. Helen Browning “We always saw organic consumers as older people with traditional values. But the latest market research shows the fastest growth area is people aged between 18 and 34. This trend reflects a new generation of young people who have had better environmental education at school and value food a lot more. In the 80s and 90s young people’s diets were often dominated by fast foods and ready meals. These days they are much more interested in where their food comes from.
Perhaps one of the reasons Waitrose has decided to promote organic food is that the same research has found that 81% of shoppers buy their organic goods from a supermarket.
Whilst more people are buying from farm shops and markets the progression year on year is slow. This seems a bit illogical as the supermarket produce tends to cost more (unless a temporary discount applies) and mostly is less tasty and we maintain is less nutritious. Quite simply after days of travelling from the farm through various hubs to the store where it will be sold, the amount of nutrients in the supermarket fruit or vegetable has begun to diminish. Locally grown produce tends to be sold for prompt re-sale and has a longer time to mature on the host plant as it is sold in a more ripe condition than the supermarket-bound produce. The result is many more nutrients derived from the plant and healthier food.
Supermarkets are finding it increasingly difficult to source local foods and their organic produce is often not even from the UK. On several occasions we ask customers to do the “taste test” comparing our Horsham blueberries with the Waitrose equivalent which for several summers have been from Poland. Recently we were testing the same variety, Bluecrop. They bore no resemblance. The Polish fruit was bitter and tasteless; our Horsham fruit was sweet and full of flavour – and cheaper! Still on locally grown vegetable output in the UK in 2012 was 22% down on 2011. We maintain that with local support more growers can survive, which, of course, is what OFA strives to achieve.
A comparison of our prices with Waitrose’s this week show that we are cheaper too:
Courgettes £6.67/kg (GG: £3.65/kg) Runner beans £8.45/kg (GG: £6.75/kg)
Leeks £4.99/kg (GG: £4.16/kg) Romano pepper £11.06/kg (GG: £6.20/kg)
Kale £8.34/kg (GG: £5.20/kg)

 

1st September 2014

An insight to the life of a farmer… After dedicating my life and studies to science from a young age I had always imagined myself to end up in a shiny, sparkling laboratory somewhere trying to crack the secret to time travel (or thereabouts). However, my career path took a drastic turn when early this year I came to the decision to leave university and pursue my new-found dream to become a farmer. This was not an option I had ever considered before, and not being from a farming background made this an even more daunting challenge.

I started volunteering at Tablehurst Farm (where lots of your lovely veg comes from!) a couple of days a week and got the chance to see all the work on the farm from both a grower and farmer’s point of view. Never would I have imagined the amount of work and care that goes into producing such a fantastic variety of organic crops, with entire days spent hand weeding out in the fields, planting the next season’s crops in the propagation house, creating new beds in the polytunnels or trying to keep up with the constant change in the watering rota.

As for the meat production side it was refreshing to see how much the farmers cared for their animals and strived to give them as much freedom and attention as possible to ensure they live their life stress free. There is always something to be done around the farm such a strimming, fencing, general maintenance and the upkeep of the land and vehicles. I am lucky enough to be able witness the birth of little piglets and watch them grow bigger every week at a tremendous rate, even having the chance to hand feed them myself.

 I am soon to start a farming apprenticeship which will prepare me for one day producing my own crops which I hope will be just as tasty as these! The days are long but so very rewarding – it is an amazing feeling to stand back and take a look at all the hard work you have put into something and see just how much progress you have made.

But for now I am proud to personally pack your boxes with the vegetables I have helped to grow, it makes the long hours worthwhile!

 

11th August 2014

Musings of a grower… This week I wanted to convey some statistics and trends from an organics market report issued earlier this year – but that’s pretty dry old stuff.  And, after all it is the last newsletter before our summer holidays.  Now summer holidays are synonymous with relaxing and catching up on all those novels that have been so tempting over the year.  So why don’t you sit back, close your eyes and we’ll begin....

Once upon a time back there was an English vegetable grower who looked out on his rolling fields of tall sweetcorn swaying in the breeze and bushy dark green curly kale forming swirls of stiff foliage steadfastly resisting the gently buffeting wind. It was a beautiful sunny day and having spoken to a non-organic farmer earlier that morning, the grower was reassured that organic growing was proving to be more profitable than non-organic – a trend that was expected to continue.  “But”, he reflected “it has been hard and there is still much uncertainty”.  He thought about the difficult start to 2013, with very cold weather, increased pests due to the severe wet weather in 2012, the number of his peers who had elected to sell their land or switch from organic to conventional growing. “Organic producers fell by 6.3% to 6,487 during 2012/13 with the biggest reductions in Scotland, Northern Ireland and North East England” he mused.  “New land entering conversion to organic production in England dropped by 24% reflecting fragile producer confidence about farmgate prices, Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms and an uncertain retail environment.  The grower like many others had diversified his business – whilst veggie growing was his core business he had converted a barn into holiday units which his wife looks after.  Other growers had turned to renewable energy (wind, solar, biogas) whilst others had opened a shop or provide educational activities.”

CAP reform proposals which affect subsidies etc for the 2014 -2020 period have been debated for several years and although some progress had been made negotiations about implementation and support payments for organic producers from 2014 are not fully completed.  There is a risk of wide disparities between support payments in different parts of the UK – the grower’s thoughts turned to his Welsh cousin who was one of the many farmers to withdraw from organic certification predominantly due to doubts about future support in the face of the delayed implementation of the Welsh Government’s new Rural Development Plan. “When will our policy makers realise that UK organic farmers deserve equal support to that given elsewhere in Europe” he sighed.  “It seems wrong that organic land is decreasing when more consumers are seeking local organic produce in farmer’s markets and independent shops.”  A drop of rain brought the grower’s musings to an abrupt end. He turned and headed back to the house, his thoughts switched to tomorrow morning’s harvesting.  The Local Box Scheme should have placed their order by now – thankfully that is experiencing double-digit growth……Happy holidays!

 

4th August 2014

Pesticides in conventionally grown foods… We have written about the use of pesticides in food production quite frequently this year particularly highlighting the different approaches between organic and conventional growing and the governance and certification of organic growing/processing.  Pesticides and herbicides than can be used in conventional growing are determined regionally and in the UK over 800 of these mainly synthetic chemical treatments can be used.  But how is their use policed?  In the EU the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) tests for pesticide residue on samples of food (fresh and other) from the 27 Member States and imported foods from outside the EU.  Each of the nearly 900 pesticides have associated Maximum Registered Limits (MRL) which are set with dietary/health impact in mind.

The EFSA’s 2014 report is based on finding of tests in 2011 and therefore is hardly representative of current pesticide use, however, it is the best we have so let’s look at some of the findings.

Of the nearly 900 pesticides only 400 were detected in measurable amounts in the 79,000+ food samples tested.  Analysing conventionally grown produce fruit had the highest pesticide frequency (75%) compared to conventional vegetables (32%) and crop-based compound foods (45%).

Additionally the EFSA report includes the results of a 2011 EU-coordinated programme monitoring 12 specific food products. This demonstrates that 1.0% of the samples exceeded the MRL (and we are assured that action was taken against some producers as a result), 44.7% of the samples contained measurable pesticide residues within the MRL and 53.4% contained no measurable pesticide residues.  Spinach was the food product (of the 12 types tested) which contained the most pesticide residues with beans and cucumbers in 2nd and 4th place.

As far as statistics are concerned the above may not appear too alarming however this alarm-rate is entirely dependent upon the accuracy or appropriateness of the MFL.  Much documentation and research exists to place some uncertainty on these official measurements and intellectual writings such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring written in the early 1960s will demonstrate that impact assessment can so often be proven to be erroneous, such as dieldrin and heptachlor which subsequently were banned – yet amazingly are still being found in produce grown today (and indeed were identified in the EFSA 2011 testing).  Secondly the MFLs are measurements for each pesticide.  No amount of testing can establish acceptable limits of multiple pesticide use, since the permutations are too great.

Our decision at GG is quite simple.  Our aim is to supply foods that are pesticide free.  Our strong relationship with certified, audited growers is key to achieving that aim.

 

28th July 2014

Scientist conclude that organic crops have higher nutritional quality - but sshhh, you can’t tell anyone…A couple of week’s ago we wrote about a recently released report which concludes that organically grown crops contain significantly higher concentrations of nutritionally desirable antioxidants and lower levels of undesirable cadmium and pesticide residues. We have been sent a useful booklet which summarises the international research led out by Newcastle University; so useful that we have requested copies for our clients.

You might think that we would be drawn to the content of the booklet and would fill this newsletter with lots of interesting facts.  And normally that would be what I do, however, my attention was caught or was it captivated by guidance in the covering letter as to what we could and could not say in the way of marketing statements on the back of this research which contains oodles of interesting and conclusive statements about the benefits of eating organic food.  The advice is given by Copy Advice, the organisation responsible for writing and maintaining the UK Advertising Codes.  Marketing statements and claims are heavily regulated and the UK is bound by specific EU law which prohibits almost all health claims, including claims which might be taken to imply a health claim related to food.  Anything in the context of nutritional content which implies that food is better, good, or anything remotely like that is prohibited under EU law, except in a few very specific, narrowly defined circumstances.

So what can we say? According to Copy Advice:

Organic is different. 

How we farm can affect the quality of the food we eat

Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition has found significant differences between organic and non-organic farming

What did the researchers say?  The researchers concluded in the most up to date analysis of research matter and the most extensive analysis of the nutrient content of organic and non-organic food ever untaken that:

Organic crops were of a much higher nutritional quality than their non-organic counterparts.

Organic crops and processed foods have more desirable antioxidants and less potentially harmful cadmium, nitrogen and pesticides than their non-organic counterparts

Plant antioxidants are of scientific interest due to strong evidence of beneficial effects on human health, including protections against cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases

Frequency of occurence of detectable pesticide residues was four times higher in conventionally produced rather than organic crops. (Incidentally the existence of pesticides on organic food is mostly attributed to contamination after the food has left the farm, during transportation, cleaning, processing and packing….rest assured, we do none of this and our vans are only used for organic produce).

So that’s our advice.  The same that should apply to Benecol yet a quick look at their website declares “Lower cholesterol levels by 10% within 3 weeks”.

Little wonder we live in a world of disinformation.

 

14th July 2014

Study published last week demonstrates the nutritional benefit of organic produce….. We were interviewed on the Mark Murphy show on Radio Suffolk on the 15th July.  The radio station approached us to discuss the findings of a study carried out by an international team of experts led by Newcastle University which has demonstrated that organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown ones.

Analysing 343 studies into the compositional differences between organic and conventional crops, the team found that a switch to eating organic fruit, vegetable and cereals – and food made from them – would provide additional antioxidants equivalent to eating between 1-2 extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
The study, published today in the prestigious British Journal of Nutrition, also shows significantly lower levels of toxic heavy metals in organic crops.  Cadmium, which is one of only three metal contaminants along with lead and mercury for which the European Commission has set maximum permitted contamination levels in food, was found to be almost 50% lower in organic crops than conventionally-grown ones.

Newcastle University’s Professor Carlo Leifert, who led the study, noted that the study demonstrates that choosing food produced according to organic standards can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants and reduced exposure to toxic heavy metals.  He added that numerous studies have linked antioxidants to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.

As usual the publication of the study led to criticism such as that by Prof Richard Mithen, leader of the Food and Health Programme at the Institute of Food Research, added: "There is no evidence provided that the relatively modest differences in the levels of some of these compounds would have any consequences (good or bad) on public health.”

He adds “The references to 'antioxidants' and 'antioxidant activity', and various 'antioxidant' assays would suggest a poor knowledge of the current understanding within the nutrition community of how fruit and vegetables may maintain and improve health."

We find these comments rather strange (as well as a tad insulting to nutritionists) as the Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary defines Antioxidants as substance capable of neutralising oxygen free radicals, the highly active and damaging atom and chemical groups produced by various disease processes and by poisonous radiation smoking and other agencies. The Dictionary also notes that They occur naturally in the body and in certain foods and beverages and They help physiological processes in the body.

Is the issue merely that the press release has focussed on the use of the word antioxidents? Reading more into the depths of the study the researchers found that concentrations of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were between 18-69% higher in organically-grown crops. From another source I glean that polyphenols have recently been termed “lifespan essentials”, and they actively work in the body to prevent certain disease mechanisms from occurring. Polyphenols are antioxidants from plant foods that work in the body to enhance health in complex ways, and as such they are not simply antioxidants.

The debate will rumble on….

 

7th July 2014

Organic cherries….. We had expected to receive a delivery of fantastic black cherries from Spain this week.  These we the same fruit we received two weeks ago from a Spanish growers – and they were truly some of the best we’d ever tasted.  Sadly less cherries than anticipated were sent by the grower and OFA was one of the retailers who missed out on this superb fruit this week.  We are very disappointed and do apologise to the many of you who ordered some specifically and to those of you who expected this fruit to be in your box this week.  We have ranted on your behalf.  The good news is that we have been assured of first dibs next week, so if you’ve missed out and are ordering next week please add cherries to your order next week.

UK organic cherries are not readily available this year.  We know of one grower who grows organic cherries on 50 year old trees in his orchard and younger trees that are grafted on different rootstock in his polytunnels.  The latter has generated a crop whereas the many old trees have not borne any fruit at all.

Effect of pesticides on humans….. We have written much about the use of chemicals in agriculture over the past few weeks.  Primarily we have focused on the effects on the environment.  But what about the effect on us?

World Health Organization statistics indicate that between 1 million and 25 million people suffer with pesticide poisoning each year.  About 10 years ago it was estimated that as many as 20,000 people in the US would develop cancer each year from the residue of pesticide on their food.  We don’t have an up to date estimates, but most importantly the 20,000 only includes people who are diagnosed as suffering from pesticides. Many people who are suffering from pesticide symptoms go undiagnosed. So what are the symptoms? The answer is extremely wide-ranging but including psychological disturbance, depression, migraines, pain for no apparent reason, breathing difficulties, impaired mobility, cholesterol disturbances and reproductive difficulties.

When your body cannot metabolize all the pesticides taken in at once, it stores it in various tissues, organs and fat and then leaks it out slowly weeks, months or even years later.  Pesticides are difficult to excrete and become stored in fat cells and can remain indefinitely wreaking havoc on your body for years.  So symptoms can be delayed and come on very slowly and therefore the exposed person may never connect the pesticides to the symptoms. There have been several documented cases where people (often obese) lose a significant amount of weight and become ill as a result of the poison being released from the body fat.

Pesticides also inhibit other enzymes that are needed for energy, resulting in chronic fatigue or enzymes that effect how the body and mind can handle stress.

In addition to the brain, pesticides also affect the kidneys, heart, liver, lungs and reproductive system.  They have mutagenicity abilities (meaning they can promote cancer cells) and teratogenicity abilities (meaning can cause birth defects).

Pesticides can also land on thyroid receptors, impairing normal function of the thyroid gland and resulting in hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

Several recent studies in the last year have found that pesticides increase your risk of developing Parkinson's significantly particularly noted in those that use pesticides. 

 

30th June 2014

Frozen fruits – we don’t need them – we have the real thing….. It seems that every week a new scare about food standards materialises in our press. This week the European Food Safety Agency warned that some summer fruits (particularly strawberries and raspberries) are responsible for an ‘emerging public health risk’ after being linked to the potentially fatal norovirus. This warning has come about after scientists looked into an outbreak of the vomiting bug which affected almost 11,000 people after eating frozen strawberries in Germany in 2012 and another 27 outbreaks linked to strawberries across Europe from 2007 to 2011. Although the norovirus was identified in most of these outbreaks a report by the European agency said salmonella contamination was also a risk.
Possible causes of contamination are dirty water used to dilute fertiliser is introducing the bugs into the food chain or a lack of hygiene in the packing and freezing processes may also spread the germs.
The Food Standards Agency has indicated that after research it is not aware of any outbreaks in Britain. This has been endorsed by the Chairman of British Summer Fruits who stated recently “the UK fresh fruit crop does not pose a public health risk. This report is based on references relating to a very specific issue with frozen berries from developing countries, imported into other parts of Europe in 2012….“The UK soft fruit industry has scrupulous food safety and hygiene management systems in place, which are independently audited and go above those recommended in this report. Berries are best stored in the fridge and washing them before eating is always recommended.”
It is very important to recognise that the warning was in respect of frozen fruit. So what happens in the freezing process? Frozen food is pre-cooked to inactivate the enzymes to stop the food going brown (which in itself is a defensive mechanism stimulated by cutting into food which activates enzymes to destroy the food’s own nutrients). Norovirus is killed by exposure to high temperatures but not by freezing. Some vitamins and other nutrients are stripped from the food on freezing (Vitamin C appears to be particularly vulnerable).
So what of the water pollution? Most water pollution from industrial farms results from the storage and disposal of animal waste. Large industrial farms store animal waste (manure) in large lagoons. These can leak and with the leakage antibiotic residues and harmful bacteria leach into water supplies. The lagoons are emptied by spraying the manure on the fields, however, many industrial farms generate more manure than they can use. Pathogens and other microorganisms, ammonia and nitrates, heavy metals and salts are all known stimulants of water pollution. Mostly excesses of these products are a result of the farming methods used. And mostly they are caused by intensive farming. This is such a common theme of the food scares over many years.
Organic farming principles are diametrically opposed to the methods that are proven to cause the issues described above. And in doing so the small farmer or grower is preserving the environment and your health.
This week Horsham blueberries made their 2014 debut. Grown in a relatively small field which is netted to keep the birds off, 6 or more varieties which will generate fruit over the next 2-3 months are tended by hand by the grower, Blueberry Bob. Picked to order, delivered to you wonderfully fresh and full of vitality..never frozen.


23rd June 2014

Scientists conclude insecticides put world food at risk….. The world’s most widely used insecticides have contaminated the environment across the planet so widely that global food production is at risk, according to a comprehensive scientific assessment of the chemicals’ impacts.

Billions of dollars’ worth of the potent and long-lasting neurotoxins are sold every year but regulations have failed to prevent the poisoning of almost all habitats, the international team of scientists concluded in the most detailed study yet. As a result, they say, creatures essential to global food production – from bees to earthworms – are likely to be suffering grave harm and the chemicals must be phased out.

The new assessment analysed the risks associated with neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides on which farmers spend $2.6bn (£1.53bn) a year. Neonicotinoids are applied routinely rather than in response to pest attacks but the scientists highlight the “striking” lack of evidence that this leads to increased crop yields.

The research was conducted over 4 years by 29 international scientists including one from the University of Sussex. One declared “We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT. Far from protecting food production, the use of neonicotinoid insecticides is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it. The chemicals imperil food supplies by harming bees and other pollinators, which fertilise about three-quarters of the world’s crops, and the organisms that create the healthy soils which the world’s food requires in order to grow”.

 The assessment, published on Tuesday, cites the chemicals as a key factor in the decline of bees, alongside the loss of flower-rich habitats meadows and disease. The insecticides harm bees’ ability to navigate and learn, damage their immune systems and cut colony growth. In worms, which provide a critical role in aerating soil, exposure to the chemicals affects their ability to tunnel.  Loss of birds was also linked to the use of these insecticides.

The report is being published as a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research and was funded by a charitable foundation run by the ethical bank Triodos.

The scientists found that the use of the insecticides shows a “rapid increase” over the past decade and that the slow breakdown of the compounds and their ability to be washed off fields in water has led to “large-scale contamination”. They note that current rules have failed to prevent dangerous levels building up in the environment.

The EU, opposed by the British government and the National Farmers Union, has already imposed a temporary three-year moratorium on the use of some neonicotinoids on some crops. This month US president Barack Obama ordered an urgent assessment of the impact of neonicotinoids on bees. But the insecticides are used all over the world on crops, as well as flea treatments in cats and dogs and to protect timber from termites.

The researchers warn that most countries have no public data on the quantities or locations of the systemic pesticides being applied. The testing demanded by regulators to date has not determined the long-term effect of sub-lethal doses, nor has it assessed the impact of the combined impact of the cocktail of many pesticides encountered in most fields.

2nd June 2014

Why “small” matters: Plaw Hatch reviewed….. I was very pleased to stumble across an article about Plaw Hatch Community Farm posted today on Huffington Post.  Food journalist Andrew Walsey visited Plaw Hatch to consider whether small-scale milk production can be economical and sustainable in direct contrast to mega dairies which are appearing in parts of the UK.

So what are the differences between mega dairies and a small biodynamic farm such as Plaw Hatch?  Mega dairies house thousands of animals in feedlots where feed is brought to them denying them the chance to graze – ever.  Due to their cramped conditions the cows cannot retain their horns as the potential for damage to their fellow cows and possibly themselves is too great.  Having said this de-horning is more the norm in the UK even when cows are put out to field as the winter months are spent in cowsheds, often in sufficient numbers as to similarly create a potential risk. The cows’ feed is bought in as opposed to grown on the farm and is most likely exposed to chemicals or pesticides.  Cows are often given antibiotics for growth promotion as is quite common in conventional farming. Huge controversy surrounds these proposed mega dairies due to concerns over poor welfare conditions and environmental impacts.

At Plaw Hatch the cows retain their horns which are seen as an intrinsic part of the animals 'whole' being They graze in fields for much of the year and even when they are in the large barn in winter they have much more space than many larger farms.

Biodynamic agriculture is based on the teachings of the philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who in the 1920s described his vision for a more holistic form of farming in a direct challenge to the alarming degradation of soil quality across Europe because of overuse of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. 'A biodynamic farm functions as a strong, self-sustaining and vibrant single organism that recognizes and respects the basic principles at work in nature. It is a complete system in which all the different components of the farm are seen as parts of a greater whole. With farm animals at the centre a self-sustaining, balanced and harmonious environment is the result.'

Central to the biodynamic approach is the application of a number of homeopathic-style preparations - made from animal, plant and mineral products - to fields and to compost at specific times of the year to improve the microbiological life of the soil and stimulate fertility. A biodynamic calendar, taking into account the movements of the earth, sun, moon, planets and constellations, is also often used. These two 'tools' underpin the system and, say its advocates, ensure that food produced as a result of biodynamic practices has optimum goodness and vitality whilst imposing a lighter footprint on the land.

