Life feels pretty chaotic and yet slow and dull at the same time at the moment. Nearly a year into the pandemic and a few weeks into Brexit and things could be worse in the veg world but they could also be a lot better. I wanted to write a post about what is going on in organic veg growing at the moment and address some of the short term and long term issues which affect what you get delivered in your box each week.
I know a lot of you are getting root veg & cabbage fatigue. Veg boxes are always somewhat repetitive at this time of year but this winter is even harder than usual. There are a number of issues at play here:
Considering we have been aware of the changing climate for decades now we have done surprisingly little to make the necessary changes to avert the course of weather chaos. I feel like climate change is often discussed in the future tense. One day it will get really hard to grow things, seasons will change, rain patterns will be affected and so on. Well it is already happening.
2020 was only the second time Johnny at Organic Pantry in Yorkshire has had to irrigate his crops in spring in over 20 years of growing. He is having to invest in irrigation systems because rainfall is much less predictable and its the only way to mitigate drought and the resulting crop failure. Graham at Chapel Farm lost entire fields of carrots, onions and beetroots in Autumn due to too much rain. We usually get to eat his delicious onions through until March but they ran out in November.
2020 was a terrible year for our social lives and also brassicas. You may have noticed that we barely had any cauliflower or broccoli from the UK last year. There was a nationwide shortage, due again to changeable weather. Both crops need fairly stable temperatures but spring was really sunny and warm so they kept bolting while small and then summer was cold so they didnt grow much and then we had a period of sun and they bolted again. The result was tiny yields of crops we can usually eat reliably for the majority of the year.
In the last few weeks the watercress we often order at this time of year has been killed by the sub zero temperatures, ditto indoor salad crops.
I could go on and on about the various difficulties faced by farmers caused by the weather last year and it continues into 2021 with crops frozen into the ground. What can we do about this? We all have a part to play in encouraging the powers that be to make the changes needed to make our economy carbon neutral and start living off the power of the current sun rather than the ancient one.
This is a big one and the implications are still being understood but just this week Farrington’s Farm have been unable to harvest their crops due to staff shortages. Their workforce is mainly from Europe and they haven’t been able to replace the loss of people returning to the mainland. As a result some of their crops may be ploughed back in un-harvested. What a waste! They are not the only farm to suffer this frustration.
Overseas shipments are now subject to extra charges. We have seen the price of cucumbers from Spain triple in the last few weeks due to extra admin and also that massive snowstorm. All the fruit and veg we import is now more expensive and there have been delays and wastage at the ports.
The pandemic has caused a lot of people to re-think how they want to live and eat. Local food has never been more popular. I am really excited by this but it has had a negative effect on the choice of produce available for the boxes recently. For example, squashes are usually available until February and by now we are starting to get tired of them. Not this year! The harvests weren’t great but then demand for them was much higher than usual. They ran out in December and we were often not able to secure many when they were available.
The answer to this is for us to grow more and work directly with producers – we are on it! Long term variety will come back but in the short term its going to be a lot of cabbage and roots.
What can you do?
I wish I could tell you that things will be OK in a couple of weeks but in the short term the boxes are going to be quite repetitive. There’s nothing we can do about it. Spring is a way off and until those early crops come through UK veg variety is going to be limited.
If you are getting tired of the roots then you could change your order. I have gone down a size for my main veg box and I have added a supplementary veg bag. It means you would get some UK basics and then things like tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, aubergines etc from Europe. All our imported veg and fruit are transported by road we never use air freight. All our overseas suppliers are organic.
I also recommend embracing the idea of local food with international flavours. You can make a cabbage taste like a thousand different things with some pantry ingredients on hand. I have asked our buyer Adam to have a look for some organic spice mixes and new ingredients to add to the online veg box shop so we can all do a bit of experimenting and taste some new things. Stay tuned!
You can also get involved with making change here in Glasgow by partaking in the Glasgow City Food Plan. The first phase of consultation has passed but there will be more & election season is coming. Please mention this to your local candidates, tell them how important good food and a clean environment are to you. Lets get people talking about sustainable food more & more.
I believe that it is more important than ever to support small businesses. The pandemic has strengthened the supermarkets and multi-nationals. They can ride the waves that capsize the little guys. We want to keep challenging the power of the corporations and bringing you top quality food and I know that everyone at Locavore is grateful for the support that our subscribers and customers provide.
What will Locavore do?
We are working on getting more electric vehicles and bringing more ground into organic growing. In 2021 we will grow more ourselves. We are exploring growing pulses here and we are always looking to new partnerships.
Gordon Caldwell in Ayrshire will grow lots more for us this year. We enjoyed his tenderstem broccoli and carrots throughout last summer and this year he will also grow onions and courgettes for us. The support we can provide to him in terms of guaranteed sales means he has the confidence to make the necessary investments to turn more of his land organic.
We also struck up a new partnership with The Free Company near Edinburgh last year. They provided lots of delicious salad, fennel, beets and leeks last year and this year we are working on crop plans with them to grow more variety for our boxes.
Scotland is blessed with lots of passionate, innovative growers and small producers all working to make our food better and more sustainable. Locavore is excited and proud to be a part of this community and we are excited for what 2021 will bring.