Saturday 23 April 2011

Hands up if you like eating good food?!

Mmmm food. I know I do! And so do you too it seems! There are 134 members on our food google group mailing list and that’s just the few that have time or a passion to create new systems to make it easier for us to get good food to our plates.

I believe a healthy, happy and strong community comes from sharing good food and conversation. I’m realising the value and opportunity in meal times and now trying to give more time to it. I’m finding it’s a great way to connect with my family, a time away from our TV and computers and it’s a lovely way to spend a social evening with friends. We did a murder mystery evening a couple of weeks ago which is set around a 3 course meal and it was HILARIOUS!

I hope that we can realise the value of food as a substance that maintains our mental and physical health to be able to do all the things we wish for in our lives. And then respect it and ourselves enough to appreciate the benefits in growing or buying good quality food.

In October 2008 50 people met to discuss the failings of our current food supply in Norwich. Motivated and empowered they broke into working groups, one of which was the then called ‘Norwich City Farms’ group.

Two years later with thanks to a grant from a lottery fund to get us started, Norwich FarmShare is here! As a way of celebrating our journey I’d like to explain how we ‘do different’ (as the Norwich coat of arms apparently says!) in comparison to the conventional food systems in the UK.

We have two sites, 5 acres at Postwick and 2 acres at Hewett High School, and have a diverse crop rotation planned out for the next 7 years. Manure was added at the start of the season and clover, peas and beans will be planted as part of the rotation to take nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil. We therefore won’t be needing synthetic Nitrogen fertiliser to be added to the soil.

We have one small tractor (who has been named Bluey I think!). Laura, our grower will be supported by some part-time staff and the FarmShare community members on volunteer days and on group work days which will be around busy times in the farming calendar such as planting and harvesting. These will be combined with seasonal social events sharing food, music, and conversation in celebration of a good job jobbed!

Strength in diversity
In crops it means you are less likely to have disease and pests as it’s less of a feast for insects or microbes. It therefore means you don’t have to spray with pesticides. We are encouraging natural predator-prey relationships by increasing habitat on site. A hedgerow was planted on our first workday and flowers will be planted to encourage bees.

In people. Many hands make light work. It’s not what you know it’s who you know!It’s been really exciting to see all of these connections being made. Mutual interests in forest gardening, comparing teenage childrens’ behaviour, sharing seeds to grow herbs at home, being able to bounce ideas off each other whilst assembling a rabbit fence or building a poly tunnel. It’s a melting pot of inspiring and inspired people and incredibly supportive and motivating! If you’re chatting and weeding at the same time, herbicide doesn’t have to be used!

Large scale agriculture tends to grow vast areas of the same crop or ‘monoculture’ which means it’s easier to plant and harvest, as it happens at the same time.

This is mostly done with massive oil-guzzling machinery causing air pollution and CO2.

Pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilisers are created from or by the use of fossil fuels. The former two concentrate in creatures up the food chain as they are consumed.

The nutrients from soluble fertilisers can run off bare soil into local waterways causing algal blooms, decreasing sunlight and death of water plants then fish.

As our oil supply is now in decline, it has and will become less and less affordable to use these practices.

Distance between producer and consumer
Minimising this distance is the best way forward and has many advantages. Freshness of produce customer receives therefore taste and the food will keep for longer. It can also mean a better price for producer as there are less middlemen to take a cut.

Connection with how and where your food comes from. There will be many opportunities at the FarmShare sites for visiting, learning, time for reflection, improving mental and physical health and for building projects. You can see for yourself how the land is being cared for by Laura, with her Soil Association farming experience, and chat to her and the community if you have any questions or concerns.

Currently much of our food is produced at distance from where we live. A milk shortage in shops last winter was caused by snow slowing the lorries that transported it. Food will go from producer, to processing, to packaging, to distribution warehouse, to the supermarket then to our homes.

Before transportation the food may be processed. It then needs to be packaged to protect it on its journey, and possibly refrigerated. Buying from local producers cuts all this faff out!

Transport, refrigeration and packaging uses a whooolllleee bunch of oil when we in Norfolk are surrounded by farmland! Currently there aren’t many small scale organic growers in Norfolk to support the county as oil prices continue to rise. So we are leading the way!

Keeping money in the local area for the benefit of local people.
Big business has a lot of power over the people that grow for their stores. Birdseye cancelled contracts with 180 Norfolk and Suffolk farmers in February last year at short notice, blaming a loss of export contract to Italy. The cut cost pea growers £5.5m in income.

Buying your food from independent shops, and those which source their produce locally keeps money in the local economy. For every £100 spent wholly in local industry, 80% returns as it gets spent by local people, in their locality.

For every £100 spent in a national chain, only 20% gets reinvested in the local community. 80% escapes as profit for shareholders living elsewhere.

By being able to have conversations with the owner of a shop or the people involved in a not-for-profit cooperative like FarmShare, you can influence the actions those people take. If you request a product to be stocked or a change to be made in the way things are done, the more chance you will be listened to as they value your custom. You’re more likely to get what your community wants and you can vote with your feet and wallet if not!

Meat production-not solely about animal welfare
Although it’s important. Why would we be happy eating antibiotics stuffed chicken or pigs whose growth was accelerated with growth hormones?

I like the term ‘responsible omnivore’. Animals take a LOT of energy to produce. It takes 6-8KG of grain to produce 1Kg of meat. By eating less meat and dairy, but when we do sourcing it from local farmers, we can support the local economy. Quiz them, or your butcher, about how they raise their animals. Once we have their ear we can make suggestions and support them by voicing a consumer demand.

Good luck in your quest! If you have any questions or food sourcing issues join the food group and throw them for the pool of 136 people to support you.

Itching to find out more about Norwich FarmShare?!

Read the Blog.
Or email Tully, Elena or Tierney with your phone number and we can call you back. Check the facebook page too

Ladybird at Postwick, Onions Sprouting, community assembly of poly tunnel, John helps build the compost toilet, Laura’s Organic seed haul, workday shared lunc. Photos by Laura, Kerry and Elena.

No comments:

Post a Comment