John, the business manager at Plaw Hatch admits that ensuring farm land remains productive and sustainably managed is not always easy; neither is the challenge of remaining commercially viable in the age of cheap food and competition from conventional supermarkets. However through diligence, hard work and award winning products the turnover at Plaw Hatch has increased in recent years, along with the profit. 

As John points out 'We don't want to feed the world, just our community' - making this work on a commercial scale is largely untested. Plaw Hatch therefore offers an inspiring and, based on present figures, potentially viable example of ethical farming.

 

2nd June 2014

Nature knows best… A few weeks ago I wrote about natural pest control and highlighted how intensive farming has created pest control issues by breaking nature’s rules about diversity of plants providing essential checks and balances.  Growing a single crop on an immense area, specific insect populations have increased massively as the naturally diverse vegetation which harbours predators or provides no benefit to the insect is not present to contain the growth of the pest colonies.

The symbiotic relationship between different flora or fauna was learnt by our predecessors and utilised within what we now call traditional farming or growing to mitigate pests and maximise their crops. The lessons learnt were passed down the generations.  Sadly this knowledge is being lost to huge proportions of our populations, particularly since pesticides and herbicides are so readily available.

Last week I read that fashion designer Katharine Hamnett has accused Hackney Council of turning a park into a “death trap” by using glyphosate (Roundup made by Monsanto) to control weeds in a wildflower meadow.  Glyphosate is linked to infertility and birth defects.  This contrasts to the action taken in the 1960’s by the park managers in cities in Holland.  The roses were not growing well, which, it was deduced, was as a result of infestations of nematode worms.  Advice was sought from the Dutch Plant Protection Service scientists, who did not recommend chemical sprays (which had started to become vogue by then).  Instead they suggested that marigolds be planted among the roses.  Why? The marigold releases an excretion from its roots that kill the nematodes. The park managers planted up some of the rosebeds with marigolds, leaving some as a control.  The results were spectacular.  The roses interplanted with marigolds strengthened and bloomed; the roses in the controls beds remained sick.

At the time both England and Holland were running tests over several years which proved that nematodes, other garden pests and some weeds have been drastically reduced or eliminated by growing marigolds close by. As a result many gardeners and growers used marigolds planted between vegetable beds to reduce blight in sweet peas and several vegetables such as carrots, radish and potatoes.  This method was used in the 1930’s and probably for a long time before that.

Other similar techniques include adding coffee grounds to help keep away root maggots in radish, cabbage, turnip, and carrots. 

Quoting for the Soil Association Fact Sheet for producers and growers natural pest control is encourages as follows: Synthetic pesticides are not permitted in organic farming which serves to preserve and enhance biodiversity within the system. Natural enemies of pest species are therefore able to thrive, exerting control on pest populations. Conservation and improvement of natural features of the landscape such as hedgerows and ponds, and the construction of beetle banks and sown flower strips, will also enable communities of predators to flourish.

Other companion plants are:

Borage: deters hornworms and cabbage worms and helps disease resistance

Chrysanthemums: contain contains pyrethin that’s toxic to insects but safe for us

Clover: use as ground cover to ward off pests.  Plant it around cabbage to prevent cabbageworm and aphids from taking hold.

Lavender: Repels most insects you don’t want including fleas, moths and mosquitoes.

 

19th May 2014

It is the hungry gap…. when UK range of produce is at its lowest and the more expensive UK new produce comes in eg asparagus and Jersey Royal or even new potatoes.  It is also a time when we (and the majority of veggie suppliers) have to rely on overseas produce - at GG we look no further than Europe for veggies.

We have noticed that in the last week the cost of a whole swath of produce that we access from our relationships other than local growers have been subject to very large price increases.  We like to use locally produced veg in our boxes and given the increase in costs elsewhere we have ensured this policy prevails this week so that customers receive more goodness for their money.  This does mean that there is less of a range of produce in the boxes.  Having said that, this week we have spinach and lettuces from one grower, which are their first available this year.  The new lettuces are coming in just as the Tablehurst Farm Little Gem come to an end (for now).  Asparagus is going through a lean period as the heavy harvesting of the new crop has reduced the mature spears and the plants busily work on producing the next spears.  Some growers have no asparagus, others have so few boxes at such short notice that we cannot plan for their availability or collection.  But, amongst this is one grower who produces the sweetest plumpest spears and who has enough to get us through the week!  And that’s how it goes….not for the feint-hearted but full of luck and surprise!

How long will the hungry gap continue?  Surprises apart, we predict that in about 3 weeks we should have our first UK broccoli (yes – we do miss that one) and cabbage.  And salad produce should be coming on stream progressively.  We can access UK courgettes now but have chosen not to as their cost is so high.  Within 4 weeks the pricing of this veg should be such that we will gladly switch to the UK.  So for the next few weeks please bear with us.  We’ll work on ensuring the quality and value is as good as we can obtain.

12th May 2014

It takes fats to lose weight…. There has been much discussion about the improvement in Alzheimer’s patients, children with fits and even athletes’ performance after following a diet that switches the body’s main energy source from sugar to ketones. Glucose (sugar) is the body’s preferred fuel but the body will switch to burning fat rather than carbohydrates when in “starvation mode”.  It may sound a bit extreme to encourage a starvation state these days, but it is highly likely that our ancestors’ metabolism switched from burning carbohydrates to burning fats when hunting was lean.  The switch occurs when the liver takes fat and selected amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and turn them into ketones, first and foremost to feed our brains (our brain can only function with glucose or ketones).  Therefore this is a natural process that is required for basic survival.

Ketones were thought to be a toxic by-product of metabolism but now it is known that when starved of glucose the body produces ketones as a direct energy source of the brain and muscles.  Ketones are a much more efficient source of energy than glucose.

As we have mentioned in our newsletters previously this is the basis of the widely followed 5:2 diet where fasting occurs on 2 days of the week.  This has been shown to be highly effective in burning fat and in switching on anti-ageing genes.  The latter is due to lower insulin as a result of glucose release ceasing.  Ketosis is also the reason the Atkins diet was effective.

A diet high in fat and low in carbs with protein in moderation sounds, well, wrong. However the key lies in the types of fat you include. Here are some tips for eating healthy fats:

●    Use olive, sesame, or canola oils for salad dressings and meal preparation.

●    Avocados, a versatile source of omega-3, are great in guacamole dip, salad dressing and smoothies.

●    Salmon and mackerel are both high in omega-3.

●    Walnuts, pecans, and pistachios are all good sources of monounsaturated fats.

●    Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are great snacks containing polyunsaturated fats

●    Virgin pressed coconut oil, fantastic for frying, baking and adding to soups

A note: Ketosis should not be confused with diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be life-threatening. DKA occurs when a diabetic fails to receive enough insulin and goes into an effective state of starvation. Because the diabetic has no insulin there is no natural “stop” to the process of producing ketones.

Orchard Eggs… The hens at Orchard Eggs are getting older and their productivity is reducing.  As a result we are being limited as to the volume of biodynamic eggs we will be supplied.  Orchard Eggs will top up our order with certified organic eggs from a neighbouring farm.  This isn’t unusual at this time of year however we understand that it may occur until new hens are settled in – around September.  It is quite possible that you still receive biodynamic eggs from us, but if we do have to supply you with organic eggs we can reassure you that they come from a superb farm and have a very happy life and are free to wander.  This will commence from next week.

28th April 2014

Natural pest control…. Earlier this month I described the natural method of pest and disease control that UK certification bodies (Soil Association, OF&G and Demeter) stipulate that their producer members must use. This involves managing the farm to achieve health, diversity and vitality to soils and crops to encourage natural growth, natural predators and a balanced ecosystem ie utilising traditional agricultural methods.  It may come as a surprise to some to learn that over the years growers using traditional methods experienced fewer insect problems.

So why is pest control an issue now?  With the intensification of agriculture ie growing a single crop on an immense area, specific insect populations have increased massively, unchecked.  Nature works on the basis of variety (diversity) with different varieties acting as a check and balance over the dominance of specific varieties.  One important natural check is a limit on the amount of suitable habitat for each species. An insect that lives on wheat can increase its population to much higher levels in a large field of just wheat than one in which wheat is intermingled with other crops to which the insect is not adapted.

Diversity of crops is only part of the equation though.  Appropriate crop rotation is equally important as it increases organic matter in the soil, improves soil structure, reduces soil degradation, and can result in higher yields and greater farm profitability in the long-term. Increased levels of soil organic matter enhances water and nutrient retention, and decreases synthetic fertiliser requirements. Better soil structure in turn improves drainage, reduces risks of water-logging during floods, and boosts the supply of soil water during droughts.

Returning to diversity of crops, the reality is that globally the variation of crops grown is exceedingly limited. This is quite bluntly demonstrated by a 1997 study “Despite the discovery of some 50,000 varieties of edible plants, only 15 varieties provide 90% of the world's food energy intake. Just three of them (rice, wheat, and corn) are the staple foods for nearly two-thirds of the world's people. Unless the rate of plant genetic loss is halted or slowed substantially, as many as 60,000 plant species, roughly 25% of the world's total, could be lost by the year 2025, according to the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas” (Hinrichsen).

Our UK growers utilise crop rotation and grow crops on fields with maintained hedgerows which encourage natural predators and help maintain biodiversity.  We visited Plaw Hatch a couple of weeks ago and were shown the rotation in action as Nir pointed out which fields would be planted with what, which field would be left to grass and the current grassed filed that would this year be planted.  As Plaw Hatch is a biodynamic farm the fertility of the fields is enhanced by use of composts, biodynamic preparations and green manures.  Undersowing is commonly used where grass or clover ley is sown under a cereal crop so that it exists at low levels while the crop is there and then after harvest, growth takes off. Undersowing increases the level of biodiversity in a cropped area and after harvest supports seed bearing wild plant species throughout the first autumn and winter period of the ley. This technique is used for a high proportion of organic leys and is one of the reasons that flora and fauna is more abundant in organic farms compared to conventional ones. So when you eat your local organic veg just picture the fields rich in activity & remember that you are helping this to continue!

14th April 2014

Air & soil quality & us…. As the Commons environmental audit committee calls for an investigation into the London’s poor air quality amongst claims that the diesel particles and more are shortening lives, I am reminded of some statistics I read several years ago about the reduced amount of oxygen in the air and nutrients in the soil compared to 50 years earlier. But what is the value of these nutrients?
Perhaps the following gives a little insight. Jack Challem, editor of The Nutrition Research, has put together the results of some studies based on the use of supplements that were reported in 2013.
Multivitamins vs High potency Vitamin B and placebo: David Benton, DSc, of the University of Swansea analysed 8 previously published studies carried out on over 1200 people. Each took either a multivitamin/multimineral supplement containing nutrients with no more than twice the recommended daily allowance or a high potency multivitamin that contained larger amounts of vitamins, but no more than 3 minerals. People took the supplements for between 28-90 days. The effects of the supplements on mood ranged from small to mild. The subjects noted a variety of perceived mood improvements, including less stress, anxiety, fatigue and hostility. The high dose vitamin supplement has a more pronounced effect compared with the lower dose supplements. Improvements were noted whether a subject was healthy or not.
Low vitamin D levels and physical disabilities: Natasja M van Schoor PhD of Vrije University Amsterdam studies 2 groups of people – 725 aged between 55 and 65 and 1237 aged over 65. The researchers measured whether the people could walk down a flight of steps, put on their clothes, cut their toenails or walk outside for five minutes without assistance. After making adjustments for their age, history of physical activity and chronic disease they found that vitamin D deficiency was associated with a higher number of disabilities compared with people who had normal levels of vitamin D. Their conclusion: Vitamin D status is associated with functional limitations and functional decline in older individuals.
Vitamin-like coenzyme Q10 and fibromyalgia: Mario D Cordero PhD of the University of Seville, Spain treated 40 women who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia by giving them either 300mg CoQ10 or placebos daily for 40 days. Coenzyme Q10 is the basis of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and plays an essential part in the production of energy in the body. Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that also includes symptoms such as fatigue, headache, sleep disorders and depression. Previous research has found that people with fibromyalgia are commonly deficient in Coenzyme Q10. Overall symptoms decreased by about half among the women taking the supplements. Pain was reduced by 52%, fatigue by 47% and morning tiredness by 44%.
If air quality is declining it’s quite possible to need a boost every now & then. Do remember that a good nutritionist will know which supplements should work for you.
 

7th April 2014

Setting the record straight…. A recent article in a local paper which remarked that organic growers use pesticides with the inference that produce from local growers is more pure than organic has prompted this week’s missive.

UK certification bodies (Soil Association, OF&G and Demeter) stipulate that their producer members must control pests and disease by managing the farm to achieve health, diversity and vitality to soils and crops to encourage natural growth, natural predators and a balanced ecosystem.  By following this principle the vast majority of organic growers do not need to use pesticides.  Weed control is recommended by using good rotation design, manure management, well-timed soil cultivation and good farm hygiene. Agrochemical or hormone herbicides or pasteurisation/sterilisation of the soil are forbidden. 

SA certified organic farmers are able to use just eight pesticides, derived from natural ingredients, but only under very restricted circumstances.  Many of these pesticides can only be used with prior permission or approval and in all cases pesticide use must be justified formally at the annual inspection with evidence of the result of its use. Copper based pesticides which may be used for potato blight can only be used if there is a major threat to the crop and if used there is a limit of 6kg cu/hectare per year. Sulphur is permitted for fungal disease and soft soap for aphid control but use is being monitored.Non-organic growers can use over 320 different pesticides and they do not have to disclose or justify their use to anyone.

These are the rules but what of our growers ie Local produce on our pricelist? They do not use pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilisers; nor do they use the natural based sprays or copper that are allowed. The rationale for long term relationships with our growers is that we limit uncertainty and surprises and maximise knowledge, transparency and traceability.

What saddens me most of all about the article I read is that the content was substantially influenced by local growers who are not certified organic and in one case couldn’t be as their produce is hydroponically grown.  Rather than recognising the synergies between their production methods (where these synergies exist) and working alongside the organic growers they expend energy disparaging the organic sector. I have met this so often (although after discussion the growers have tended to acknowledge that the organic status has been responsible for an improvement in growing methods). The lost opportunity for working together to take on those that devalue our food (the supermarkets) is a tragedy.  The customer chooses what they buy and mostly they will be influenced by quality – of appearance and taste. And pesticides affect the health of the plant which in turn affect the taste.. Come on local growers.  Let’s help the customers decide by focussing on what we can all offer and where we score over the supermarkets…

 

31st March 2014

Asparagus coming soon from our growers…. We’ve just been told that asparagus should be available in a couple of weeks.  Looking back at last year’s pricelists this is a good month earlier.  Not surprising as last year was so cold for the early months. Traditionally the British asparagus season begins on 1st May and runs for around 7 to 8 weeks.  The soil temperature must be at least 10ºc before asparagus grows and with our mild winter it is developing much earlier than usual. Hopefully the plants don’t develop too quickly as the key to their full, sweet flavour and a fine, tender texture is quite simply that they grow at a time of year that is quite cool and they develop slowly.

British asparagus is hailed by leading chefs as the best in the world. And they probably haven’t tried the produce from our wonderful growers!!

Asparagus is very low in calories and a diuretic that alleviates water retention.  Also it has high fibre content which makes it very good for intestinal health and it has anti-cancer properties.  It should not be eaten by people that have ailments that involve inflammation such as gout, rheumatism and cystitis as its active ingredient Asparagine will cause further irritation. And it maintains the walls of blood vessels which helps reduce blood pressure.  All in all worth the wait!!

Shiitake mushrooms…. It’s very easy to think that Shiitake mushrooms are just a fancy ingredient for an exotic dinner party.  Not so, Shiitake is a superfood packed with medicinal minerals and vitamins and a long history of medicinal use in the East.  Native to Japan, China and Korea Shiitake mushrooms were once reserved for the Emperor and his family.  They are useful for preventing and treating infectious diseases and gastro-intestinal problems and to improve circulation and vitality.

Shiitake stimulate resistance to diseases and enhance the immune response by releasing interferon and simultaneously increasing macrophages in the blood.  Without getting too technical this means the Shiitake strengthens the body’s first line defence by encouraging blood cells to destroy organisms and shares information about the organisms with the immune system and stimulates a clearing up of cellular debris.  In particular eating Shiitake increases resistance to viral infection.

Shiitake also contains a compound which has a lowering effect on blood pressure and cholesterol; so they are good for prevention and treatment of heart disease too.

Japanese studies have long confirmed the mushrooms’ beneficial properties against other health problems including cancer.  Instead of attacking the tumours, Shiitake stimulates the immune system and boosts the body’s own ability to deactivate and eliminate malignant cells.

Whilst they are more expensive than other mushrooms they are very filling so you need less in your meals.

 

24th March 2014

Veggie talk…. It’s been a while since I wrote about what’s happening at the farms, so let’s put that right.  The “hungry gap” where the winter crops finish but the late spring/summer crops are yet to develop is approaching. One of the advantages of buying from many farms is that we do tend to have one or two of our farms producing something different which enables us to put together interesting boxes, but we do tend to rely on European growers for some of the staples.  So what’s happening at one of our group of growers?  The beautiful kale – green, red and red Russian will be finished in about 3 weeks.  You may have noticed that the green kale has not been lasting quite as long as it has done – this is always one of the first signs of crops coming to the end of their season.  Carrots will be finished within 2 weeks too and the grower will stop washing them very shortly.  Many growers have finished their carrot crops now so more wholesalers and retailers are buying from our growers, so we’ll grab what we need to get through the next 3 weeks.  All carrots are lifted now as the fields are needed for summer planting.  Savoy cabbage are finished too.  They have lasted far longer than usual as the winter was so mild.  Their quality fluctuated in recent weeks as the frosts softened the leaves.  Maincrop potatoes are fine for a while which is a vast improvement on 2012 and in 2013!  Red beetroot, red cabbage and celeriac are all being sold from store now (and have been for a few weeks as is usual).  Cauliflower should be available for a month but they don’t like growing in the cold weather and the varieties that are in the field now tend to be the tight leaved ones that can withstand the frost. So what’s coming through?  The fields are planted with more cauliflower and broccoli.  Other growers use poly tunnels so salads, spinach, wild rocket and other leafy greens are coming through.  And our baby varieties such as leeks and spinach show no sign of stopping yet…

White sprouting broccoli…. At this time of year our growers often reward us with fabulous white sprouting broccoli and, because they don’t want to spoil us, they only supply it for a very short while.  Well that’s my take on it!  White sprouting broccoli is even more tender than the purple variety and therefore need to be cooked for less time.  If you are steaming sprouting broccoli of any colour (and this is a very good way of cooking it) the cooking time is very short and broccoli of any description gets cold very quickly (something to do with large surface area due to those wonderful intricate florets, perhaps?) so cook the rest of your meal and when nearly declare “dinner is ready” and then put the sprouting broccoli into the steamer. Purple sprouting broccoli takes about 4 minutes to steam (it is cooked to perfection as soon as your sharp knife can pierce the stem, when gently applied).  The secret of sprouting broccoli is to cook it when fresh as it becomes bitter over time after cutting.  Our broccoli in your box will be wonderfully fresh…unlike that in the supermarkets generally as the distribution process from grower to store via hubs is too protracted.  Enjoy!

17th March 2014

Here’s to a new round of price-wars…. Last week Morrison the supermarket kicked off a price war with its rivals, acknowledging that this will halve their profits for the current year.  This came after the supermarket declared a pre-tax loss and a fall in market share; furthermore it followed reports from Tesco of a decline in market share to 28.7% well below the mid 30% levels of 5 years ago.  The stock markets responded with a fall in share values for the supermarket sector as a whole.

Supermarket Chief Executives cite the “discounters”, Aldi and Lidl, as the reason for their demise, but in doing so they are ignoring the flight of customers demanding transparency of food source which was triggered by the horsemeat scandals of 2013.  There is no doubt that the discounters have been taking market share, but the big omission from the grocer retail statistics is the sales at small independent shops, farm shops and markets.  And we know that this is increasing – particularly as a result of the horsemeat scandal and the importance of provenance of food.

Morrison has historically been the most committed of all supermarkets to buying British meat, eggs and milk.  We pointed out last week that all supermarkets sung from this hymn sheet until price-wars rendered non-British more economical.  So how will Morrison’s pledge to take on the discounters change the food offered by supermarkets?  Firstly all supermarkets have said they will follow Morrison’s prices.  Tesco had already dropped milk prices to match Aldi & Lidl and within a week all supermarkets had followed.  Tesco is cutting the price of core grocery products such as carrots and cucumbers…..watch the others follow….and where will this food be sourced.  All in all these price wars de-value food and decrease their nutritional content.  We have seen it so often, yet before the supermarkets it did not happen.

When self-service stores opened in the 1950s prices were legally fixed by RPM (Retail Price Maintenance).  A producer printed the price on the product and it was adhered to.  In 1964 “Stack it high, sell it cheap” Jack Cohen of Tesco challenged the law and won.  RPM died.  The supermarkets negotiated lower prices from suppliers and the balance of power shifted from the producer to the retailer.  It was good news for the consumer…or was it?  Pressure on the producers to cheapen their product increased and corner-cutting occurred, particularly in meat production….resulting in E.coli, salmonella and BSE.  The supermarkets went for increased range too and non-seasonal fresh produce exceeded the space allocated to seasonal.  Food imports rose, British producers went out of business.  And how has this impacted the producer?  In the 1950s a grower received 50% of the selling price of his produce.  In 2002 this figure had decreased to just 7%.  And the 7% is of a smaller figure as the supermarket’s de-valued food.

Recently the NFU warned that the incredibly competitive retail environment has led to a lowering of the cost of staple items. "What’s important is that these price wars do not undermine the value of the products which farmers and growers work tirelessly to produce and meet world class standard.  The dairy industry are putting strategies into place at a Scottish and UK level to drive value into the dairy chain, growing home and export markets for products. A retail price war on liquid milk hinders that approach”.  So the warnings are there.  If enough of us look at food as necessary fuel for our health appreciate that the value of food is in its quality not its price perhaps we can break this repetitive cycle…..

10th March 2014

When will supermarkets learn their lesson…. The consumer group Which? warned last month that supermarkets and big brands have turned the weekly shop into an "obstacle course" with cunning price ploys to maximise profits.

The pricing tricks include inflating seasonal product prices weeks before consumers need them and later offering price reductions which bring the prices down to their original non-inflated prices (Easter eggs are a typical seasonal product that this practice was applied to last year).  Also, one that we have pointed out previously, reducing items' size but keeping the same price.  Other ploys included the placement of non-discount items next to multi-buy offers and reduced sized packaged good being sold at the same price or even higher. Multi-buys are sometime proportionately more expensive than buying a single item.  Which? also reinforced caution when approaching larger pack sizes as they do not always offer better value.

But pricing tricks are not the only games that are played.  Today the UK has some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world, thanks to immense public pressure. This inevitably makes it more expensive to produce pork, chicken, etc, here than in countries with lower standards. Supermarkets originally joined in the calls for a more humane British agriculture but concern about their profitability and share value became a higher priority (as is inevitable when senior management bonuses are intentionally aligned to shareholder returns).  Supermarkets now source large amounts of the meat they sell from abroad, produced under conditions which would be illegal in this country. To make matters worse it is standard practice for products carrying 'Union Jack' or 'Produce of the UK' stickers to have been processed/packed here but for the animal to have been reared abroad. The long distance haulage of livestock which was brought about by the insistence of supermarkets on using just a handful of mega-abattoirs is not only inhumane but was a major contributing factor to the spread of foot and mouth disease.

Many of us thought the supermarkets had learnt their lesson after the horsemeat scandals last year.  But it appears not. Retailer “report cards” produced by the NFU  in January 2014 show a big difference in the extent of supermarket commitments to buy British produce. All nine of the retailers surveyed stocked 100% British milk and eggs, but there were large variations in their commitments to other food categories.

Tesco and Asda stocked less British produce across fewer categories than the other “big four” members.  Morrisons came out on top.  Ironically Morrisons is one of the worst performer of the supermarkets in terms of shareholder return and value.  I don’t think it’s correct to draw a parallel between Brisith produce and value in Morrison’s case.  Last month. the food chain adviser at the NFU. Mr Lander, said the rise of the discounters (ie Lidl & Aldi) would put pressure on the big four to be more price competitive and there was a concern their commitment to British could potentially waiver over the coming year.

How right he was.  Last week Tesco cut the price of milk by 30% to the levels charged by Lidl.  All other supermarkets followed very rapidly .  Tesco advertised nationally saying the price the 650 members of its Sustainable Dairy Group are paid will not change – but as one farmer points out this accounts for 6% of all farmers.  NFU warns that this war could reduce the farmgate price from its current 17p a pint.

3rd March 2014

The food we eat…. In last week’s newsletter we noted that the pharmaceutical and related industry is lobbying the EU to impose maximum permitted levels for vitamins and supplements which, in our opinion.  Does this matter?  After all the NHS declares “Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a balanced, varied diet”.  As we said last week this assumes that the food we eat is nutritious and provides us with the vitamins and minerals that we need.  Most people buy from supermarkets, so let’s put the nutritional quality of food to the test using research carried out by others and bearing in mind that all food starts to lose its nutritional value from the moment it is slaughtered, picked, baked or produced:

·       ‘fresh’ New Zealand lamb can be two months old when it reaches the supermarket shelves and it even takes a month before British lamb is sold;

·       bread can be 10 days old before it is sold and will “stay fresh” for days afterwards because of its preservatives and mould inhibitors, such as calcium propionate and ascorbic acid.  Further “bake-off” bread such as that baked in supermarkets can be made using part-baked dough suspended at -19°C for up to one year

·       eggs are sold up to 10 days after they were laid

·       fish can lay on ice for 12 days hitting supermarket shelves and take another 4 days to sell.  Fish from further distances may be partially frozen and defrosted several times before it is sold but, technically, as they have never been fully frozen they can still be sold as ‘fresh’ thus carrying the same labelling as fish caught on Britain’s coast, when the time from net to shop can be just 24 hours

·       fruit juice can be up to a year old by the time you take it home particularly if it is made from concentrates which are imported as a syrup that has been filtered, pasteurised, evaporated and then frozen.  Water is added in the recipient factory, it is heat-treated again and preservatives are added

·       ‘fresh’ vegetables can be up to 10 days old before they are on sale and baking potatoes are often six months old. Salad leaves and spinach are washed in chlorine and then stored in ‘modified atmosphere’ packaging (with lower levels of oxygen and higher levels of carbon dioxide than normal air) slowing the rate at which the fresh leaves rot. Spinach retains 53% of its folate and 54% of its carotene after just 8 days stored at fridge temperatures

·       75% of apples we eat are sourced from foreign orchards and can take six months to reach our shelves. In the meantime, they are waxed to give them a shiny, ‘healthy’ look and are kept in refrigerated containers along with special gases to stop them from decaying. Bananas take 10 days from source to shelf and those wrapped in plastic can be 25 days old. They are picked when still green, and on arrival treated with ethylene gas — a plant hormone which occurs naturally in fruit but is artificially introduced to ripen it. Sulphur dioxide is added to grapes to prevent mould growth

The above represent nutrient deterioration from modern.  Add to this the mineral depletion on our soil from intensive farming & pesticide use: In 1900 wheat was 90% protein; in current years it is closer to 9%.  In 1948 100gm of spinach contained 158mg of iron; in current year it is closer to 1mg…and you may just understand why vitamin and mineral deficiencies are so prevalent.  But will the EU consider this?  

24th February 2014

My body is my own…oh no it’s not…. Many of us choose to take vitamin or mineral supplements on a regular basis to maintain our health and aid our body in functioning properly and preventing disease.  Many people I know (and me included) have chosen to do this as a result of experiencing an illness or condition that made them think seriously about the cause thereof.  In that situation, and after seeking advice, sometimes the level of a particular vitamin or mineral needed to get us back on track has been significant. What has always been clear to me is that we are all individuals and have different biochemistry and different deficiencies or levels of the many natural components required or produced by our bodies.

Over the past few years there has been an increasing movement against natural therapies and natural products.  In the main this is through lobbying by large organisations within the pharmaceutical or related companies.  Positively one can view this as a sign that the natural product sector is becoming a threat to these companies and perhaps this is borne out by the increasing interest in natural health products by the public generally.  In reality though, the strength of the pharmaceutical companies, particularly their financial resources which enables powerful PR, media and legal resource is a force that is gaining ground.  And sadly the EU is taking the lead in many areas of natural therapy/products regulation.

Last year a group of companies including ingredient suppliers including DSM and BASF, food supplement makers including Merck, Bayer, Innéov (Nestlé & L’Oréal JV) joined forces with the Responsible Nutrition bodies from Brussels & UK and food supplement associations from several countries (whose significant membership are likely to comprise the large organisations such as…Bayer, Merck etc) to form Food Supplements Europe (FSE). Their aim is to “bring greater transparency and proportionality in European food law processes”.   Their initial campaign is to convince the European Commission to bring forward proposals for maximum permitted levels in vitamin and mineral supplements – and fast and in some cases to frighteningly low levels….so that is what is meant by proportionality…smaller proportions. It is the smaller companies that generally produce higher-potency supplements; these being the products that aren’t sold in supermarkets or large chemist chains, but are recommended after consultation by therapists. A UK organisation Consumers for Health Choice (CHC) is campaigning against this move see www.consumersforchoice.com for further details.

It has always worried me that GPs do not appear to consider vitamin or mineral levels when treating a patient (this has certainly been the case for me).  Also there is a general belief that most people can get all the nutrients they need from eating a balanced diet.  I recently learnt that at medical schools trainee doctors are taught nutrition for just one day out the five-year course…. And the message conveyed to these trainees is that which is currently on the NHS website “Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a balanced, varied diet”

But the balanced-diet approach is overly simplistic. It does not differentiate between processed and unprocessed foods, organic and mass-produced foods, individual health profiles, our age and gender, and whether we have a chronic illness. And the quality of the food available to us is an eye-opener….more on this next week..

17th February 2014

The suffering from pesticides…. Last week we mentioned the use of pesticides on food plants and how this practice continues to increase despite significant evidence as to the damage that the products can cause humans, animals and the environment.

In 2001 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated 500,000 pesticide related poisonings per year including 5,000 accidental deaths.  The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) at that time estimated up to 20,000 cases of pesticide poisoning incidents among US agricultural workers each year.  In July 2013 the EPA continued to quote the 20,000 figure despite pesticide use having increased over the ensuing 10 years and farm crews being regularly exposed to crop dusters spreading heavy clouds of pesticides for hours every day. A survey of immigrant New Mexico farmworkers revealed that managers threaten their workers with losing their job if refuse to work in direct contact with pesticides or if they complain to their employer.  Perceived wisdom is that 20,000 incidents is very much on the low side.

Pesticide exposure leads to short-term symptoms such as vomiting, muscle cramps and skin rashes and long term problems such as leukemia, brain cancer, birth defects, nerve damage and hormonal imbalances.  The damage is not restricted to the farmworker though as their families are exposed to the same chemicals from the proximity of their housing and schools to the contaminated fields as well as the pesticide residue carried by the farmworker into his/her home.  A report by the Farmworker Justice during 2013 revealed the experience of one female farmworker, Graciela, and her daughter, the latter having developed leukemia.  Graciela described how they worked under tarpaulins with little headroom and no ventilation to allow the chemicals to escape.  Daily they worked, cutting ferns, with their faces practically buried in the chemical ridden plants, unaware of the dangers to their health.

Partially as a result of the report last year agricultural workers demanded Congress and the EPA mprove worker protection standards governing the amount of acceptable pesticide exposure.  Their demands included pesticide safety training for workers, transparent explanations of the types of pesticides used and more medical monitoring of workers exposed to neurotoxic chemicals.  But others believe this is not enough as the workers and their families continually encounter pesticides through the air they breathe, the food they eat and the soil where they work and play.  Furthermore, pesticide use on industrial farms has substantially as increased levels of chemicals are needed to combat superweeds and superworms evolving in response to genetically modified crops.

Pesticides have been proven to be carginogenic (causing cancer), mutagenic (causing or increasing frequency of mutation, teratogenic (damaging to an embryo or foetus, fattening (when the liver cannot dispose of poisons they can be wrapped in fat and stored for later attention) and endocrine-disruptors (some pesticide molecules are similar to human hormones such as oestrogen, so the body’s hormone balance becomes confused).  Given the plethora of potential adverse effects on humans (and wider) why are they used in such abundance? The answer? For profit.  At any cost, health, environment and much more.  In 1963 a multinational organisation The Codex Alimentarius Commission (aptly named CAC) was formed from a cooperative effort of WHO and the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO). Their objective was to develop a set of food standards to protect consumers’ health…so CAC approved toxic chemical for use on crops, an approval still in force today.

10th February 2014

Organic food returns to favour…. At last recent food fraud such as last year’s horsemeat scandal has made sufficient numbers of people question the provenance and quality of their food, resulting in a switch to traceable and in many cases chemical free food.  Retail analysis released this year indicates growth in the organics sector.  The Soil Association market research notes “growing public demand for organic and food logos that [the public] can trust”.  Sales of organic food declined by 12% in 2010 and have been falling since….until 2013 that is.  And if the media continue to cover stories about food fraud this growth is likely to continue. It was reported only last week that the results of 900 sample tests by councils in West Yorkshire found 38% of foods were mislabelled or not what they claimed to be.  That is a massive proportion in a random test.  That is over 300 samples where the public were being misled and, if they ate the product, would be eating something contrary to their expectations.  That this is still happening after the high profile and food fraud cases last summer shows how out of control our food supply is.  Even Abel & Cole ready meal products were found to contain meat products that differed from their labels last year.  Whether this had been influenced by their then relatively new owner, Aunt Bessie, who knows.  But Aunt Bessie’s PR team managed to keep a lid on this transgression somewhat. I saw it only in trade journals.

A recent article on the growth of organic sales suggests that better product availability is helping to drive growth.  This comment is mostly aimed at supermarkets who have seen considerable narrowing of their organic range as they had less power to wield over organic producers.  Partly this was a conscious selection against supplying supermarkets – certainly we saw a lot of that in the meat sector a few years ago (I wonder whether that influenced the convoluted food supply chains that most supermarkets became involved in in recent years).  The meat producers’ arguments were simply they couldn’t survive on the prices that the supermarkets were driving them to sell at.  Many elected to trim their workforce and their product quantity, whilst maintaining quality and prices and selling either direct or through independent retailers whose clients could afford to pay prices which reflected the production costs.

Ironically we have not seen a reduction in range over the past 4 years, although we have found the flow of seasonal produce problematic as our growers battle with the weather.  We have noted that our growers’ are producing a greater variety of products – apples, potatoes, tomatoes and squash being just 4 of these products.  We think this is great as it allows us to fine tune our taste buds and allows weekly surprises of new-ness whilst adhering to mostly indigenous seasonal produce, which after all is packed with the specific vitamins and nutrition that our bodies require.

But coming back to “knowing what we are eating” the use of pesticides continues and if our government has its way will increase in the future.  We have no space to describe the diseases that can be caused by pesticides, but the practice is carried out often merely to prevent cosmetic damage by insects.  For example apricots are sprayed to avoid insect damage that puts “freckles” on the fruit and hothouse plants eg lettuces are routinely and frequently sprayed – but chemical free methods such as crop rotation, companion planting, predator population release and more exist. If pesticides were died blue who would buy the produce?  What you can’t see…you don’t know exists…

3rd February 2014

GM court case…. A farmer in Western Australia who has recently lost his organic status after his crops were contaminated by seed blowing from his neighbour’s GM rapeseed crop is taking his battle to court in a ground breaking fight for compensation of losses.  The case is considered so important to many growers and consumers that an appeal has been launched for funds to assist with legal costs.  The Soil Association has made a donation and as they put it “Steve (Marsh, the farmer) is standing up for his right to grow GM-free food for us all - and if he wins this landmark case, it could help ensure that you continue to have the right to choose GM-free food”.  Donations can be made via the Safe Food Foundation website.

The right to choose what we eat is increasingly under threat in the UK with Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary and a long-standing fan of biotechnology declaring that Europe is likely to become "the museum of world farming" because of its failure to embrace genetically modified crops and supporting the growing of GM crops in the UK. He is quite unequivocal – GM food is not harmful to eat.  But how does he know this?  No tests have ever been carried out on the safety of GM food for people to eat.  How has this been allowed to happen?  In 1993 11 out of 17 scientists of the US Food & Drug Administration opposed the approval of the first GM tomato variety due to concerns about its safety after feeding trials.  However they were overruled by their bosses who were under great pressure to grant approval.  The FDA established a principle of “substantial equivalence” which stated that GM foods no longer had to undergo safety testing since there was no significant difference between them and non-GM foods!!! The US has worked hard to impose this principle worldwide and continues to oppose labelling of GM food for the same reason.

This month there is a vote of EU member states on whether to allow cultivation of a variety of maize that has been made insect-resistant through genetic engineering. If licensed, it would be the first GM food crop authorised for planting by the EU in 15 years, but the proposal faces significant opposition.  But green campaigners said investment in organic farming would be a better bet for environmentally sustainable agriculture. Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said: "We are concerned about the immediate prospects for organic food, as the organic market has moved back into growth. The prospects of the UK organic market increasing are being held back by the fact that UK organic farmers get the lowest level of financial support of any EU country." EU subsidies directed toward organic farmers in other member states amount to £140 per hectare, but in England the figure is about £60 per hectare, according to Melchett. In countries including France, Germany, Italy and Sweden, the subsidy can rise to as much as £250 per hectare.

Should we worry about the aspirations of Owen Paterson?  After all just last week he has been accused of "incredible complacency" over climate change after new figures showed his department has slashed spending on helping Britain cope with global warming by over 40% compared to 2013.

And as eloquently put by the Daily Mirror last week “Blundering minister Owen Paterson was branded ’the fool of the floods’ as troops finally moved in to help victims of the wettest January for over a century after Owen Paterson was accused of dithering and ignoring warnings that cuts posed a big risk to river defences…..

27th January 2014

Raising the profile of food waste…. We have written frequently in this newsletter about the waste caused by the ludicrously confusing and often far too conservative Food Date Labelling.  The UK government and European Parliament make reference to reducing waste and give the impression that there could be some modification to the labeling rules, but to date nothing appears to have changed and appalling food waste continues.  In early 2012 the European Parliament resolved to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2020 and apparently designated 2014 as the "European year against food waste." Heard about that before?  Maybe I live under a stone, but I haven’t heard or read anything about this and only came across it when researching for this article. We’re 27 days into 2014…and not a dicky bird!  Also I understand that 53 of the leading food retailers and brands in the UK have pledged to reduce waste in their own operations and that of their supply chain.  No declared plans as to how – but I am sure they’re just round the corner!

But wait – news on this matter is not all negative.  And the most positive move is coming from one of the most unexpected countries – US.  The former president of grocery store chain Trader Joe's, Doug Rauch, plans to open a store and restaurant that sells expired food in Massachussets in May this year.  The store, named The Daily Table, will be part grocery store and part cafe, specialising in healthy, inexpensive food and catering to the underserved population. The store will exclusively collect and sell food that had crept past its “sell-by” date, from outlets including conventional supermarkets!

Doug Rauch maintains his aim is to make healthy food available for the working poor at the same price as fast food by using expired food. Taken at face value this has to be totally laudable.  And a clever strategy to highlight and attempt to remedy both the problem of food waste and the cheapness and accessibility of un-nutritious fast food.  Perhaps it is a publicity stunt but undoubtedly it is raising the profile of the connectivity of these two issues – which if resolved could positively impact both energy usage and disease/medical costs.

How important is food waste?  Well for starters 40% of the food produced in the US each year is wasted during the period from when it’s grown to when it’s left on a consumer’s dinner plate and $165 billion is put into the rubbish bin.

UK Households waste around 20% of all the food they buy which is equivalent to 24 meals a month, adding up to 4.2 million tonnes of food and drink every year that could have been consumed. Almost half of this is going straight from fridges or cupboards into the bin. One-fifth of what households buy ends up as waste, and around 60% of that could have been eaten.

A major contributor to this waste (and I am sure this resonates with many of you) is the multi buy offers by supermarkets. In a government report issued late last year Tesco acknowledged that 35% of its bagged salad is being thrown out. It also found that 40% of apples were wasted, and just under half of bakery items.

Returning to the US nearly 15% of US households in 2012 had occasions when they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, let alone whether it would be healthy and wholesome. A quote from a not for profit business which donates to a  food bank “It’s the most solvable, preventable, unnecessary problem we’ve got.”

20th January 2014

The value of organic mushrooms…. We often put mushrooms in your boxes as their nutritional and medicinal benefits (not to mention their taste) are so much better than the non-organic offerings that are found in many shops.  I still remember my first taste of an organic mushroom years ago.  I was bowled over and have been a convert ever since!  Every so often I have to resort to non-organic mushroom for my own meals and I am always disappointed at the lack of taste.  But taste aside why organic mushrooms? These fungi readily absorb and concentrate whatever they grow in.  This is what gives mushrooms their potency or medicinal activity. The reason for this is that fungi are heterotrophic - they obtain their organic material from external sources ie their environment.  Most other plants are autotrophic - they are able to manufacture their food from solar radiation and water.

Mushroom’s absorption capabilities are great if they grow in good matter but are clearly not if they grow in bad substances. For instance mushrooms are known to concentrate heavy metals as well as air and water pollutants.  In fact they are often used in farming intentionally to extract pollutants from water or soil to improve the quality of the river for fish farming or soil for livestock/arable farming with such a remarkably positive effect that they are identified by some as the answer to environmental clean-up.

It becomes self-evident that healthy and chemical-free growing conditions are critical for mushrooms.  I’m a firm believer that the healthy growing environment is fully reflected in the taste of food and perhaps more so for mushrooms than other veggies.  Mushrooms are high in vegetable proteins (making them a good source of protein for vegetarians) and low in calories, making them a valuable source of healthy nutrition. They also contain zinc, iron, chitin, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre. Their health benefits include increasing oxygen efficiency within the body and the ability to fight disease as well as strengthening the immune system.

Recent research in the US has found that substituting red meat with white button mushrooms can help enhance weight loss. Obese participants with a mean age of just over 48 years ate approximately one cup of mushrooms per day in place of meat. The control group ate a standard diet without mushrooms.  After 3 months the intervention group had lost an average of 3.6 percent of their starting weight, or about seven pounds. They also showed improvements in body composition, such as reduced waist circumference, and ability to maintain their weight loss compared to the control group.

Matthew’s new tomato sauce… was concocted for a meal last week from whatever was in the fridge & larder….and it is fantastic and oh so simple! Take half a red pepper, a shallot and about 30gm of horseradish root.  Grate each of them, the horseradish should be finely grated.  Pan fry the mixture and when cooked through add 1/3rd can of chopped tomatoes (or chopped fresh tomatoes if you have them to hand).  We had this with a small steak, but I think it would be fabulous with mushrooms, particularly baked portobellos.  As an aside Matthew also made mashed potato (skin off this time) and boiled a 10th of a fennel with the potatoes and mashed the two veggies together.  Such a light, fresh taste…I was very impressed!

13th January 2014

Are organic veggies more expensive than non-organic? I was intrigued to discover recently that our organic veggie prices at the market stall in Horsham were lower than or the same as the non-organic veggies sold on another stall.  We buy direct from growers for three reasons: i) we can obtain veg that is just cut or harvested for us, ii) the grower receives a larger margin which means his business is more sustainable and iii) we buy at competitive prices.  The latter point is further substantiated as our price checking this week indicates that our staple veggies and eggs are up to 30% lower cost than the organic offerings of supermarkets. For example our carrots are 25% cheaper per kg than Waitrose organic carrots, but remember that if you buy extra carrots with a standard box the price is even less…so buying from GG is a win-win.. fresher and superior quality as well as better value for money!!!

What’s in your box this week…As usual to produce in our standard seasonal boxes is predominantly from UK growers or in the case of the small box 100% from UK growers.  We have purple sprouting broccoli for the second week and fabulous biodynamic Red Russian kale, chard and winter purslane from Tablehurst Farm.  Our gorgeous leeks are from Cherry Gardens and Tablehurst this week.  We like to specialise in our “baby” varieties and have both baby leeks and baby spinach on offer from one of our small UK growers this week.  The biodynamic Russet apples are just fantastic and are from Cuckfield.  These are not those with leathery skins; they combine the best of russet flavour with the ease of eating of, say, Pippin and are therefore great for kiddies too (and they’re small in size).  The caulis and cabbages are fabulous this week, very firm and crisp in the case of the cabbages.  This is a testament to our growers as the growing conditions aren’t great at the moment. But, hey, that’s why our growers are so special!!!

Winter Fuel Bag… Do you remember that last winter there were several really cold spells with snow or ice on the ground.  Perhaps it is because my Mum can no longer walk to the shops, but I got to thinking about the many people for whom getting to the shops is a problem, particularly in the cold weather. I suspect many rely on neighbours and family for their provisions.  And when it is cold it is especially important to eat good fresh produce that is full of the nutrients, minerals and vitamins that are essential for our immune systems.

“Hmm” we thought.  “What we need is a small bag of basic fresh veg and fruit which is suitable for one person.  But this will cost less than our minimum charge and will not be environmentally positive if we deliver ourselves.  Ah, but our customers are such goodly souls that many will already be looking out for their neighbours who are in this situation.”  So the Winter Fuel Bag was created – a small bag, sold and delivered only to customers who are also buying from us for their own use but only available when the forecast or expectation is for cold or otherwise inclement weather.

We welcome back the Winter Fuel Bag this week (although it isn’t quite as cold as we were expecting)!  The contents are clementines, potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli and brussel sprouts and the bag costs £8. Let us know if you are interested in purchasing one for a neighbour, friend or family member.  There is no requirement to buy this regularly, just whenever it is needed.

6th January 2014

Colds and snuffles abound… The December/January temperature may not have been particularly cold but the continual dampness and buffeting wind, not to mention the wind chill factor on occasions have all conspired to spread colds in recent weeks.  I was particularly bad one day just before Christmas, a time when I really cannot afford to be available for work and the day before my last market at Horsham.  It was no good though, I had to succumb to bed with a throbbing headache, feeling sick and completely blocked top of nose/sinus.  This turned out to be a real test of the effects of natural remedies as I had to be up at 4am the next morning…. I was advised to:

·          Echinacea (a good one) several times a day

·          Breathe in the steam from boiling turnips to help clear my nose and to eat the cooked turnips as they are antibacterial and help improve the immune system

·          Wear a hat all of the time, even when in bed.  Why? We lose a massive amount of body heat via our heads and as fluids make their way towards our heads, so the phlegm and mucus travels in that direction too, often culminating at the top of the nose.  Wearing a hat reduces the movement of heat towards your head, as it cannot escape there and, as a result, the phlegm at the top of the nose reduces..with it any headache that is the result of pressure from the stagnant phlegm

·          Sleep, keep warm and sweat it out

At 4am I rose to an awful day of torrential rain, spent 9 hours standing in puddles of water with wet feet as my strong walking boots could not cope with this amount of water and guess what….felt fine, had no headache, no sickness and no blocked nose!

If I wasn’t converted before, I am now!!  The natural way works for me & very quickly.

25th November 2013

Message from Global Research in Canada … Control oil and you control nations,” said US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the 1970s.  “Control food and you control the people.”  Global food control has nearly been achieved, by reducing seed diversity with GMO (genetically modified) seeds that are distributed by only a few transnational corporations. But this agenda has been implemented at grave cost to our health; and if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) passes, control over not just our food but our health, our environment and our financial system will be in the hands of transnational corporations.

GMO plants have either of two traits, one of which is an insensitivity to glyphosate-based herbicides (plant-killing chemicals) which poisons everything in its path except plants genetically modified to resist it. A barrage of experimental data has now shown glyphosate and the GMO foods incorporating it to pose serious dangers to health. Yet 60% to 70% of the foods in US supermarkets are now genetically modified. By contrast, in at least 26 other countries—including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico and Russia—GMOs are totally or partially banned.

In light of these adverse findings, why have Washington and the European Commission continued to endorse glyphosate as safe? Critics point to lax regulations, heavy influence from corporate lobbyists, and a political agenda that has more to do with power and control than protecting the health of the people.

Using up what is in the fridge The best “make it up as you go” meal that I’ve prepared recently went as follows: We’re having chicken, as one breast has been defrosted for the occasion.  Everything else is “up for grabs”. We’re cooking for two.  The appealing items in the fridge are: mozzarella just outside best by date so should use that, Cavolo Nero, Harlequin/Celebration squash (small…enough for 2) and swede. We had: chicken stuffed with mozzarella and coated with egg and breadcrumbs (pan fried first then baked in the oven), swede chips (plain this time, just baked in the oven with a small amount of oil and salt & black pepper), cavelo nero stir fried with garlic and finely chopped red pepper and the squash (the real success story that pulled it all together, in my opinion) cut in half, de-seeded, lightly brushed with oil on the flesh and skin, placed in oven tray, and a small dollop of butter, ground cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg added (in “bowl” where seeds were) and baked for 20/25mins at 175/Gas 6…then when ready, small amount of the Cavolo Nero mix added to the “bowl” and a slice of mozzarella placed on top.  Back into the oven for 5/10 mins…. All done.  So tasty… Will definitely do this again! 

18th November 2013

Fire at Orchard Farm… Orchard Farm in Forest Row is where the happy hens who provide our wonderful biodynamic eggs live.  Daniel and Karen, the egg farmers, have worked amazingly hard developing their business over the past 5 years.  The hens aerate the soil, depositing rich manure on the fields that also contain the apple and pear trees (as well as soft fruits) which are the assets of the fruit farm business owned by Stein, a co-farmer on this land which is owned by Tablehurst Farm.

Last Tuesday, a fire broke out in the massive wooden outbuilding that housed the farm equipment including egg grading machine and the office for both businesses.  The fire was so fierce that attending fire fighters could not get near enough to start work on containing it.  They had to wait until it started dying down, ie when it eradicated much of the outbuilding contents.  The result is a total loss of both outbuilding and contents.

The hens have not been affected by the fire at all and still continue to happily go about their business and lay their eggs.  Their hen houses and field is away from the outbuilding.

Whilst understandably very shaken Daniel has told me that he is very lucky to have been superbly advised regarding insurance when he started the business and that NFU Mutual, his insurers, have been very supportive and responsive.  Daniel and Karen with the help of friends have worked hard to relocate their egg packing and office and we are amazed that they continued to supply us with eggs one week on.  Egg grading machines are built to order so for the meantime the supply will be restricted to mixed boxes only.  Daniel apologises that the printing on the carton labels is not up to scratch…we didn’t notice the difference though.

Small quality producers are the cornerstone of GG and we have asked Daniel to let us know if they need any help now or in the future.  He says that right now they need to focus on re-building their business and at some point in the future (6 months plus) they would hope to be able to rebuild the outbuilding.  The best that we can do is to continue to support them and to introduce as many people as possible to their wonderful, energy packed eggs.

If you would like to send them a message find them on Facebook - Orchard-Eggs.

Agrochemical companies continue to challenge the EU ban on neonicotinoids On November 6 BASF, a German agrochemical company, took legal action in the General Court of the European Union (EU) to challenge the EU Commission's decision to restrict seed treatment uses of the insecticide fipronil. BASF joins chemical companies Bayer and Syngenta in challenging the EU's decision to restrict the use of certain pesticides that are harmful to pollinators. In August, Syngenta filed a legal challenge to the EU’s suspension of one of its insecticides claiming that decision was made on the basis of a flawed process. Bayer Crop Science filed a similar legal challenge in mid-August claiming that its pesticides have been on the market for many years and have been extensively tested and approved. Bayer says according to EU guidelines, approved products can only be banned if there is new evidence of their negative effects. Others will say these companies ignore the increasing body of new science that documents neonicotinoid toxicity to bees and other pollinators.

11th November 2013

Plaw Hatch yoghurts update… Plaw Hatch wholemilk yoghurt is back in production as the Mums give birth to their babies and cease their pre-birth dry period.  We welcome it back….the greek and fruit yoghurts will follow in future weeks. At GG we think it’s great to be reminded of the natural family needs that are the precursor to our wonderful, nutritious food.  The Plaw Hatch yoghurts are made from raw milk and unusually are “set” in the container…which the Soil Association reckons is a key factor to the “specialness” that led to them awarding the wholemilk yoghurt the Best Dairy Product 2012.

 

The importance of labels… Following on from my article about the importance of food labelling and knowledge about product contents I was deeply disappointed (although perhaps not entirely surprised) to learn that this week a referendum in Washington on whether genetically modified foods should be labelled as such voted 55% against labelling to 45% for labelling.  This echoes the outcome of a referendum in California in 2012.

Recent surveys in the US indicate that 90% of the public are pro-labelling, however they and the pro-labelling campaigners such as Whole Foods Markets, Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap, the Center for Food Safety are no match for the anti-labelling organisations (AKA Big Food) such as Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto Co., DuPont Co… and it all comes down to the money thrown at respective campaigns - $22 million was spent by the anti-labelling organisation, almost triple the $8.4 million raised by the pro-labelling organisations.

But that is America, what about the GM labelling in the UK? By law products that intentionally contain genetically modified ingredients must be labelled…well, with a few tolerances for small amounts of GM or non-authorised materials.  So, if shopping by labels, the only way we can eradicate GM products from our diet is to buy only certified organic products where the certification confirms a threshold of 0.1% (the lowest detectable level possible).

Although our stance on GM foods in the UK is more opaque there have been some big shifts in commitment to GM-free such as the supermarkets who dropped their decade-long stance against selling chickens fed on genetically modified crops.  Marks & Spencer, the Co-op, Sainsburys, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons have all reversed their requirement that prohibit their suppliers from feeding GM soya to chickens used in the production of their own-brand eggs and poultry.  Sadly, this move occurred following fierce lobbying from groups such as the National Farmers Union and the British Poultry Council, both of which are pro-technological farming.  The argument for pro-GM poultry feed is that there is insufficient GM-free feed available.  This contention is not universally accepted.  Indeed, Waitrose have their doubts and remains the beacon that continues to adhere to its GM-free food policy.

GM producers’ lobbying funds and clout are enormous, but it is not succeeding in Scotland and Wales where a GM-free policy exists. The government in England is weakening and in late 2012, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Prime Minister David Cameron began to make public statements in support of GM crops. Will we follow the US experience?  The voice of the people is essential.

2nd November 2013

Plaw Hatch yoghurts… Most of the cows at Plaw Hatch are not being milked currently so they can focus their energy on the calves that are due to be born in November.  At the same time the grass growth has slowed down so the cows that are being milked are providing less milk. Last week and this week represent the peak of the number of “dry” cows so no yoghurts at all are available.  The girls at Plaw Hatch do apologise for this, however personally I think this helps us recognise that the yoghurts are a wonderful by-product of the cow’s natural life. I have no doubt that one of the reasons Plaw Hatch wholemilk yoghurt won the Soil Association Best Dairy Product award in 2012 is the farm’s biodynamic ethos of ensuring the cows experience as little stress as possible, including leaving the cow’s horns intact and allowing mothers to raise their calves for longer than the standard period.

What’s happening on the farms… The time of year and change of weather has prompted the end of some UK produce.  Broccoli will be finished within 2 weeks and we have noticed that it isn’t quite as firm as usual this week.  The romanesco caulis that are of an appropriate size will be cut next week and the fields then cleared.  Spinach has finished but is replaced by perpetual spinach from Tablehurst Farm – we’ve seen that today and it is truly fabulous.  Perpetual spinach is actually from the beet family and is much more hardy than spinach – hence its name “perpetual”…it keep on growing!  Squash will be harvested soon and put into store, where it can be left for months, but won’t be as the growers sell their produce for us to store!  We bring some into stock but don’t have large storage facilities, so if you wish to keep squash for next year we suggest you buy in what you need sooner rather than later.

The importance of labels… At Greener Greens we feel it is important that individuals should be able to access sufficient information about the needs of their body and the properties and benefits of specific foods, vitamins and minerals so that they can make decisions about their diet and lifestyle.  Many of us have learnt to appreciate the value of foods and supplements in preventing or managing illness, either professionally or through personal experience.  Sadly accessability of information about plant and botanical nutrition products has been radically limited by EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation as producers have had to drop health claims from the labels of many products as they are not in the list of claims approved by the Regulator.  Ironically no botanical ingredients are on the approved list because EU policy-makers determined that their assessment should be suspended in 2010 – but has yet to set a date for their assessment.  Food labelling is such an important source of information yet decisions are being made to either prevent data from being added to labels or to not require essential information to be added to labels such as its nutritional value or amount of added sugar or added fat.

It is from personal experience (and the advice from a qualified nutritionist) that I learnt the value of magnesium for many of the body’s functions and for lowering my blood pressure and subsequently on reading more about this one mineral I began to understand how my lifestyle had contributed to my magnesium deficiency. Some of this was due to food intake that included “anti-nutrients” ie products which strip nutrients from our body…sugar being a very common one. If food labels do not provide the information we need, just how can we make these essential decisions?

28th October 2013

Organic Growing..The Longer Term Strategy?… A few months ago as I researched how the weather and dire growing conditions of 2012 had impacted UK growers’ viability then (in 2012) and productivity this year I came across an interview with Peter Kendall the President of the NFU about farming and weather extremes.  In this interview Mr Kendall had made two statements that I particularly noted: ….[it is a risk that] we actually cut ourselves off from the technology that we need to manage those extreme weather events and [Summer 2012] was just a deluge and plant protection products [pesticides] were incredibly important to us even maintaining a pretty poor harvest: without them, there would have been nothing. When you have rain after rain after rain, the level of disease that grew up within the crop was absolutely out of this world.  I had gleaned from various sources that organic growing had fared better than conventional farming during 2012 therefore was a bit intrigued about the prominent reference to chemicals being the answer. Not being an expert in this area I turned to an organisation that has access to such experts & posed various questions about conventional vs organic & poor weather conditions to the Soil Association.  The responses provided much food for thought..

Regarding conventional vs organic in 2012 the SA notes that feeding high levels of nitrogen to plants (required when the soil is decimated from chemical usage) makes them grow more quickly giving them thinner cell walls and more vulnerable to pests and diseases but organic crops will have suffered high levels of disease as the low light levels meant that crops often were unable to grow away from pest or disease attacks. Crop protection, whether organic or chemical based, was difficult to apply in 2012 as the fields were too wet to drive on. However, picking up on Mr Kendall’s comment about the importance of plant protection projects (which were large scale when they could be applied) the SA note that potentially the soil is so damaged that next year’s harvest will be significantly harmed.  Some organics farmers wrote off half their farm last year to avoid damaging the soil and are anticipating reaping the benefits from improved soil in 2013…ie looking to the long term.

14th October 2013

A very Special Offer… I became aware of an outstanding gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and nut-free baking mix a few weeks ago when a client not only told me about it but gave me a taster of some courgette bread made with it.  My verdict was “Simply stunning….I must add this to our catalogue”.

Imagine my disappointment when, having identified the wholesaler, I discovered that the product had being withdrawn as the producer was returning to the USA as she was not able to obtain sustainable margins in the UK.  Just how many times do we have to hear this? I thought.  Whilst not an issue isolated to the UK, the supermarket/large distributor purchasing & bargaining power in the UK is so strong and in the hands of such a small number of players that our smaller producers are particularly vulnerable.

Annoyed at the possible injustice, I thought the least I could do is to contact the producer and let her know how fantastic her product is and how I would have readily added it to our catalogue. I did, and as a result of that conversation you have a one-off chance to try the product yourself, as I have bought the last few boxes that are ever likely to exist in the UK!!

So what’s so special about this baking mix?  Made by Amy Ruth, a lady who has had digestive issues since a child and also a love of cookies,  this baking mix is made of ancient grains (quinoa, teff and brown rice), flax and chia seeds and unlike most gluten free products (including Doves Farm’s) it is not loaded with starches to compensate for the lack of wheat flour.  It truly is a luxury product but sometimes treats are in order, aren’t they! Visit Amy Ruth’s website: www.amy-ruths.com for further information and some fantastic recipes (and remember that we stock many of the other ingredients for these recipes too).

7th October 2013

 

Why we like to offer varieties of the same fruit or vegetable… We are carrying a wide range of varieties of potatoes, apples, squash and tomatoes at present and as the seasons change we expect to continue this approach as our growers have different varieties available.  We’ve mentioned before that our growers are increasing their range of varieties in response to two factors: the threat of disappearance of traditional English varieties and to offer a greater breadth of seasonal produce to satisfy the consumer who has become used to the range of produce offered by supermarkets which largely come from overseas.

I thought I’d look into the supermarket’s impact on English apple varieties.  It’s scary reading; this is a fraction of what I found out:

·          The supermarkets are the biggest reason for the decline of the English apple as they demand apples varieties that are available all the year round and can be shipped and stored for a long time. They also demand disease-free apples with a good profit margin and guaranteed consistency of shape

·          The small-scale orchards of Britain cannot guarantee these factors.  So who can? Foreign producers, growing apples on an industrial scale, for efficiency of production, uniform size and perfect peel. What about taste?  These apples are mostly lacking in taste

·          Gala and Braeburn varieties, developed in New Zealand, are in abundance on the supermarket shelves but Cox is rarely seen.  Why? Only 65 per cent of apples on a Cox’s tree are good enough to be sold as ‘class one’ in the supermarket, while 90 per cent of the fruit on a Gala tree qualifies.

·          Old varieties are losing out to new ones that are being aggressively branded and marketed. Britain’s fourth most popular apple, Pink Lady, is even trademarked, meaning British farmers aren’t allowed to grow it.

·          Most of the year, English apples are available, but only 25% of apples consumed in the UK are grown here. In fact, 90% of apples sold in our supermarkets are grown in France. The largest retailers have centralised distribution, meaning there is an enormous distance between producer, packager, distributor and ultimate retail outlet.  In order to supply food at short notice delivery lorries are often half-empty.

And to put it all in perspective….in order to preserve the fruit during transit, they are routinely treated with post-harvest pesticides and waxed to prevent wrinkling, improving their appearance and extending their shelf-life. Unlike the chemicals used while the fruit are being grown, the post-harvest pesticides are intended to stay on the fruit. Fruit sold in the UK does not have to be labelled as treated or as waxed, so the only way to avoid such fruit is to buy organic or fruit specifically labelled as not having undergone post-harvest treatment.

So tell me why would anyone choose to buy overseas apples from a supermarket when English organic apples are available from elsewhere?

And wider than just apples – two general statistics re the influence of supermarkets…

·          17 billion portions of fruit and vegetables are left to rot by supermarkets, rejected because they are not considered “uniform”

Up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never even harvested because the perfectly edible vegetables fail look how supermarkets want them

23rd September 2013

Bees & Bayer: The saga continues….  Not content to accept the EU two-year ban on neonicotinoids (pesticides believed to be killing off millions of bees), Bayer, a major manufacturer of these pesticides, is suing the European Commission. The ban was determined by the European Commission following scientific evidence that linked the chemical to the global reduction in bee populations. Bayer, which joins Syngenta in challenging the ban, says the ban is “unjustified” and goes beyond the Commission’s existing regulatory framework. The German chemical giant also said the commission failed to take into account other factors that are contributing to bee die-offs, including, it says, loss of habitats, extreme environmental and climatic factors and lack of genetic diversity.

Ironically Bayer operates a Bee Care Program, their credentials for which are presumably supported by the questionable statement on their website “our business is based on an inherent interest in preserving bee health and promoting sustainable agriculture”.  A recent tweet by Bayer Bee Care directed “readers” to an article in Farming UK which states that in line with the UK government’s view that the ban is “unnecessary and unjustified” British and German farmers too think that the ban of these insecticides makes little sense.  The conclusion was drawn after a survey was carried out by an independent researcher…except that the researcher was far from independent and provides services to the agribusinesses … and the government.

It is interesting to note the common phrase “unjustified” in the UK Government’s, Bayer’s and Syngenta’s assessment of the ban. The UK Government’s key evidence for its assessment came from Defra by way of a published report.

A professor at Sussex University has studied the report and observes that despite Defra basing its argument for no link between neonicotinoids and bee ill-health on five field studies, it provides no description of these.  Instead it provides a detailed critique of the three studies (ie it rubbishes them) that other organisations have put forward as evidence of a relationship between pesticides and bee death.  As the professor puts it “What I find extremely odd is that the five field studies are not subject to the same examination. Why on Earth not? If we are to weigh up the evidence, surely we should examine each study equally carefully? They are not mentioned again, although the document ultimately concludes that they were correct in their findings.”  Intrigued, he reviewed the five field studies and concluded “these five studies tell us almost nothing about the impacts of neonicotinoids on bees. There is not one successful experiment, with replication and proper controls, to be found amongst them. Two of the five aren’t actually published studies at all.”  He also notes that two were funded by agrichemical businesses!

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) court proceedings could take up to two years. Unless the ECJ issues an injunction, the ban will still take effect on 1 December. Partial bans of neonicotinoids are already in place in Italy, France, Germany and Slovenia.

If you are interested in joining a campaign please note the following URL: sumofus.org/campaigns/bayer-suing-europe.

9th September 2013

Plums: what’s in a name?...... This week we have two biodynamic plums to share with you – Victoria and Warwickshire Drooper.  Plums were introduced to Britain by the invading Romans who planted the damson (“plum from Damascus”) and other plums which were a staple food in their home town.

Victoria is the most common plum in Britain having spread from Asia Minor to Greece in 2000BC before making its way to a garden in Sussex in the 1840s. The plum was discovered in the village of Alderton by a nurseryman call Denyer who originally named it “Sharp’s Emperor” however history does not record there was ever a Sussex village called Alderton. Most likely is that the plum was from the “Suffolk” village of Alderton where coincidentally lived the Gage family who had bred many plums.  In 1837 Denyer changed his plums name to “Denyer’s Victoria” after Queen Victoria monarch was crowned. Seven years later in 1844 it was introduced into Sweden where it became incredibly popular as a commercial variety, eventually finding its way back to our own orchards.

The name Warwickshire Drooper is taken from weeping habit of the plum tree. This yellow plum is an exceptionally flavoured cooking plum but is also good eaten straight from the tree (or straight from the box …as we all did today when packing boxes)! The Dundale plum from Kent is believed to be the original Warwickshire Drooper. However, it was in the Midlands where it was first grown on a commercial scale, and it was known as Magnum. This name has now been replaced by the Warwickshire Drooper, and it dates from circa 1920. It produces a medium-sized, oval fruit, with a yellow skin. The Warwickshire Drooper plum turns fairly quickly so please don’t leave yours in the fruit bowl for several days.  Having said this, the plum should be soft and the grower has, quite correctly, picked the fruit whilst still hard.  We noted that some are harder than others so please check yours on delivery and leave to soften if necessary (but this won’t take long)!

 

Soil Association ties up with Good Energy… The Soil Association has recently partnered with a provider of electricity from certified renewable such as Cornish sunshine, Scottish wind and Welsh rain. The electricity is produced locally by a growing community of independent generators across Britain, including several Soil Association farmers.  Good Energy’s main electricity tariff is certified under the Green Energy Scheme (the energy industry’s equivalent to organic certification) so traceability of energy source is paramount. Good Energy has been voted top of the Which? Customer satisfaction survey for energy suppliers for 2 year running.  They maintain that they usually cost less than the Big Six’s standard tariff.

I spoke to them this week and found out that they do supply gas too, and offer “dual-fuel” customers a discount.  The gas is not from a renewable source but they pay a proportion of their gas income to renewable gas projects.  From the discussion I had with them this week it would appear that my own gas and electricity supply would be marginally cheaper with them compared to my current supplier.  Perhaps most importantly the Big Six are expected to increase prices within a year, whereas Good Energy has not increased prices in the past 3 years. The SA offer provides £40 off your first bill and a donation by Green Energy to the SA.  See goodenergy.co.uk/sa-members for more information.

2nd September 2013

Welcome back… We hope you had a good fortnight and are still enjoying our gorgeous hot weather.  Some are talking about us having an Indian Summer but this is being denied by weather experts.  But it may well happen as I understand from a recent Telegraph article that experts predicted that “the UK was more likely to experience a cool and wet summer this year only for the country to enjoy some of the warmest conditions seen in the past century”. Apparently the experts forecast “near-to-below-average” temperatures and “above-average” rainfall in June to August as “colder than usual sea temperatures in British waters and the mid-North Atlantic had increased the probability of the UK experiencing cooler conditions in these months”!

The UK went on to have its hottest and sunniest summer for seven years! Average temperatures exceeded many years on record and were just slightly lower than in 2006, the hottest summer on record…making it likely that 2013 had one of the ten warmest summers since records began in 1910.

This bodes wonderfully for many of us, but of course does bring issues for our growers, no least of which is the ripening or maturing of many crops simultaneously, bring about a glut of some veggies.

Tomatoes galore….. The UK tomato season is upon us and we have a superb range of toms from our growers: little sweet cherry toms, medium sized, perfectly round tasty toms, large, long plum toms and the fabulous, enormous beef toms, which are reminiscent of summer holidays in the med and some of which are amazingly crinkly!  All smell wonderfully tomatoey and taste absolutely delicious. They’re so good that we decided to include a tomato recipe in our newsletter this week!

Tomatoes are also a "superfood". Tomatoes have a high antioxidant content and contain Vitamins A, C, K, folate and potassium. The beta-carotene in tomatoes helps protect skin against sun damage. Tomatoes are also a source of lycopene, also found in foods like red carrots and red bell pepper, which helps fight osteoporosis and may help prevent several kinds of cancer.

UK apples and plums are here!...... Normally we can source apples before plums but with the apple crops maturing about 3 weeks behind schedule we can bring you Discovery, Collina (both biodynamic) and Lena apples at the same time as our gorgeous biodynamic Victoria plums.  The UK apples are wonderful with Collina the sweetest and Discovery the crispest!  And as expected the reds on the skins are particularly colourful this year – both the added sweetness and colour are as result of the sunny summer.  The crop is expected to be better than last year (well, that’s not so difficult as it was disastrous due to continuous rain) but is not so good as 2011. My growers predicted this as they told me that last year’s weather would affect this year’s pollination.  As it happens, the cold and windy early months of 2013 conspired to reduce flowering and pollination too, so the double wammy has led to less apples in volume.  The growers hope for a longer summer to maximise the crops. Last year our growers’ apples were finished by January, unusually early as we expect stocks to last well into April.  For 2013 read quality, not quantity!

5th August 2013

What’s for lunch today, Mum….. I do enjoy the beginning of the week when I have to make up meals from whatever is left in the fridge.  Today the pack of basil was the trigger for an obvious pesto; a distorted mix of more basil and garlic than usual which was thrown into the processor with some lightly roasted pine nuts (roasted in a pan – I always burn them in our cooker), parmesan (vegetarian) and olive oil.  I made this quite thick today, used some and put the rest in a jar and added some more live oil to thin it down and use later.  I added the pesto to cos lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions and grated fennel.  The pesto and fennel was a wonderful combination, absolutely yummy.

I thought to myself, some GG clients could make this from their last week’s box too.  I wonder how many did!

If you have any “what’s in the fridge” recipes that you have been particularly pleased with please let me know and we’ll use them in our newsletter and on our new website.

 

A fantastic story ….. Earlier today I was walking past the house of one of the families that until recently we would take a box of veggies as part of our support of local families. I knew that the Mum of the family had started growing her own veggies earlier this year; her husband had read out a list of the veggies to be attempted one cold, rainy day in about March when I made a delivery.  And it was a long, ambitious list.

Wondering how she had fared I popped in….and was truly bowled over.  For a new gardener the plants that were growing were stunning.  The whole garden was turned to food planting with broccoli, leaks, cavelo nero, onions, potatoes, strawberries (all eaten now), sweetcorn, pumpkins, squashes and more I am sure, all growing superbly.  Tyres and hay bales were used for plants that were a little sickly, which appeared to work as the plants were now thriving.  Jackie, the Mum, said our boxes had not only been a lifeline in their time of need they had inspired her.  Containing many foods she did not recognise she had looked them up on the internet, learnt what they were and how to cook them….and after a while she thought “We can do this”….and hence the vegetable garden started.  Now Jackie is self-sufficient, has an allotment and a hedgehog and frogs (and therefore no slugs!) and a female stag beetle living in the hay bale.  At the allotment she is known for her Eco-ways as she refuses to use fossil fuels and tamed a bramble covered plot with shears and lots of hard work.  “How else was I going to learn what was in my allotment if I took a strimmer and cut it all back” she told me.  I cannot fault the logic!  But more than that I am truly amazed at how much Jackie has achieved in such a short space of time.  She likes nothing better than sitting in her garden in the evening, on pallets that have been made into seating, amongst the veggies…although she says it’s often not relaxing as she she’s things that need doing! But the smile on her face said it all!

29th July 2013

Results of a further honey bee study are revealed ….. We have followed the various campaigns to prevent the demise of honey bee populations over the past year or so and were pleased that the EU imposed a two-year ban on neonicotinoids earlier this year which at least buys the bees a bit of time.  The rationale for the two year ban was to allow scientists to determine whether these pesticides were contributing to a die-off in bee colonies.

The results of a four year study carried out by US scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture and funded by the National Honey Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were published last week.

In the US Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has wiped out over 10 million bee hives in the past six years with an average annual death rate for colonies of 30%.  2.5 million honey bee colonies exist in the US today, down from 6 million in 1947 and 3 million in 1990. Current population levels are dangerous to food production in the US.  To put it into perspective, in California where 80%+ of the world’s almonds are harvested 60% of the current colonies are required to pollinate this single one crop.  If the death toll continues at the present rate, there will soon be insufficient bees to pollinate US crops of almonds, avocadoes, blueberries, pears and plums.

Returning to the study, the scientists identified a cocktail of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that reduce the ability of healthy bees to fend off the parasite, Nosema ceranae, which is central to CCD.  The parasite prevents their digestion of pollen, thus causing the bees to starve to death.  The research methodology involved beekeepers bringing their hives to crops to be pollinated (cranberry, watermelon and other crops on the East Coast). The pollen being returned to the hive was collected, analysed for pesticides and then fed to bees. The results were very disturbing. In particular bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Previously fungicides, which are extensively used in farming, had been thought to be harmless for bees. The pollen was found to be contaminated with an average of nine pesticides and fungicides although 21 agricultural chemicals were found in one sample. Eight chemicals were linked with an increased risk of infection by the parasite, however the scientists do not directly link the pesticides to CCD.

"Our results show that beekeepers need to consider not only pesticide regimens of the fields in which they are placing their bees, but also spray programs near those fields that may contribute to pesticide drift onto weeds," said the study,

The study also concluded that “we need take a new look at agricultural spraying practices” US honey bees, which are descendants of European bees, do not bring home pollen from native North American crops but collect bee chow from nearby weeds and wildflowers. That pollen was also contaminated with pesticides even though those plants were not the target of spraying.

One beekeeper calls for pesticides for home use to be looked at too.  He said "The directions on bottles of pesticides call for applications that are 40 times higher than what a farmer would be told to use….enough to knock a bee dead on the spot."

22nd July 2013

An abundance of UK produce….. I opened the chiller door this morning and was met by the most glorious smell of basil and tomatoes.  Both new to us this week from our superb growers, the smell evoked thoughts of the Mediterranean…probably Greece or Italy!  I suspect that those thoughts were still with me when I prepared my lunch which was a “clear the fridge meal”.  I found beetroot, kohlrabi and some small courgettes and basil (not UK – last week’s Spanish variety), but not tomatoes…so a salad was out.  I’d already started boiling an egg – so what to do? The answer: I thinly sliced the three veggies above and griddled them, placing the warm slices on a bed of mixed eaves and topped the plate with sliced egg and chopped basil and threw on some dressing.  The result: fantastic, and yet more visions of the Mediterranean!  I’d never had griddled beetroot before; I do recommend it.  So flavoursome and an interesting change from grated raw beets.  Very fitting for this weather too!

If I’d had some of our biodynamic edible flowers I would have put them on top too.  They are so beautiful, blues, pinks, yellows, oranges, purples all in one punnet and many pansy/viola type flowers.

The produce this week is absolutely stunning and our salad produce is exceptional.  The deep colours of the lettuces, whether green Little Gems or red Oakleaf scream “nutrient rich”; I felt healthier just by looking at them!!!  The tomatoes from Cambridgeshire are fabulous, firm, strong smelling and sweet tasting…what more can you want?  The medium sized toms are “loose” but the cherry are on the vine.  The cucumbers are biodynamic as are the plump, strong tasting spring onions.

We have our first UK maincrop potatoes – and guess what?  They are the superb Amrosa, a red potato which is also biodynamic.  I remember first tasting these 4+ years ago and was stunned at the taste. Now I am a potato lover (as a child you could keep any other veggie or meat, a plate of spuds would do for me), so I’ve tried a few, but these are just divine!!

On the tatties front we will be using the maincrop potatoes in our potato bags which are sold as extras to our boxes from next week.  So if you prefer to receive a bag of new potatoes please let us know.  The latter are slightly more expensive.

The blueberries are simply the best that I have tasted.  The grower says that the soil is perfect for the fruit….but we all know that soil doesn’t become perfect or remain perfect unless it is treated well, so I would say the blueberries are fabulous due to the skills and care of the grower.  The biodynamic red dessert gooseberries are fantastic and need no cooking.  They are not available for long so if you do want to try these (I’ve not seen them in supermarkets…not that I go there these days…or greengrocers) please let us know and we’ll add them to your order.

The abundance of fresh produce is so great that we have decided to take a stall at Horsham Local Produce Market in the Carfax for the next four Thursdays.  We don’t deliver to Horsham – and we think the residents and commuters there are missing out!!!! If you happen to be in the town on one of the Thursday’s do come and see us.  The blueberries are produced in Horsham but are not sold in the town, so I’m looking forward to the reaction from passers-by!

We are particularly grateful to our fantastic, top-quality growers.  Keeping them in business is our aim!

1st July 2013

Flour Talk….. A while ago we were lucky enough to discover a fantastically dedicated miller who has put his heart and soul into bringing an early 19th Century Windmill back to his former glory.

Having started restoration work at the Rutland based windmill back in 1995 (closed since 1922), Nigel finished work on the sails a few years ago and Whissendine was once again running as originally intended - on wind! 

There would once have been a large workforce running the mill, but now Nigel produces two tonnes of organic flour a week single-handedly (with just a little help from his 90 year-old mother Ruth).  

At Greener Greens we try hard to unearth stars like Nigel but as we only have one regular baker on our team we asked a few of our regular clients to test some for us and let us know what they really thought!

Henrietta tried the Strong White.  She thought it was lovely! It had a creamy colour with tiny remnants of the wheat husk from milling.  A lovely texture with a real depth of flavour, her rolls had an artisanal look and seemed more filling than the rolls she makes from her regular flour.  Definitely for her future bread making! 

Peter thought the strong wholemeal flour was quite coarse, had a lot of bran and made bread that was chewy and flavourful.  He would buy it in future as he felt it had more character than Doves or Marriages but he would mix the wholemeal 50/50 with white for his bread making preference. 

Georgia also tried the Strong White flour and thought the Wissendine and Doves flours were of the same good quality but she would prefer to support the Windmill as a small supplier and would be happy if we switched all our flour to Wissendine!

So with their helpful advice and suggestions we are very pleased to be able to offer Organic Whissendine Windmill flour to our customers

 

1.5kg White flour                        Great for pastry & cakes                         £1.89

1.5kg Wholemeal                       Great for pastry & cakes                         £1.82

1.5kg Strong White                     Perfect Bread flour                                 £2.10

1.5kg Strong Wholemeal             Perfect Bread flour                                 £2.03

1kg Spelt Flour                           Truly traditional                                      £2.63

1kg Rye Flour                            For something a little different                 £1.75

 

For bread makers we also sell Yeast, Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds, Honey, Raisins, Eggs, Butter and Milk.  And for pizzas throwers - fresh and tinned tomatoes, fresh herbs and garlic, local cheese and lots of lovely seasonal veggie toppings!

17th June 2013

Flour Talk….. A while ago we were lucky enough to discover a fantastically dedicated miller who has put his heart and soul into bringing an early 19th Century Windmill back to his former glory.

Having started restoration work at the Rutland based windmill back in 1995 (closed since 1922), Nigel finished work on the sails a few years ago and Whissendine was once again running as originally intended - on wind! 

There would once have been a large workforce running the mill, but now Nigel produces two tonnes of organic flour a week single-handedly (with just a little help from his 90 year-old mother Ruth).  

At Greener Greens we try hard to unearth stars like Nigel but as we only have one regular baker on our team we asked a few of our regular clients to test some for us and let us know what they really thought!

Henrietta tried the Strong White.  She thought it was lovely! It had a creamy colour with tiny remnants of the wheat husk from milling.  A lovely texture with a real depth of flavour, her rolls had an artisanal look and seemed more filling than the rolls she makes from her regular flour.  Definitely for her future bread making! 

Peter thought the strong wholemeal flour was quite coarse, had a lot of bran and made bread that was chewy and flavourful.  He would buy it in future as he felt it had more character than Doves or Marriages but he would mix the wholemeal 50/50 with white for his bread making preference. 

Georgia also tried the Strong White flour and thought the Wissendine and Doves flours were of the same good quality but she would prefer to support the Windmill as a small supplier and would be happy if we switched all our flour to Wissendine!

So with their helpful advice and suggestions we are very pleased to be able to offer Organic Whissendine Windmill flour to our customers

 1.5kg White flour                        Great for pastry & cakes                         £1.89

1.5kg Wholemeal                       Great for pastry & cakes                         £1.82

1.5kg Strong White                     Perfect Bread flour                                 £2.10

1.5kg Strong Wholemeal             Perfect Bread flour                                 £2.03

1kg Spelt Flour                           Truly traditional                                      £2.63

1kg Rye Flour                            For something a little different                 £1.75

For bread makers we also sell Yeast, Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds, Honey, Raisins, Eggs, Butter and Milk.  And for pizzas throwers - fresh and tinned tomatoes, fresh herbs and garlic, local cheese and lots of lovely seasonal veggie toppings!

17th June 2013

Dynamics of Biodynamics!.... We are asked fairly frequently what is the difference between biodynamic and organic farming.  Biodynamic farming encompasses a holistic view of nature - organic with a focus on biodiversity and the lunar cycles. The lunar calendar provides much guidance to the grower as to the best time to sow seeds, plant out and harvest vegetables and fruit.  For example as the moon ascends, the upper plant is filled with vitality so this is best time to harvest veggies such as leafy greens.  Root veggies are at their best during a later period in the cycle. This is a very simplistic description of biodynamic farming and there are several complexities which involve the position of planets etc - fundamentally all factors which affect the atmospheric pressure.  If you wish to learn more look at the lunar calendars on the internet or www.biodynamic.org.uk which is the Biodynamic association website.

Biodynamic agriculture uses specifically prepared preparations made from minerals and herbs - very similar to homeopathy. These preparations are used to enhance the compost applied to the fields, and intensify the sunlight permeated into the plant.

At GG our addiction to this way of farming is quite simply because it is sustainable, less exposed to adverse external influences which may infiltrate the farm and its livestock or crops through for example foodstuffs and it is extremely environmentally friendly.  Many of you will know how mesmerised I was with my 4 hour (felt like 30 minutes) visit to Orchard Farm in Forest Row a couple of years ago.  It was my first visit and I had a lot to learn and came away thinking that not only could I write a book about the synergies and inter-relationship of the hens, the fruit, the soil, the farmers …but that perhaps I should! The happy hens (and they really did look that way to me) were busy selecting their food preferences (natural foliage from native herbs and plants) which, as Daniel explained to me, the hens will seek out if their body as a need for specific nutrients. The soil being enriched by hens pecking and dropping manure, but not exhausted because the farming team move the hen house fortnightly, taking a year to return back to the same spot.  The fabulous apple and pear trees and soft fruit plants (just starting to come through when I was there in April) which excel in the rich soils.  And I have to mention the cockerels which are essential for a Demeter licence (the biodynamic certification) – the hens have to live as they would naturally.  The cockerels are instrumental in the induction of new hens, showing them the ropes and where the best food is.  I saw cockerels sorting out squabbles between hens and bringing back relative calm, in a way that I could only dream of with my own children! My first visit to meet Daniel, Karen and their birds will never leave me.  I smile every time I think of it!  They deserve our support.  Small producers of this quality are, in my opinion, key to us getting back on the right track environmentally and for our health. We buy both eggs and fruit from this farm. 

10th June 2013

Veggie and fruit update.. with a little bit more!.. For periods of time it appears that Summer is with us…although as I write this the temperature is a bit chilly, the wind is fairly strong and I am in early Spring attire! At the farms the crops are starting to grow and as we have noted before plants like to stick to their timetable and do attempt to “catch up” growing quicker than usual and perhaps whooshing through some stages of their development. Generally UK crops are 3 weeks behind their “normal” schedule, which takes some catching up. This week we are experiencing a reduction in the range of UK vegetables, which is a bit disappointing given that last week we were blessed with an wonderful range of fabulous produce. We expect the range and volume of UK produce to increase significantly in 3 to 4 weeks, bring a corresponding decrease in price….and we need that as the cost of UK produce is very high at present.
Asparagus is still with us but not for long. Courgettes are starting to come through (and we have more of the small courgettes with flowers from one of our growers, who likes to keep the plants free from the ground level courgettes; hence this delight on offer to us! Broad beans should be with us in a couple of weeks and a good crop is expected.
In the absence of a wide range of UK produce we look to Europe for their earlier developing produce. That plan isn’t working too well as celery, broccoli (calabrese), cabbages and peppers are all in short supply at the moment and as UK demand for imports grows…so does the price charged. Sadly the quality isn’t quite as good as we would expect either – no doubt a function of the limited supply (we saw the same with UK potatoes earlier this year which resulted in our decision to stop supplying the maincrops). So why the limited supply from Europe? A combination of extremes of weather in some regions of Spain, an anticipation from exporters to the UK that our demand would be falling now as our own crops come on stream and lastly a strengthening of the German market for imports. The organic market in Germany is a common media subject in the UK, so let’s rectify that immediately! Whilst demand for organic food is increasing cultivation by German farmers is reducing. Despite government and EU encouragement for organic growing, some states have withdrawn the funding which augmented this encouragement and farmers are switching to other farming methods which require less labour (which is relatively expensive in Germany). To digress a little further the reduction in organic farmland runs counter to EU generally where increases of 50% have been experienced over the past few years. France saw and increase of 50% and Poland 500%! Austria has the highest percentage of farmland certified as organic in Europe with the Czech Republic in 2nd place. Outside the EU increases in organic farming are seen in many countries including Australia, Peru, Brazil, China and India.
Finally, back closer to home – on the fruit front peaches, nectarines and melons are arriving from Europe but apples and citrus are in short supply. We’ll switch to South Africa for citrus…maybe supply problems here too..and await the UK apple season which is expected to be…GOOD!! Always end on a positive note, my Mum says. And we did!!


3rd June 2013

We have some UK new potatoes … A fortnight ago I mentioned that UK maincrop potatoes (in store from last year) are either non-existent or off such poor quality that we will not purchase them. The maincrop potato plants in our growers’ fields at present are developing better than the earlies which is likely to result in the maincrop producing tubers (“spuds” to you and me) before the earlies…which is a little counter-intuitive to say the least, and certainly not usual. In any event potato crops are expected to be significantly less that “normal” (when will we no longer be able to use that word credibly)!
New potatoes were starting to come through from Spain but I feared that we would be waiting a while for UK potatoes of any description. Imagine my delight when I learnt early last week that we would be offered some new pots from Cornwall (growers from the South West have fared much better than those in the South East and particularly East Anglia). But the greatest surprise was when I received a call from one of our growers in Wisbech “Would you like any new potatoes. I have a limited amount, some small and some large”! Remember that earlies or new potatoes are lifted (dug up) for eating and not storing so supply is limited and the price is higher than maincrops. There is always a much higher demand for the small potatoes therefore they command a higher price.

After the Monsanto march…
We received reports back from several clients who attended the March Against Monsanto demonstration in London late last month. It appears to have been an exhilarating event albeit a bit disorganised. However worldwide demonstrations occurred in 400 cities in 52 countries apparently involving 2 million people.There has been much comment about the lack of coverage of the marches with neither CNN or BBC providing any coverage at all – online or via other media. On the face of it this would appear to be unusual, or even strange…but let’s not fall into the conspiracy theory trap! I must confess that I found all of the media reporting on the march extremely boring – all being extracts from the press release presumably by the organisers.But then last week Reuters and others ran the story that Monsanto is halting its efforts to lobby European governments to allow the cultivation of its genetically modified plants and seeds, news that emanated from an interview between a spokesperson of Monsanto Germany and a German newspaper, Taz. "We have come to understand that, at the moment, it doesn't have broad acceptance," said the spokesperson. "It's counterproductive to fight against windmills." Wonderful news you might say! The protesters have made their mark! But a further report written by a scientist who has been at the heart of GMO analysis put quite a different slant on this. On studying actual statements made on the Monsanto German & St Louis, US websites their messages are contradictory. What he does conclude, however, that the interview was a PR tactic by Monsanto, the executives of which have been unnerved by the march which was organised primarily via Facebook … a novel and not easily controllable element…the likes of which Monsanto (and other corporates) have not learnt to master.

20th May 2013

UK potatoes, sadly the saga continues…Last year the wet weather was a catalyst to potato blight which devastated many crops and stored potatoes.  Growers made it clear that blight has a knock on effect, crop losses in year 1 are followed by lower harvests in year 2.  We were very surprised to be able to source good quality, half decent looking potatoes for as long as we have (we avoided some suppliers who in our opinion were selling unacceptable potatoes at full prices)….but the good maincrop potatoes are now gone.  Consequently we are dropping potatoes from our boxes although new potatoes (from Spain currently) may get a look in to balance some of the boxes.

“So how is this year’s planting going?” I asked one grower.  “Diabolically” is the answer.  The cold temperatures are suppressing growth; the potatoes (like many plants) need warm soil.  A few hot days do not penetrate the earth and the general weather pattern this Spring is a few (a very few) warm/hot days followed by significantly dropping temperatures, frosts and even some snow.The early potatoes chitted fine and were planted pretty much on time.  However the temperatures were too cold for the plants to develop normally.  The maincrop potatoes were planted 6 -8 weeks later and are now much bigger than the earlies.  Normally the earlies would be lifted in June/July but the grower’s prognosis is September – unless the weather turns and the soil warms up.  Should that happen the potato plants respond very quickly.  So if this happens next week, the early potatoes could be with us in August.

Ironically the maincrop potatoes are expected to be ready to lift in August ie before the earlies!!!

So what’s the difference between earlies and maincrops? The first earlies should grow to maturity the fastest (hmm, not this year though), the duration from planting to maturity being 100 days. Once mature they must be lifted within 4 weeks and cooked quickly to achieve their freshest taste.  Second early varieties follow first earlies by 2 weeks and are a new potato. Maincrop potatoes are grown for storing and using over winter. Normally they’ll be can lifting from around 4 weeks later than the first earlies, at which time they will pass as new potatoes. Their real value lies in letting them grow to maturity and lift them for storage to see you through the winter period ie for 8 to 9 months.

There is no doubt that 2013 will be a lean year for the UK potato & difficult for growers.

London March against Monsanto is on… As we mentioned last week  on May 25, on 6 continents, in 36 countries, and in 250 cities at least, tens of thousands of people will March against Monsanto to highlight the need to protect our food supply, support local farmers, increase awareness of the effects of genetically modified foods and the cronyism between big business and big government (see the Monsanto Protection Act below)

In the UK marches are taking place in Bristol, London, Glasgow, Nottingham and Isle of Man. See the website www.march-against-monsanto.com.

The public reaction in the US to the signing of what is known as the Monsanto Protection Act (see April newsletters on our website) is gathering such pace that one senator, Jeff Merkley, has announced that he is introducing an amendment to the Senate version of the farm bill that would repeal the Monsanto Protection Act in its entirety.  The Monsanto Protection Act allows farmers to plant genetically modified crops before they’ve been declared safe by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in defiance of court orders suspending planting until environmental reviews can be completed.

The willingness of many to make their feelings heard and the effectiveness of their collective action is both encouraging and inspiring. If any clients are attending a march we’d much appreciate a summary of events for a future newsletter.

13th May 2013

The 5:2 diet…. If you are like me, every time there is a new supposedly effective diet bandied about you’ll want to know what makes it work (and therefore whether it is sustainable). The 5:2 diet is certainly vogue at present with many celebrities declaring this is their food regime.  This is a fasting diet where 5 days of normal eating are interspersed with 2 days of restricted calories (500kcal for women, 600kcal for men).

This diet has been shown to be both highly effective in burning fat and turning on anti-ageing genes. How does this happen?  One of the reasons is that on the fasting days it stops glucose release which in turn reduces insulin levels.  Another likely reason for the rapid weight loss is the body switching from sugar to what is called ketogenic metabolism. This means that our bodies are using fat for energy. Ketones are molecules generated during fat metabolism, whether from the fat in the food you just ate or fat you were carrying on your hips. A recent article I read noted that it is highly likely that our ancestors, on lean days when hunting was not productive, ran perfectly well on ketones as the body’s alternative energy source. In fact is likely that we go into it in the mornings when we haven’t eaten for a few hours.

Interestingly, and I have heard this several times recently, there have been many reports of Alzheimer’s patients and children with fits who have made major improvements in symptoms from consuming an equivalent of a tablespoon of virgin pressed coconut oil daily.  Why? Ketones are made directly from coconut oil which contain elements that convert directly into ketones which the body can burn for energy rather than store as fat. The benefit of coconut oil extends to simply increasing short term memory.  Studies in children with severe epilepsy have shown that almost a third cut their number of seizures by 40%.

Coconut oil is relatively high in calories but as there are little calories left to turn to body fat after the ketones have been burnt for energy it is recommended for the 5:2 diet

March against Monsanto… Next week on May 25, on 6 continents, in 36 countries, and in 250 cities at least, tens of thousands of people will March against Monsanto to  

·       Protect our food supply

·       Support local farmers

·       Spread awareness about the harmful effects of genetically modified foods

·       Promote organic solutions

·       Expose the cronyism between big business and big government (including the Agriculture Appropriations Bill that President Obama signed into law which protects these companies from litigation)

·       Bring accountability to those responsible for the corruption.

For more information please see the March Against Monsanto website www.march-against-monsanto.com.

At present the march closest to us is in Bristol with one perhaps taking place in London.

6th May 2013

Update on the EU Seed Legislation… As many of you already know several organisations have been running campaigns to highlight the impact of a draconian revision to EU Seed Legislation which was being voted on today, Monday May 6th.  Several of you will have signed the petitions and indeed may have effected your own lobbying. Those that did will probably know the outcome, but for those that didn’t the campaigns did make a difference, although issues still exist and moreover the giant agribusinesses will continue to lobby as the law goes through the EU, and then is translated into UK laws.

The following summary is taken from the Real Seed Catalogue:

The "Plant Reproductive Material Law" regulates all plants. It contains immediate restrictions on vegetables and woodland trees, while creating powers to restrict all other plants of any other species at a later date.

Under the new law, it will immediately be illegal to grow, reproduce or trade any vegetable seed or tree that has not been tested and approved by a new "EU Plant Variety Agency, who will make a list of approved plants. Moreover, an annual fee must also be paid to the Agency and if not paid, they cannot be grown.

Following a huge outcry and intense lobbying from consumer groups, small-scale farmers, gene-banks, and even some member-state governments, a few last-minute alterations were made, which while not perfect, have reduced the impact quite a lot.

The key last minute concessions that were made - and this really was only due to public pressure are as follows:

·          Home gardeners are now permitted to save and swap unapproved seed without breaking the law.

·          Individuals & small organisations can grow and supply/sell unapproved vegetable seed - as long as they have less than 10 employees.

·          Seedbanks can grow unapproved seed without breaking the law.

·          There could be easier (in an unspecified way) rules for large producers of seeds suitable for organic agriculture etc, in some (unspecified) future legislation - maybe.

But the rest of the law is still overly restrictive, and in the long run will make it much harder for people to get hold of good seeds they want to grow at home. There are also clauses that mean the above concessions could be removed in the future without coming back to the Parliament for a vote.

The main registration system is no good for home gardeners -varieties suitable for home use don't meet the strict criteria of the Plant Variety Agency, which is only concerned about approving the sort of seed used by industrial farmers.

Because of this, seed companies used to be able to register and sell 'Amateur' varieties that didn't pass the tests, for home growers. Under the new system, they are now called 'Niche' varieties and there is no testing or registration at all, but there is a big catch: any company with more than 10 employees is now banned from producing them.So new varieties for home growers can only be developed by tiny organisations, and they may not have the resources to do it well. There will be very little professional development of varieties for home gardeners or small-scale sustainable agriculture. "

29th April 2013

What’s happening on the farm currently?… I read a newsletter recently which I think succinctly conveys current problems facing UK growers.  The following is an extract: “It may officially be Spring, but for those associated with crop production, it still feels like we are in the middle of Winter. The high pressure which has been bringing cold, easterly winds across the country seems to want to sit stubbornly out there and make us all suffer. It’s not just here in the UK that the weather has been a problem as most of the growers in France, Italy and Spain have also been battling against the elements. Consequently we look likely to have a more difficult “Hungry Gap” than usual. This is not just a problem for organic growers . The conventional farming press has been highlighting the poor availability and high prices of produce, both currently and for several weeks to come.”

In particular the absence of greens is a problem.  GG buys from several smaller growers and this strategy appears to be paying off right now as we are sourcing some of the best quality greens we have seen for a very long time and the range - White sprouting broccoli, spinach, chard, savoy spring greens and January King cabbages ­- is not what we would call limited. Non green including parsnips (yes, still going strong), leeks and many salad leaf varieties and gorgeous white tipped radish! However, some crops such as cauliflower are suffering as the plants grow from immature to flowering and miss out the fruiting period…you may find caulis are a bit “looser” at present as a result.

The Bees are given a lifeline in Europe… The EU Commission has voted to ban three variants of the insecticide neonicotinoid, following a hung vote by the EU member states which rendered the final decision the responsibility of the EU Commission.  The ban will be implemented on 1 December 2013 for a period of two years.  This decision was made after petitions were signed by 3 million people as a result of many campaigns including one led by the Soil Association. At GG we have been following the story over the past year and we are delighted and relieved by the outcome.

At the time of the member states vote last month, 15 countries voted in favour of the ban.  Sadly the UK government wasn’t amongst them.  Our farming minister David Heath and DEFRA argue that neonicotinoids are useful to growers and that research carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which linked the insecticide with reducing bee populations, was misleading and not based on actual field conditions.  This view is not shared by the Soil Association (SA) which points to experience in Italy where a ban on neonicotinoids has existed  for several years and the deaths of honey bees during winter has reduced by nearly 50 per cent over the last three years. The SA are elated that the collective arduous campaigning has paid off.  Director of Policy notes “This is a victory not only for the bees and other pollinators, but for independent science against the political, pro-pesticide position adopted by UK environment secretary Owen Paterson and the pesticide industry."  The mega chemical businesses, Syngenta & Bayer had been involved in a secret bid to prevent a ban…. Which fortunately was fruitless.  These companies are now maintaining that this ban puts EU producers/growers at risk and non-competitive.  Now that would imply that Italian producers have been “at risk” and “non-competitive” for a few years now…I don’t believe this is the case at all & have never heard it said before.

22nd April 2013

The Monsanto story gets worse… Last week I wrote about Monsanto’s pursuit of patents for conventional vegetable and fruit seeds ie seeds that have been naturally bred. The timing of this coincides with the expiry of their earlier patents on their genetically modified seeds and is made possible by proposed changes to EU regulation.  The latter work to the detriment of farmers and the populous but are nirvana to the large agribusinesses such as Monsanto. Further research late last week revealed that Monsanto, in a most incredible way, has obtained legal  indemnity signed by Obama himself against being held liable for any adverse medical or other effects of their GM seeds now or into the future.  The information was so shocking that I re-wrote my article and put it on our website.  If you want to know more please check it out on www.greenergreens.com/newsletters.html.  If you don’t have access to the internet and would like a copy please call us on 0333 0444 192and we’ll send you a copy.

Is Nestlé following Monsanto’s strategy?… Allegations on several sites on the internet suggest that Nestlé has filed patent applications for discovering that naturally grown Fennel Flower (Nigella sativa) can be used for “nutritional interventions in humans with food allergy”.  Apparently Fennel Flower has been widely used for thousands of years in impoverished communities in the Middle East as a cure-all remedy for treating everything from vomiting to fevers to skin diseases. There are several petitions on the internet aimed at convincing Nestlé to change its stance.

Nestlé has refuting these allegations publically on their website. Their statement say “Nestlé is not trying to patent the fennel flower. We made patent applications for a compound that can be extracted from Nigella sativa (also known as fennel flower, black seed and black cumin) or from other plants, to help treat or prevent food allergies.”  They say they filed patent applications in 2009 that claim the use of an opioid receptor stimulating compound for the preparation of a composition to treat or to prevent food allergy. The patent application is for the compound, not for the plant the extract comes from.”  I have read the patent application itself (EP 2432461 A1) which has a priority date of 2009, a filing date of 2010 but was only published on 28 March 2013…hence all the recent activity (now that always makes me suspicious when a mitigant gives a not fully representative statement).  The application includes the following: “…and/or wherein the opioid receptor stimulating compound is to be provided as (added for emphasis) Nigella sativa in a daily dose in the range of 1 mg Nigella sativa plant material /kg body weight…”.  Mmm, what that says to me is that Nestlé is applying for a patent to have the monopoly on using a naturally available plant for the purposes of preventing food allergies….surely those that use the plant for medicinal purposes today are treating illness that are encompassed by the extremely broad term “food allergies”.

So if you want to find out more, http://www.globalresearch.ca/nestle-is-trying-to-pa

15th April 2013

This week we have learnt that Monsanto the agricultural biotechnology corporation has found loopholes in the EU law that allow them to patent conventional seeds. This means that they have found a way to gain exclusive control over our seeds ie the source of our food. They’re trying to patent varieties of our everyday vegetables and fruits such as cucumber, broccoli and melons, forcing growers to pay them for seed and risk being sued if they don’t. This isn't the first time this has happened though -  Monsanto alone already own 36% of all tomato, 32% of sweet pepper and 49% of cauliflower varieties registered in the EU.  Monsanto claim that patents drive innovation - but in fact they create a corporate monopoly of our food.  If the patenting goes ahead it will mean that our growers in the UK (as well as the rest of Europe) will only be able to purchase their seeds from Monsanto and have to pay charging farmers exorbitant royalty fees to grow them.

So how has this come about? To date seed regulation within the EU has been determined by national interpretation of EU directives ie each member state tailors the spirit of the EU directive to make it fit their national strategies and culture.  But very shortly this is changing, being replaced by a single regulation that will come into force directly in all the 27 EU member states without local interpretation. This in itself works to the benefit of seed multinationals which want uniform laws in all their markets (and ironically works to the detriment of agriculture, farmers and the population generally) however the detail within the current draft which is being considered within the EU is alarming.  Farmers as seed producers would be subject to the same obligations of registration and regula­tion as multina­tional seed company operators if the draft becomes law. Varieties of diver­sity and old varieties would be endanger­ed and the free exchange of seeds and other propaga­tion material could effectively be forbidden.

For many years, and totally cognisant of the fact that EU regulation was to change, Monsanto has been strategically growing via takeovers within the EU.  Is it a complete coincidence that the draft EU proposal hits so many of their “wishes”? In drawing your own conclusion you may wish to consider the impact of a recent Act signed by Obama in the US.  Known as The Monsanto Protection Act by critics the bill gives companies that deal with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) seeds immunity to the federal courts, among other things. The bill states that even if future research shows that GMOs or GE seeds cause significant health problems, cancer or anything detrimental that the federal courts no longer have any power to stop their spread, use or sales.

How did this get passed? The immunity was a within a small section of an extremely important bill, the Senate Appropriations Bill HR933.  Most of us wouldn’t know this bill by name but it the large spending bill which was signed by Congress last month to keep the US government running until the end of September and avert a temporary shutdown.

The Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Barbara Mikulski has been quite open in stating that she didn’t support it.  But her “first responsibility was to prevent a government shutdown,” which meant compromising her own priorities “to get a bill through the Senate that the House would pass.”

But how did it get in there in the first place?  It was submitted anonymously but the author is known to be Senator. Roy Blunt who has recently claimed responsibility for drafting the rider in a joint effort with Monsanto and input from the late Senate Appropriations chairman and biotech proponent Daniel Inouye.

Blunt, a ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, hails from the same state as St. Louis-based Monsanto. He also receives more money from Monsanto than anyone else in Washington. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that Blunt’s campaign committee received over $64,000 between 2008 and 2011.

If you wish to stop this happening, the least you can do is join 2million others by signing the Avaaz petition - http://www.avaaz.org/en/monsanto_vs_mother_earth_rb/

 

8th April 2013

Food production facts……. The extreme weather patterns in the UK and Europe over the past year and more have had an enormous effect on fresh food production and sadly are showing little sign of ceasing.  Last year the UK had record rainfall (2nd wettest year since records began in 1910) and this year we have just got through the coldest Easter on record. The heavy rainfall in 2012 meant many crops were ruined and farmers couldn’t plant as much as they wanted for 2013. The cold weather this year has ruined fields of newly planted seedlings or delayed planting – the net result being a dearth of crops.  We are buying more from Europe now than we have ever before.  But the European growers are experiencing abnormal weather too, which affects their food production.  And to cap it all Sterling is weak against the Euro therefore European produce increasing the cost to us.

It was little surprise to see yet more increases in prices from both our growers and wholesalers on our return from the Easter break.  I’ve mentioned the relatively constant upward trend in prices on several occasions over the past 6 months, but because increases have been little and often it’s easy to lose track of just how much they have changed over longer periods. 

Looking at the statistics, food prices in Britain have risen by 32 per cent since 2007, double the EU average, according to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) figures.  The increase is almost twice the current rate of inflation of 2.7 per cent.

In November 2012 the British Retail Consortium noted that while UK food price inflation accelerated to 4.6pc, up from 4.0pc the month before these numbers were likely to get much higher over the following few months. That prediction was made before the cold spell this year.

Some of you may have heard Sir John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, on Radio 4’s World on One earlier this year.  He said that due to climate change we will see the extremes in rainfall, either floods or droughts with increasing frequency. He predicts food supply to be fragile and decreasing levels of food reserves.

All very depressing reading, but to balance it our growers are an extremely hardy bunch and we have noted that despite all that is thrown at them the quality of the produce has not reduced at all.  Sometimes the crops are smaller than “normal” or the outer leaves or skin may be less even or smooth or even marked …. But the nutritional value and taste is not compromised. Do let us know if you particularly enjoy a specific veggie as we take great pleasure in passing on your compliments to our growers!

18th March 2013

It's That Time Again…this week’s newsletter is our second health and nutrition special.  Once a month we will be bringing you tips and information about the food you eat, and how you can utilise it so that it suits your needs in the best way.  Most of the information will focus on fresh fruit and vegetables but (in most cases) it can be adjusted to accommodate meat, dairy and wholegrain foods.

Taste the Rainbow...The fruits and vegetables that we see week in, week out are always an array of beautiful colours.  Every different colour contains different nutrients. Knowing which nutrients can be found in each colour can help you to eat a balanced diet and to utilise the goodness that each vegetable can give you.  Below is a list of the nutrients that are generally found in each pigment:

Red: Lycopen and anthocyanins are both powerful antioxidants that give the red group their colour. These are thought to reduce the risk of certain cancers, especially prostate cancer. They are also linked to heart health and prevention of lung disease. Lycopene and anthocyanins also help to maintain memory function and urinary tract health and fight off infections as well.

Yellow & orange: Nutrients found in yellow & orange fruit and vegetables include beta carotene, potassium and vitamin C. The nutrients in these foods lower cholesterol and blood pressure, promote healthy joints, encourage alkaline balance, work with magnesium & calcium to build healthy bones.

Green: Nutrients include green fibre, calcium, vitamin c and beta carotene. These nutrients reduce the risk of cancer, lower blood pressure, keep your digestive system healthy as well as support retinal health and boost immune system. Iron is also present in many green, leafy vegetables.

Blue & Purple: Blue-purple vegetables have fewer nutrients than blue-purple fruits, but are still a valuable source of phytonutrients (natural chemicals). They contain mostly  fibre and antioxidants.

 

Body pH...A healthy level of pH in human blood is very important, as if the levels veer too much towards either acid or alkaline can cause disease and affect the nutrient levels in the body which can in turn cause deficiencies. .  A pH of 7.0 is neutral. Below this level is acidic and above is alkaline. A balanced diet contains approximately 35% acid forming foods and 65% alkaline. To restore health, the diet should consist of 80% alkaline forming foods and 20% acid forming foods.

An acidic pH can occur from (other than eating too many acidic foods) emotional stress. When an acidic pH occurs, the body will try to compensate by using alkaline minerals.  If the diet does not contain enough minerals to compensate, a build up of acids in the cells will occur. An acidic balance in the body will decrease its ability to absorb minerals and other nutrients. It also decreases the energy production in the cells and its ability to repair damaged cells. An acidic environment also allows tumour cells to thrive and makes the body more susceptible to fatigue and illness.

One of the reasons acidic pH levels are more common in our society is mostly due to the typical American diet, which is far too high in acid producing animal products like meat, eggs and dairy, and far too low in alkaline producing foods like fresh vegetables. Below is a general list of a few examples of acid and alkali foods:

Highly Alkaline: Lentils, Herbs, Fresh Fruit & Vegetables, Dates, Figs, Prune & Raisins.

Oils are generally pH neutral.

Highly Acidic: Meat, Fish, Poultry, Eggs

 

11th March 2013

Recently I read a review of a new book What Has Nature Ever Done For Us? by Tony Juniper (past director of Friends of the Earth)... which puts the case for an organic and responsible way of life. The foreword written by Prince Charles includes the following: The Green Revolution which started in the 1960s and quickly enable food production to expand and keep pace with the accelerating population has, amongst other things, caused the dangerous depletion of freshwater around the word, made a huge contribution to climate change, caused a massive loss of biodiversity and damaged soils worldwide. Biodiversity is absolutely crucial. You cannot simplify Nature’s system and expect it to carry on in the way it did before”.
Interestingly Tony Juniper believes that environmental policies should be presented differently including linking doing business with doing good within the environment. Well this is certainly something that we endorse and actively build into what we do & what we say. Tony points out that half of global food comes from smallholders. Smaller scale eco-agriculture is a more likely sustainable model for the future in his opinion. Why? A combination of soil condition and limited fossil fuel resources. He explains Big machinery is squashing the soil, taking air out of it and killing off earthworms. We add Chemicals do the same of course, look at damage in India with thousands of hectares of non-productive soil, in areas that previously were extremely fertile. He goes on “Soil is possibly the least appreciated source of human welfare and security”. Tony is very optimistic about global farming returning to organic as the norm. He says “We will have to do this as we are forced to rely less on fossil fuels and lower inputs to the soil. This will lead to the collapse of the industrial model of farming”. It’s a matter of when and not if – is the message.
Whether this is inevitable or not, we believe small growers are best and don’t intending changing this view!!

 

Who’s talking about our Food Industry? I’ve heard some people say that the kefuffle about horsemeat and food chains of recent weeks will pass quickly and that generally the masses will revert to old behaviour and supermarkets will be forgiven whether by default or indifference. I do not subscribe to this expectation – I think this was a wake-up call and anecdotal proof of what many already knew or guessed was occurring.
One of the reasons I believe this won’t just go away is the ferocity and anger with which some presenters have made their thoughts clear to millions of listeners…
Chris Evans (Radio 2 DJ): “Some companies seem to think consumers will keep taking it on the chin because we accepted being spoonfed this stuff for so long and have seen our high streets die in front of our eyes and replaced by faceless unaccountable conglomerates – without conversation, without relationships and they think we’ll acceot anything, that we’ll just roll over and die”.
Rod Liddle (Journalist Sunday Times): “The truth is that if the mass producers of food could get away with selling us rat or kitten they would until they get caught. Problem is that we have fewer checks these days on the filth that the supermarkets sell us”.
Evan Davis (Radio 4 Today presenter): “Brands: if you put your name to something, you should ***** well know what’s in it”.

 

4th March 2013

2012 Soil Association Awards…We are proud to be able to say that the winners of the 2012 Soil Association Organic Food Awards included many small companies and farms that supply to us. As well as Clipper (teas), Booja-Booja (dairy free ice cream & chocolate) and Taifun (tofu), Old Plaw Hatch Farm won the Best Organic Dairy Award for its Live Biodynamic Yoghurt. Their Live Biodynamic Yoghurt is made with just wholemilk and probiotic cultures. As with all dairy products, the quality and unique characteristics of the milk are integral to the flavour of the yoghurt. Fundamental to this quality is the health and wellbeing of the herd and respect for the nature of the cow as an animal. For this reason the farm leaves their cows with their horns intact and allows mothers to raise their own calves for longer than standard.

Their yoghurt is quite unusual because it is set in the pot which maintains its structure. They also don't use thickeners, emulsifiers, or homogenise, making the most of the natural nutritional benefits of the milk.

Our range of Old Plaw Hatch products which are all biodynamic and handmade: Live Yoghurt (of course!), both full fat and low full, Greek yoghurt (gorgeously creamy), vanilla (just yummy), chocpot (thick creamy chocolate yoghurt), fruit yoghurts (just out of this world – bramble, blueberry, strawberry, rhubarb and ginger…the range is fabulous, but as they are handmade in small batches we can’t obtain all of these every week), mild, mature and vintage cheese, crumbly cheese (a Leicester type of texture, but a cheddar-like taste) and coated cheeses – cumin, pepper and more)

Another of the winners was one of our growers, Adrian Izzard of Wild Country Organics, for his stripy aubergines. He has been growing fantastic salad crops and unusual vegetables for years. In Adrian’s own words: “We grow lots of different crops and we keep trying new things every year. You need to not just have organic but also interesting produce. We grew this aubergine as a trial in 2011, and then went on to grow a lot more in 2012. They’ve a lovely white flesh so there’s a beautiful distinction when you cut them open, and they’ve been great roasted on the barbecue.” The judges add that this excellent aubergine has an ‘amazing appearance’ an ‘excellent flavour’ and cooks well.

Our range of Wild Country products is quite extensive during the year.  Currently we are able to get Pak choi (gorgeous, small twin-pack), mixed salad leaves (Red Mustard seed leaf, mizuna, rocket, claytonia and more), wild rocket, winter purslane (AKA claytonia) which is rich in omega 3, essential fatty acid and vitamin C and a real favourite with so many clients. It doesn’t matter how much claytonia we order each week we always sell out! Aubergines will be available from about June.

 

25th February 2013

This week is not GM week…Is it possible that the GM plaudits are not having it all their own way at present? The unsupported claims of GM crop yields being superior to non-GM crops were blown out of the water this week as rice and potatoes yields on the farms of poverty-stricken Indian farmers broke world-records.  And their farming techniques? Fewer widely spaced plants, less water, actively aerated soil and organic fertiliser! And if this is the placebo in the test, the supposed wonder crop of GM seeds grown using synthetic fertilisers on neighbouring fields result in…much lower yields!

As you might expect this news has international attention. However, Western governments and agricultural scientists aren’t at all convinced…well it hardly plays to their agenda does it!  Their response? The yields are not independently verified (should be very easy to sort that one out, methinks), there is insufficient science behind the techniques used (‘tis true, low on science, but brimming with centuries of practical experience!) and not portable to larger farms (by larger they also mean intensive…well yes, the key is in the “widely spaced planting”…so just perhaps intensive is part of the problem)

The success of organic farming is particularly pertinent to India where over the past 20 years thousands of farmers have committed suicide because of debts to the agribusinesses such as Monsanto. As many of you will know the agribusinesses sell seed to farmers under a contract which dictates the farmer cannot use seed produced by their growing plants. Each year they have to buy new seed and huge amounts of pesticides from the seed supplier. The seed and pesticides go hand in hand as both contain the same pesticide.  In the case of Roundup Rice seed a native rice seed has been genetically modified by bombardment in such a way that the seed contains Roundup (yes that incredibly strong pesticide that we would never want to get on our hands).  As weeds grow amongst the rice plants, the pesticide (containing Roundup) is sprayed over the field.  Most of the plants other than Roundup Rice die from poisoning.  The Roundup Rice lives because….well it is permanently poisoned and therefore immune to pesticide.  Many of the farmers were illiterate and were wooed by the promises of high yield from the seed; most had no knowledge of the need for pesticides until too late.  GM plants require very regularly spraying and given that many Indian farmers with small farms do not have irrigation systems and rely on irregular rainfall, it is incongruous that this seed should ever have been sold to them. Worse still, there was no going back as the native seed which only required cow dung as a fertiliser died out within a year; the strength of the pesticides being so great.

Over the years several individuals and NGOs have attempted to redress the balance and help small farmers. Of particular note is Navdanya (meaning nine seeds) www.navdanya.org which is network of seed keepers and organic producers across India.  Started by Dr Vandana Shiva, an environmentalist, the network has set up 111 community seed banks and trained over 5 million farmers in sustainable agriculture using indigenous seed. And this week’s news should have led to much celebration at Navdanya.

 

18th February 2013

Optimising Your Protein Intake...A complete protein is one that provides all the essential amino acids in the proper amounts. Your body requires a complete protein to support its everyday functions to the best of its ability.Grains, legumes and nuts & seeds are all good sources of protein. However some, such as lentils, are an incomplete protein. An incomplete protein is any protein that lacks one or more essential amino acids in correct proportions. Even if the protein contains all the essential amino acids, it can still be incomplete if they are not in unequal proportions. Most plant sources of protein are incomplete, with the exception of soya beans and quinoa. (Animal sources of protein including dairy products, meat, fish, poultry and eggs are usually complete proteins). Rice and lentils are a popular combination to create a complete protein. Other good combinations of complementary proteins other than grains and legumes include:

·       Nuts with Legumes -  (black bean and peanut salad)

·       Grains with Dairy - (white cheddar and whole wheat pasta)

·       Dairy with Seeds - (yoghurt mixed with sesame and flax seeds)

·       Legumes with Seeds - (spinach salad with sesame seed and almond salad dressing)

By learning the foods that complement each other, it is possible to create a balanced meal with the proper proportions of proteins. This will ensure that your body is getting all the essential amino acids it requires for a well-functioning body. This information is particularly important for those who eat a meat-free diet, as creating a complete protein will give your body all of the required amino acids to make all of the proteins that we need.

Our beloved root vegetables…We are just beginning to see the end of the long winter and appear (fingers crossed!) to be heading into Spring time.  Many of us have been receiving wintery root vegetables in our boxes over the past few months which will be continue for a few weeks until springtime really kicks in and salads emerge.  But what benefits have they really been giving us? Naturally root veg would be the only fresh produce available in our climate over the colder months.  As a result of this, clever nature fills them with the vitamins and nutrients we need when it begins to get colder. Root veg like onions and garlic are very good for the heart. They prevent blood from clotting, and help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They are perfect for the winter, as they build up your immune system and help to protect you from illnesses like the common cold or flu. If you do happen to get any of these illnesses, however, then turnips are excellent antibacterial agents and inhaling the steam from boiling turnips can help to get rid of any unwanted winter bugs. Beta-Carotene is present in nearly all root veg.  It is an orange pigment that acts as a precursor to Vitamin A. This particular vitamin is very important as it too builds immunity against infections. It also keeps the skin healthy and really does help you to see in the dark! (to an extent anyway - vitamin A is good for the retina and preventing eye related issues.) To ensure that you are getting enough beta carotene, go for orange or yellow vegetables. Great examples include sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, swede and in some green vegetables such as kale, spinach and broccoli. Beta Carotene is also present in egg yolks, butter and cheese.

 

11th February 2013

Our food chain under scrutiny… at last..  We have avoided mentioning the horsemeat debacle to date however a fantastic editorial piece in the Evening Standard tonight has changed that, as it so eloquently (and unintentionally) extols the principles of organic food production. It appears that later this week we will learn that UK supermarket shelves contain “filler” meats from a long chain of suppliers encompassing 16 different European countries.  The Food Standards Agency has yet again failed to employ effective procedures to fulfil their monitoring role but as the Evening Standard concludes “…the FSA is powerless to address the underlying issue: supermarkets exerting ever-greater cost pressures on suppliers to keep products cheap and consumers’ willingness to tolerate their low standards of many ready meals.” The remedy?  “Unless we are able to pay realistic prices for better-quality meat and until supermarkets raise their standards of traceability then such scandals are likely to recur.”  Organic certification of any products including meat demands total traceability from field to retailer.  Moreover at Greener Greens we advocate as short supply chains as possible (which is why we buy direct from the growers) and particularly seek out biodynamic farms where the inputs (eg organic manure or livestock foodstuffs) is produced either on the farm or within a small community of farms.  Using this simple methodology the farmer or grower is quite capable of monitoring the inputs and outputs and consistency of standard is maintained.

Have we not seen enough evidence of complexity creating disasters for our communities? Complex arrangements cannot be monitored and moreover they act as a complete shield for less honest individuals or corporates.  We are still reeling from the effects of the financial instruments devised within investment banks; instruments which were too complex for many to grasp and consequently not monitored by those that sold them. The current food crisis is little different.  Complex sub-contracted “webs” involve several sources of supply that are too complex to be monitored by those that sell the products eg our supermarkets.   So what do they do?  They put the onus on the supplier to effect the necessary monitoring, whilst at the same time the negotiating hard to drive down the price the supplier (and the monitor) will receive!  How ludicrous and steeped in conflict is that?  Enjoy your traceable box this week………

 They have been busy bees…After intense public pressure, the European commission has agreed to a proposal that will ban three bee-killing poisons for two years – a big win for our bees, which have been dying off at an alarming rate over the past decade.  A vote on the two-year ban is now planned at an EU expert committee later this month.  The Commission hopes to have a proposal ready by March, which could be in place by July 2013.  Environmentalists welcomed the news, with Friends of the Earth’s Bee spokesman, Andrew Pendleton, calling it a “hugely significant first step on the road to turning around the decline of our bees.”  Thank you to everyone who signed the online petition. It was people like you who put enough pressure on the EU to act upon this issue.

 

 

4th February 2013

Welcome back, Red Kale..  The snow has gone and the wonderful Red and Red Russian kale from Woodlands Farm has returned. So many of you have congratulated the growers on producing this fabulous kale; we were particularly delighted to receive such positive feedback about kale, as this veggie is not widely used in the UK even though it is a traditional UK winter food. It seems fitting that the recipe this week is for Red Kale…and it’s a really yummy one.  A simple way of cooking kale as a side dish is wash and chop the kale, add butter to a pan, add the kale and some chopped garlic, cook until tender, add soy sauce and serve.

Kale is grown throughout Europe and is a key ingredient to many traditional dishes, a sample of which are: In Portugal, caldo verde, a traditional soup, combines pureed potatoes, diced kale, olive oil, broth and sliced cooked spicy sausage. Kale is also popular in Brazil, in caldo verde (as in Portugal) or as a vegetable dish, often cooked with shredded dried beef. In north-western Germany a “kale tour” takes place around Bremen and Oldenburg during January. This involves consume large quantities of kale, sausage and schnapps. Most communities in the area also have a yearly kale festival which includes naming a "kale king". Curly kale is used in Denmark and Holland, Sweden, to make a traditional Christmas dish which is normally served with ham. The kale is used to make a stew of minced boiled kale, stock, cream, pepper and salt that is simmered together slowly for a few hours. The traditional Irish dish Colcannon is made from kale and potatoes. In Scotland kale provided such a base for a traditional diet that the word in dialect Scots is synonymous with food. To be "off one's kail" is to feel too ill to eat…which we very much hope you aren’t this week when you receive your box!

Keep Britain Buzzing  In last week's newsletter we noted that the Soil Association is taking its Save the Bees campaign to a higher level.  The banning of specific deadly pesticides is one of their aims. There is strong evidence that neonicotinoids – a class of pesticide first used in agriculture in the mid 1990s at exactly the time when mass bee disappearances started occurring – are involved in the deaths. The evidence against these chemicals is strong to cause their ban or suspension in France, Germany and Italy – but not yet in the UK. Where they are banned some bee populations are already recovering. To put this in perspective – in the US 1 in 3 bees has disappeared over the past 2 years.  Bees are responsible for pollinating many fruit, vegetable, nut, seed and cereal crops.  To clarify the need –the California almond crop alone uses 1.3 million colonies of bees for pollination, approximately one half of all the honey bees in the United States!  They guys are critical!

We also noted that Avaaz is running a similar campaign.  It presented a petition of over 1million signatures to the EU Commission late last week prior to their meeting to discuss the use of these pesticides. The result of that meeting was very positive - the EU Commission recommended suspending 3 deadly poisons. However, some very influential companies such as Bayer who utilize these poisons in their pesticides will maneouvre their lobbyists at corporate and country levels to try to block the suspension before the final vote. Let’s not be naïve about the money that will be behind these lobbyists. But given the events on the world stage in the past 2 years it is clear that there is scope for the wish of the masses to prevail. The Avaaz petition to get a full ban on all bee killing pesticides continues to be open for new signatures as I write this and just short of 2.5million individuals have signed it. If you would like to add your name the link is http://www.avaaz.org/en/hours to_save_the_bees/?fp.

 

 

28th January 2013

 

Get the Sun Cream Out...A week ago we had snow on the ground and disruption prevailed.  Today the temperature is a balmy 6° and the breeze is gently blowing through the palm trees….(ok I made the last bit up, but I can dream can’t I)?The good news is that the thaw has started and Our Growers have been able to lift their produce for this week’s deliveries.  We managed last week with a combination of our European Co-operatives and wholesalers (with root veggies from one of Our Growers that were dug up pre-snow and stored in a slightly heated environment).  Wow, did we notice a difference in prices!  And some box schemes always buy from these sources!So a big welcome to the following veg…at their reasonable prices...new season cauliflower, gorgeous purple and green January King cabbages, luscious leeks (these should have improved as a result of the freeze), as well as salads (great with toasties!) wild rocket, mixed salad leaves and omega 3, essential fatty acid, vitamin C-rich winter purslane …so wonderful to be able to source these salads from the UK and from one of the UK’s best salad growers.Our European Co-operatives continue to be the best source for some produce and this week we have spinach and lettuce from France, courgettes from Italy, tomatoes and cucumbers from Spain. And lots of citrus fruit – blood oranges (fabulously sweet), clementines, grapefruit, kiwis and Seville oranges for your marmalade making!  All are at a reduced margin now.

Keep Britain Buzzing  Bees have been declining at an alarming rate in recent years. Why? There is strong evidence that neonicotinoids – a class of pesticide first used in agriculture in the mid 1990s at exactly the time when mass bee disappearances started occurring – are involved in the deaths. The evidence against these chemicals is strong to cause their ban or suspension in France, Germany and Italy – but not yet in the UK. Where they are banned some bee populations are already recovering.  The Soil Association started a campaign Keep Britain Buzzing in October and they have contacted us to help out as they ratchet up their efforts… So look in your box in the coming weeks.

Avaaz has also been campaigning tirelessly to reduce the use of neonicotinoids and they note that days ago the official European food safety watchdog stated for the first time that certain pesticides are fatally harming bees. Now legal experts and European politicians are calling for an immediate ban. The EU could move to ban the most poisonous pesticides, and start a global ban that would save bees from extinction which would be a breakthrough for the various campaigns. However, Bayer and other giant pesticide producers are lobbying hard to keep them on the market. The public voice is vital to this issue.  Without bees our food system breaks down.  Let’s do our bit too….

21st January 2013

 

You Might Notice…We will not be putting bananas into the fruit boxes this week.  This is also due to the snowy weather! The cold temperature encourages an enzyme found in bananas to react, causing the skin to blacken. It also prevents under-ripened bananas from ripening. Since most of the bananas that we put into our boxes are still slightly green, we feel that the current weather conditions will definitely affect the quality of the box you receive. We have thermal blankets that we use to cover the bananas in both hot and cold weather conditions throughout the year, so usually when the weather is less extreme your bananas will be absolutely fine!

Here’s a little tip for the next time you get your bananas - avoid storing bananas and apples together - the ethylene produced by apples fastens the browning process of room-temperature bananas!

Even More About The Snow…The ground has been frozen in some areas of Central and Southern UK for nearly a week now.  Leeks are frozen in (this will sweeten their taste though when the thaw comes) and nothing has grown for the past week and more.  Where growers have already lifted produce such as roots if they are stored outside in large bins they are frozen together. Roots that are in chillers are absolutely fine, but the lack of availability has meant a massive increase in demand for any produce that is available.  Thus this week we are bringing more in from our European Co-operatives with spinach and lettuce from France, courgettes from Italy, tomatoes, broccoli and cucumbers from Spain. The produce that came in from these sources last week was superb both in quality of appearance and taste.

Help A Neighbour...The snow can be a source of fun for many people but for others it brings fundamental problems including accessing food or the dilemma of food vs fuel from a limited budget.  With this in mind and recognising that naturally grown food is fuel for our bodies we have come up with a Winter Fuel Bag which we are offering at £8.  This is available for existing clients to purchase on behalf of neighbours and friends who may find shopping inclement in the existing conditions. It contains staple fruits & vegetables including potatoes, carrots and onions.The Winter Fuel Bag must be purchased in addition to your personal order and will be delivered to you for onward distribution.  Payment must be made by yourself and the Bag will be added to your invoice

14th January 2013

Fruit Price Hike…We read a lot about increasing food prices in the UK these days, particularly from supermarket CEOs.  At Greener Greens we are seeing some increase in prices from growers but the most increases are from the wholesalers, which is largely, but not exclusively, in respect of non-UK produce.  We’ve particularly noticed that fruit prices are going up, sometimes significantly with each new crop or new supplier. We’re not the only ones who are facing rising prices either. Managing director of Waitrose Mark Price warned prices could increase dramatically over the coming months by as much as 5% above inflation. Foods expected to be affected are fruit and vegetables.

We’re fighting the price hike at Greener Greens. We reduced our margin on fruit about 3 months ago, but given the increase in prices we are now witnessing we have decided to reduce it further from this week.  Fruit is such an important part of most people’s diet that we feel it is that we play a part in maintaining the quality and variance of your diet.

With that in mind…We have some Blood Oranges in over the next few weeks that taste delicious.  We’ve included a recipe this week as a suggestion for how to use them to make a fabulous wintery dessert. It’s a lovely way to try their ‘out of this world’ (as a client described them!) flavour as well as protecting your body – Blood Oranges contain particularly high levels of antioxidants,  which gives them unique health benefits that are simply not found in normal oranges. The red pigment also contains higher levels of Anthocyanins, which have been proven to help prevent cancer, diabetes and bacterial infections and help against illnesses that come with age. Eating just two blood oranges is more than enough to comply with the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.

Don’t let the name put you off! It comes from the unique crimson colour of the orange which is grown in the volcanic atmosphere of Mount Etna in Sicily.

7th January 2013

What has happened to our apples…? We have had a few questions from clients regarding the Evita apples. All have agreed that they taste truly delicious but some have wondered about the blemishes on the skin. Our information has come direct from the grower themselves and hopefully should answer any questions you have.

Concerns were first raised early last year because of the dry weather. Luckily the growers paid extra attention to the crops at this time and no real damage occurred until the severe rain started and started to affect most crops. Whilst the rain was good for the trees themselves, some of the apple crop was damaged. Because the sun and warm weather never came long enough without it raining again, the flowering came and went without pollination (there was never a dry moment for the bees to fly let alone wind pollination.) Whilst our growers’ pears, Jonagold and Elstar failed, they were successfully able to continue growing the Evitas. Because of the damp weather, some apples do have a green haze called Soothy Blotch growing on their skin, that when washed with water will just wipe off. The other blemish as a result of the growing conditions is called Evita spot. Our growers are still trying to work out how to prevent it, but it is purely a blemish and does not affect the taste of the apple in any way. Growing apples (amongst many other crops) was difficult last year, but the growers at the Orchards are already getting ready for the next growing season, and everything that it will bring with it. 

Don’t be put off trying these delicious Biodynamic apples – the response to their wonderful taste from clients has been overwhelmingly positive!

The Buy A Bag Scheme….A big, big thank you to all of you who participated in our Buy A Bag Scheme. The week before Christmas we distributed 75 bags crammed full of veggies and fruit (and some chocolate; thank you to our wonderful client who suggested this!) to families around Leatherhead, Ashtead and Broadfields in Crawley and to Pitstop in Leatherhead for their special families.

Let’s take a trip.…A client of ours (who just so happens to be a retired dairy farmer!) has suggested that we organise a trip to Forest Row in East Sussex, where three of our Biodynamic and Organic producers are based. We would visit Plaw Hatch, a 200 acre farm run by tenant farmers as part of a co-operative, bursting with naturally produced fruit & vegetables and a dairy herd providing raw milk, cheeses, yoghurts and cream as well as sheep, laying chickens and a community shop.

We would also like to show you Orchard Farm, run by Daniel & Karen, who work tirelessly to provide us with the wonderful biodynamic eggs that we all adore. We would like to show off the chickens that are lovingly looked after in the orchards that give us these wonderful eggs. These orchards are also home to our Evita apples, so you would be able to meet the growers themselves!

This trip will go ahead if there is enough interest. If you would be interested in learning more about the food that you’re eating then please let us know!

 

10th December 2012

Our produce this week … Winter is definitely here!  The dropping temperature over the past 2 weeks has seen off some vegetables such as tomatoes.   Luckily the growers have managed to get leeks out of the ground this week.  This veg tends to be the most affected by frozen ground – only from the perspective of lifting though as they positively benefit from cold weather, becoming slightly sweeter to taste.

Did you try the Winter Purslane from Wild Country last week? This salad is one of the best plant sources of Omega 3 as well as being packed with vitamin C as well as iron, magnesium and calcium. Purslane should be available for the Xmas week too.

 

3rd December 2012

Our Xmas Buy A Bag scheme…..  Many local families cannot afford to buy special food at Christmas and sadly the number of these families is increasing.  With your help through this scheme we distribute sacks of veggies and fruits to families just before Christmas. The cost to you is £9.75 per bag and each bag will contain 7kg of 9 varieties of fresh organic produce.  We take no profit from these bags whatsoever.  We do ask you to provide us with a Christmas card for inclusion in the bag that you have purchased.  Our bags will be distributed to families identified by various children’s centres including Broadfields (Crawley), Leatherhead and Bookham and Pitstop the homeless and socially excluded charity.  Our target is 100 bags this year!

Review by Stanford University … A recent review in the US has concluded that organic food is no better than non-organic food because it has the same vitamin content. This has triggered a common outcry from several knowledgeable pundits in the organics sector – “Since when has vitamin content been the reason people choose to eat organic food”! As Craig Sams eloquently surmises the reasons for choosing organic are: protecting biodiversity, aiding the extraction of carbon from the atmosphere and into the soil via composting, combatting global warming by not using nitrate fertilisers (which is response for 1/7th of tar annual increase in greenhouse gases), animal welfare (non-organic farming often produces sick animals and milk from cows that die when they are 3 years old), helps to restore soils that were built up over thousands of years and have been horribly degraded in the past 50 years, encouraging wildlife, birds & bees and other vital pollinators instead of killing them with sprayed poisons, pesticide free growing (pesticides are proven to cause birth defects which are intergenerational, sometimes the effect increases with each generation so that grandchildren are greater impacted than the grandmother or mother).  Organic farming uses half the fossil fuels of non-organic farming.  Organic farming never uses genetically modified seeds or hormonal milk drugs (not to mention that these have never been properly tested for human safety), nor does it use sex hormones to build up layers of muscle and fat.  Organic farmers do not routinely give antibiotics to their animals just to make them grow a little faster, not least because this breeds antibiotic-resistant diseases that cross-infect and kill humans.  Organic food never contains hydrogenated fat, fatty acids, artificial flavourings, colourings, preservatives…… so where does the vitamin content feature in that lengthy list? The Organic “Naturally Different” Campaign concluded recently that 63% of people interviewed choose organic food to avoid harmful pesticide residues.  Another piece of recent research provides a really interesting conclusion - shoppers aged under 35 are twice as likely to want to buy organic food as those over 35.  And younger shoppers are more concerned about ethics, the environment and animal welfare and see organics as positive and not controversial.

26th November 2012

Soil Association (SA) Bee campaign “Keep Britain Buzzing”…. Bees have been declining at an alarming rate in recent years. The reasons for this are not yet fully understood but one major problem is intensive agricultural practices in general. For example, monoculture (where the same crop is grown year after year) and the use of a range of pesticides, including herbicides kill off plants which bees forage on.  Additionally there is strong evidence that neonicotinoids – a class of pesticide first used in agriculture in the mid 1990s at exactly the time when mass bee disappearances started occurring – are involved in the deaths.  The loss of bees potentially jeopardises future food supplies. The SA is campaigning to obtain a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that are used in agriculture and gardens. If you’d like to know more about this issue, the SA campaign and what you can do to help raise the profile of the plight of the bees and the impact on our environment please go to http://www.soilassociation.org/supportus/keepbritainbuzzing.

19th November 2012

Our veggies… thank you to all clients who have contacted us recently to tell us how much they are enjoying our growers’ veggies.  We have been overwhelmed with the fantastic feedback and the enthusiastically delivered messages that many of you have conveyed to us.  We make a point of passing your comments back to the growers, because it is they that deserve this praise.  This year they have pulled out the stops to produce fabulous produce against the odds.  They work so hard at it.  As you are probably aware we work with selected small independent growers, as we consider these businesses to be vital to the local economy and environment.  Many other box schemes work differently electing to obtain produce from overseas for a variety of reasons – often just simply because they do not buy direct from the growers.  A major reason for us buying direct from the businesses that grow the produce is that we know they receive a fair reward for their labours.  It is sickening to read about the paltry rewards that many producers receive when selling to large wholesalers or even retailers…. 7% of the selling price to you and me is not uncommon.  I often wonder why we so proudly support Fairtrade schemes for overseas growers but are kept so much in the dark about the fortunes of our own growers.

So what veggies have our wonderful growers for you this week?  Top of the praise list this week are the Brussel sprouts!!! (Sorry to all of those who don’t like this veggie!!!) Also the long firm green peppers which we are so lucky to be getting from the UK in November!! Our sources of potatoes are dwindling due to the potato blight but our current source is exceptionally good.  Long may it continue.

12th November 2012

Lots of reasons to eat squash – and our other fruit & veggies.… Many years ago, intrigued by one of our client’s weekly choice of fruit and veggies, I was introduced to the “eating alkaline foods”.  It was referred to as the Alkaline Diet in those days, but it would be wrong to call it a Diet (with a capital D) as it is merely a way of eating.  Our bodies are naturally alkaline, but its functions often produce acid and the stresses and strains of our all too busy lives exacerbate this.  It is widely acknowledged that many diseases thrive in an acid environment, so maintaining the alkalinity of your body has to be beneficial; and this involves getting the balance right between alkaline and acidic foods. We can eat both types, but we need to ensure we eat more alkaline foods than acidic ones as the food we eat effects the pH balance of our blood, saliva, urine and the fluids in and around every cell. These bodily fluids are naturally alkaline. Eating a diet high in acid-forming foods temporarily shifts our pH toward acidity, causing our body to use from its alkaline reserves (such as calcium) to maintain healthy pH levels. A diet rich in alkaline-forming foods builds up reserves and is thought to help prevent a number of diseases including osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

So what foods are alkalising?  Parsnips, radishes and sweet potatoes are the most highly alkaline-forming root vegetables and also rank among the most alkalizing of all foods. All varieties of winter squash, including pumpkins and butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash, are also highly alkaline-forming. Cooking root vegetables and squash reduces their alkalizing effect, but not by a significant amount. Ironically citrus fruits are alkaline-forming in the body, despite being acid in their natural state. Lemons, limes, grapefruit and oranges are all highly alkaline-forming, as are their freshly-squeezed juices. As with melon, the freshest, juiciest citrus fruits have the highest alkalinity. Pineapple, kiwi, mangoes and strawberries are other acid-containing fruits that have an alkalizing effect on the body.

Nearly all vegetables have an alkaline effect on the body and green vegetables are among the most alkaline-forming. Wheatgrass, lettuce, spinach, kale, parsley and endives are some of the most alkalizing green vegetables as are most varieties of seaweed.  Water is neutral of course, but add slices of lemon or lime and the pH increases... So whichever box you have ordered this week will help you combat some of the acidic effects of daily stress.. and each box has veggies that may be eaten raw to maximise the benefit! You see, we do care about your health!!

A Hedgehog Tale.… Our local bookstore had a book signing on Saturday (they seem to have one most Saturdays) and as usual the author lives locally.  Our conversation started with the proprietor saying “Do you like hedgehogs?”  I love hedgehogs, so I picked up the book “Tales from Holly Hall” with enthusiasm.  It is a lovely book and just perfect for reading to or with young children. The author, Helen Hain, explained that this book is written in aid of the Sue Kidger Hedgehog Rescue which is based in Twickenham.  It contains several black and white photographs of hedgehogs which the Rescue has housed. At £3.50 for 60 pages and all proceeds being donated to the Rescue, this book makes a great stocking filler. What’s it about?  See the flyer in your box. ISBN 978-0-9545446-4-5.  You can find it on the internet or contact the author on wellwithin@hotmail.com or Bartons Bookshop in Leatherhead 01372 362988.

5th November 2012

What’s news in Organics.… I know you all like to hear news about the organics sector (as it is known to the analysts).  Not that many people seem to be aware that of the larger players in this sector, Abel & Cole was sold in 2007 to a venture capitalist firm which obtained finance for the purchase from Lloyds Bank.  Within a couple of years the business was struggling and the finance from Lloyd’s needed to be restructured.  This resulted in Lloyds Bank increasing its share of the business to such an extent that it was by far the major shareholder.  In an effort to get it ready for sale, one of the founders Keith Abel, was enticed back with a large salary and no doubt a reward from any future sale.  Abel & Cole was “launched” for sale in February 2012 but there was no interest at the price required.  In October 2012 Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire Puds (ok this brands owners, William Jackson) bought Abel & Cole…..without much in the way of publicity or announcements. Even their website fails to mention this important event for the business!  Not a word of it under the News section…..  You’d have thought…………

And veggie news?... Wow the heavy rain over the weekend has made life difficult on the farms, particularly those with clay soils.  We saw some sights yesterday as we visited our growers to collect produce.  The veggies do look particularly fantastic this week (ok, I do often think this) and the aroma of the leeks in the van were so, so strong. We know that winter is on its way as we have our first brussel this week from Home Farm Nacton and beautifully firm and healthy they look.  Sprouts do get poor press, but they are so good for us… They are cholesterol-lowering (if steamed) and protect against cancer as they have high glucosinolates and in particular have four specific glucosinolates in a special, very effective combination.  Brussel sprouts are low in fat and sodium, high in dietary fibre and only about 10 calories each.. They also contain high levels of naturally occurring vitamin C. They’re also an excellent source of vitamin D and folic acid during pregnancy.

29th October 2012

This week’s veggies.… The rain has continued to batter the farms during October turning the soil to mud which of course brings its own difficulties to the growers and their teams – we’ve heard of one stuck pick-up this week! Arctic weather descended over this weekend.  It came as no surprise but was preceded with a flurry of picking the last of the squashes and pumpkins, not to mention topping up the anti-freeze in vehicles and draining and protecting irrigation systems (not that they have been needed much this month).

Many growers will look back at this year as one of the worst they have experienced. The number of lost crops has been more than I’ve ever heard before and where crops have survived the yields have been a fraction of what is considered normal and therefore was expected to be achieved.  Many growers are operating with smaller teams this year; so the tasks are more grueling.

UK lettuces have now finished, although mixed salads and wild rocket from polytunnels prevail.  Radishes and those beautiful and oh so strong small red onions continue to battle through.  We’re even still able to source a few UK tomatoes…not for long methinks.  The last few harvests of green peppers have been quite bountiful, with some really fabulous specimens finding their way to us! Squashes and pumpkins are still high on our list of colourful additions to our boxes.  This is not an aesthetic comment - colour matters from a nutrition point of view too and this is taking into account when designing our boxes each week.  Squashes store very well so if you wish to continue eating them, order a couple as extras and store them in a cool, dry area.  As UK yields are not that good this year I don’t expect the UK squashes to be available into December and we will not bring them into store as carrying stocks is not our policy.

15th October 2012

Rachel’s Organics.... Did you know that Rachel’s Organics (milk & yoghurt producer) is part of the Nestlé Group?  Rachel’s is part of LNCD, a company jointly owned by Lactalis and Nestlé.  Rachel’s was added to the Nestlé’s Boycott List by Baby Milk Action when it joined LCND in May this year.  The Nestlé Boycott is the longest running boycott of a producer – over 30 years. Nestlé is the target of a boycott because it contributes to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants around the world by aggressively marketing baby foods in breach of international marketing standards. Wholefood shops and other retailers are now delisting Rachel's Dairy.  Meanwhile jobs at Rachel’s factory in Aberystwyth are under threat.   Its owners, the French dairy giant Lactalis, is looking to integrate the town's factory with another part of its business. Lactalis bought Rachel’s from a US food manufacturer in 2010.

Some facts about the pumpkin in this week’s boxes … Pumpkin is rich in anti-oxidants and beta-carotene, which provides the body with Vitamin A, aiding regeneration and slowing down the aging process.  You may have noticed that a number of hydrating and anti-wrinkle creams contain pumpkin.  Pumpkin pulp also contains vitamins E and C, salts and minerals, carbon hydrates, and proteids. Pumpkin seeds contain the strongest therapeutic effects. These help in eliminating intestinal parasites, cleaning blood vessels, adjusting cholesterol level and stimulating kidney activity. Pumpkin seeds are considered energisers in treating cancer, leukemia, sclerosis, or various diseases which are hard to cure.Pumpkin has a laxative action, being useful in case of dyspepsia and constipation. Fried pumpkin is healthy for those who suffer from heart diseases. Pumpkin juice is indicated for ulcer and high acidity.

8th October 2012

Your box this week … Our range of veggies this week are great for eating raw or cooked.  As the daytime temperature fluctuates depending on whether the sun is out or not, some days I long for a salad and others soup is far more appealing.  On Sunday up until 11.30am soup was definitely in order.  But out came the sun and we all changed our minds! So you have a versatile box this week – make the most of it!!!  If you come up with some weird & wonderful recipes (that work!) do let us know.  Current weather is near to perfect for broccoli growing.  Mind you this comes after the most disastrous months in which broccoli crops were either dormant or lost.  Our gorgeous biodynamic spinach is from Cherry Gardens in Groombridge and we have a small amount of rainbow chard too.  Cabbages are in short supply this year but Home Farm, Nacton has come up trumps with some pointed cabbage this week.  Their cabbage crops are filling out at present so hopefully we will be assured of at least one type of cabbage each week locally.

Our carrots are particularly carroty at the moment – thanks to Woodlands Farm.  One of my daughters came home from uni this weekend (having only been there for 3 weeks) and raided the fridge.  “Vegetables are so tasteless there” she declared and our carroty carrots were specifically remarked upon!  Yes, I think we do take for granted  the taste of our veggies.  So it is good to have a reminder every so often. 

We are close to a marked natural change in the type of veggie available from our UK growers.  Salad produce has been available for several months now but progressively over the past weeks our UK salad plate has been reducing.  The first to finish are cucumbers and this week radishes have followed suit.  It is likely that after next week UK lettuces will either be not available or in short supply.

 Defra Organic Statistics 2011.. In July 2012 Defra issued the results of the annual returns submitted by organic (and in-conversion) growers for 2011.  It will come as no surprise to hear that land used for the growing of organic vegetables has decreased since 2010.  A quick summary of their findings: The report indicates a 12.7% decrease in the UK as a whole with a 15.8% decrease in England. The number of organic producers (crops and livestock) has fallen by 9% in England since 2009 with a reduction of 16% in producers in Eastern England and a 6% reduction in producers in the South East (this latter area comprises 14.5% of the total number of produces in England.

1st October 2012

Our weekly family boxes…

 It’s a while since we’ve mentioned our weekly boxes for local families, so a brief update is due.  As many of you will be aware for a couple of years we have been collecting non-saleable produce from a wholesaler each week and after adding some spuds, carrots and onions from our fresh produce we’ve delivered the lot to Pitstop, a Leatherhead drop-in centre.  A few months ago we became aware of families in need that could not get to Pitstop.  Our routine now is to collect the wholesale produce on a Tuesday night and to make up the family boxes (12 last week) on a Wednesday night with a combination of the wholesale produce, our donated stock as before and any surplus stock of our own.  We keep some produce aside for Pitstop for a couple of their lunches.  On Thursday once the van is back from its deliveries Matthew distributes the boxes to the families and the Pitstop contribution to one of the volunteer cooks. Our families in need are notified to us by the Leatherhead Children’s Centre and other sources. We know how much this food is needed by the families and are grateful to the night staff at the wholesaler who put the fruit and veggies aside for us.

Live animal transport … One of our clients, who, like us, is an avid supporter of Compassion In World Farming (CIWF) has set up a community petition on the Avaaz website to stop the export of live animals from British Ports.  CIFW is the leading farm animal welfare charity and was founded in 1967 by a British farmer who was horrified by the development of intensive farming.  Their aim is to end all cruel factory farming practices and one of their areas of focus is live animal transport.  Through their years of research CIFW has concluded that live animal transport should be replaced by a trade in meat. Millions of farm animals are transported thousands of miles around the world by road, rail and air.  Long distance transport causes enormous suffering from overcrowding, exhaustion and dehydration, pain and stress and many die as a result.  It is estimated that 40,000 sheep die every year on journeys from Australia to the Middle East. Furthermore the transport of live animals spreads diseases across the globe.  CIFW note that bluetongue virus, foot and mouth disease, avian flu, and swine fever can be directly attributed to the live transportation of farm animals.

24th September 2012

What’s available this week… As I mentioned in my weekend e-mail I do enjoy this time of year as each week brings a different variety of fruit or produce which is only available for a short period.  In particular at the start of the English apple season there are many varieties which are available to us for a couple of weeks. This year we have bought only biodynamic apples which is fabulous.  Our tie up with the organic scheme in Norfolk & Suffolk has meant that I am now dealing direct with a new grower, Sweetapples Orchard.  Stein’s (from Forest Row) Collina apples are now finished and last week we tried Sweetapples’  Worcester Pearmain apples.  I thought they were fantastic.  We have this variety again this week and a new apple too us, Lord Lambourne, which is a decendant of Worcester Pearmain (if one can use this term for plants)!  It’s so good to see your response to these new apples.

Turning the veggies the gorgeous spinach , kale and beets are from Cherry Gardens.  But their crowning glory at the moment is their fennel.  It is simply the best I have ever seen (or tasted).  So crisp and fragrant.  A true indication of the strenght of the slower and natural growing, which is the core of biodynamic farming.  One of our growers Steven Parkinson came up with a surprise late last week.  He’s tried his hand at growing melons.  Did we want 6? We sent an e-mail out and sure enough the 6 were snapped up quickly. 

Food vs drugs for health… I’ve been picking up lots of reference to Big Pharma companies being censured and even fined recently. A new book “Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients” is released today (I’ve already ordered my copy)!  Written by Ben Goldacre from The Guardian the book describes several ways that pharmaceutical companies use to get bad, ineffective or harmful drugs onto the shelves.  Ben is both a scientist and a doctor.  This has come hot on the heels of a Patrick Holford article which cited that at an American Diabetic Association’s conference there was only one speaker who talked about food as a preventative. The influence of the drugs companies on other doctors who were speaking was obvious to many, so the article goes on.  But did you know that GSK pleaded guilty to criminal charges relating to antidepressant and diabetes drug frauds and was fined $3billion last month in the USA?  Apparently this brings the total fines in the US again these drug companies to $14billion!  These fines relate to hiding clinical data on side—effects and illegal marketing activities such as persuading doctors to use drugs (unlabelled) for conditions that they are not licensed to treat … and for bribes. Worse than that GSK sat on evidence that its diabetes drug Avandia was increasing heart attacks.  Just perhaps the pharmaceutical companies are becoming a bit complacent and are making mistakes.  Now we need the voice of reason about healthy eating of vitamin and mineral packed food to increase & be heard. 

17th September 2012

GG in collaboration…

For the benefit of those of you who did not have a box last week we have joined forces with two long-standing organics delivery businesses and will now collectively cover an area encompassing Surrey, West Sussex, North Kent, London (N & S), Hertfordshire, N Essex, Suffolk & Norfolk.  We haven’t merged our business, but we have combined purchasing which gives us efficiencies.  It also helps our growers and producers as our collective orders are larger. So it’s good news for us and our growers – and most importantly it’s good news for all GG clients as we stand a better chance of maintaining prices, despite the continuing increase in fuel and other costs.

10th September 2012

Your box this week…. was an absolute joy to put together as there is so much choice at present.  How different is this to only a month ago!  UK peppers are maturing well, although I suspect they won’t be around for much longer.  The red peppers are biodynamic from Cherry Gardens and the Reds Romano are gorgeous and from Steven Parkinson.  I was speaking to Steven last week and he mentioned that every so often his crops mature very quickly and some goes to waste.  A couple of weeks ago several tomato trusses were too ripe .  Could our clients use them at all – for soup (or even a very rich & juicy tomatoes & onion salad, methinks)!  Naturally I said yes of course.  So do watch out for the weekly e-mails from us.

3rd September 2012

Your box this week…. is brimming with beautifully fresh UK produce with more than a fair smattering of biodynamic goodies, including our first sweetcorn from Cherry Gardens. We have a fantastic variety of tomatoes this week – a mix of organic and biodynamic: cherry, small, marmand (crinkly to us)!  Very strong smelling – like tomatoes should be (or us oldies say “like they used to be”)! 

  

 

 

 

 

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