FOLLOWING THE SEASONS
We used to look forward to the changing seasons and the different produce they would bring onto the shelves of the corner greengrocer’s shop. Seeing the first strawberries of the year was a real treat and, as they were expensive, I knew that they would be eked out with a layer of custard in the base of the individual glass dishes. It was all part of the treat. Later in the year would be the rhubarb, plums, blackcurrants, apples (both eating and cooking) in that corner shop. Add in the tomatoes and lettuce grown by my Dad and lovingly shared with friends. Then there were the blackberries picked from the hedgerows which were great for pies or jam making, along with my all-time favourite of wimberries. These lovingly collected on moorland ambles – though they also used to be available for a very short time slot in the greengrocer’s. We ate what was in season – in our season rather than a season many, many miles and miles away.
We had no freezer – and felt very lucky to have a small fridge as I grew up. The tiny ice box was full with a single ice tray in place. No room for bags of frozen peas, beans that we now take so much for granted. OK, you could get tinned peas, but not things such as red kidney beans, chickpeas – things that I had not even heard of, along with avocadoes, mangoes etc etc etc. This, however, did not mean that our diet was a poor one. Just the opposite, especially if we had visited the local-to-us area of small holdings. Then, produce would be on our plates shortly after picking – probably a memory that adds to the pleasure I get now when picking and eating my home-grown vegetables. My Mum was what I would call a good basic cook for whom herbs and spices were somewhat alien – apart from the annual sage and onion stuffing to accompany the Christmas turkey that is! But, as for most of us at that time, the food on our plates had small carbon footprints – and probably far fewer pesticides to boot.
OUR FOODS TODAY
A recent BBC article entitled 'Why some foods have the same carbon footprint as 5 miles in an SUV' points out that - ‘Food labels don’t usually include information about transport. But if you’re buying highly perishable foods, such as asparagus, green beans, mangetout, shelled peas, baby corn or berries, out of season, it’s worth checking if they’re from far away.... If so, “ask yourself whether they are robust and thick-skinned enough to go on a boat, or whether they will have had to be flown”, advises Berners-Lee, author of ‘How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything’.... He also states the need for us to buy local produce that is in season and to have a mainly plant-based diet. If we do the former, we aren’t eating produce that has been hot housed as this also leads to a larger carbon footprint – or should I say - carbon foodprint.. He points out that whilst ‘Globally, transport emissions account for just 6% of food’s carbon footprint on average. But “when 1kg of produce is moved, a mile by air typically has around 100 times the carbon impact of a mile by sea”, ...... food for thought! In fact, “avoiding foods that have been air freighted [could] knock 20 percent off [the carbon footprint of] any diet”. Something to remember when doing your food shop – if you want to feel that you are doing your bit to help our struggling climate.
Back to those bananas – apparently their foodprint isn’t bad, as they are transported whilst under-ripe, in one of those temperature controlled containers stacked high on the cargo boats wending their way to our shores.
TALKING OF THOSE CONTAINERS -
This is a concept that has fascinated me for some years now, so I was pleased to see programmes about such containers being used for growing herbs and vegetables... and I have no doubt that the list of possible crops is very much on the increase.
The advantages are numerous – they can be located near to, or in, centres of population cutting down on transport costs. They do not require green field sites – some are in car parks and can certainly make use of brown field locations – and they can be stacked to enable greater production in a small area. Last year, a ‘Telegraph’ article told of one such development, saying - ‘Not only does Crate to Plate use otherwise wasted space - these three shipping containers can grow the equivalent of an acre’s soil - but the proximity to customers keeps the produce fresh’. Those acres of suitable arable land can therefore focus on crops not so easily grown in containers.
They make use of hydroponics, with the nutrients being fed through the water. Hopefully, more and more of the light and temperature sources are being provided by renewable energy. The more food that we can produce for ourselves making use of such energy sources, the smaller our foodprint will become. Of course, there will be detractors – and I am the first to accept that a stack of containers doesn’t match up to the views provided by fields of crops spread across our green and pleasant land. But, views don’t fill plates and stomachs. We need to think out of those old boxes – maybe into the large metallic ones.
I have included links to two further pieces on the subject.
As Chungui Lu, professor of sustainable agriculture at Nottingham Trent University points out in FoodBev Media, “We want to address food security and sustainable agriculture issues by developing new farming systems which can provide an improved crop quality and yield... He added: “We believe that there is enormous potential for urban agriculture and vertical farming to meet these emerging challenges. Container farms have optimum growing conditions from germination right through to harvest. It is a hugely efficient and sustainable way of growing very fresh vegetables and some fruit all year round....Container farms the size of ours would be able to produce three to five tonnes of crops per year. Producing natural and sustainable local food under such protected conditions could be very attractive for a range of organisations, such as supermarkets and restaurants. The system is also completely autonomous so people wouldn’t need to know how to operate it.”
This at a time when those green fields of ours have been struggling to provide the same levels of nutritional value as we used to get from our crops. Soils are becoming depleted of nutrients despite the application of tonnes of fertilisers. I wonder if the old crop rotation, that I learnt about many years ago, still takes place, or have economies of scale and the need for larger field sizes to accommodate modern farm equipment seen an end to this in many areas?
MAYBE ANOTHER SOLUTION LIES BENEATH THAT STRUGGLING SOIL –
What of the abandoned underground air raid shelters, tunnels? Similar techniques to the container growing can be used, but temperature regulation will require less energy as the seasonal fluctuations are less. Again, I offer the link to an interesting piece on such a development based below London and its constant demands for fresh food.
I live not far from a huge salt mine – made up of miles of underground chambers. Why not move their use beyond the storing of documents, public records, paintings. An article by Compass Minerals, owners of the mine, says ‘More than a century of mining has left a void under the countryside that features consistent temperature and humidity levels, and is naturally free from the dangers of ultraviolet light, vermin or flooding. It is the size of 700 football pitches and continues to grow as a salt is mined every year.’
More food for thought?
FROM FICTION TO FACT
I recently read a novel and it included a village taking over a patch of land and turning it into allotments. I understand that, away from novels, that allotments are thriving again. Maybe a way forward for a family, or a group of friends to join together in order to spread the load, when so many are so busy. Who needs a gym when you can get out and dig – and reap the rewards of your toils in so many ways. Failing this, it’s surprising just how much you can grow in a few containers in your garden or yard. You can always plant a few flowers amongst the vegetables and it is so good to get the children involved in the process of planting and nurturing the food, as well as going on to join in with cooking what will be on their plate.
MOVING TO OTHER AREAS
I am endeavouring to do my bit with my food (and other ways) – I wonder what you are doing – or do you feel that it wouldn’t help? This planet of ours is far more important than you having a favourite food that comes along with a large carbon footprint - but you just really want it, so why not have it? We have to re-set our priorities or else those who follow in our footsteps could well be having to cope with much bigger problems than we currently see on the horizon - in all aspects of life. Aspects that we need to hold up for examination. This has been done by a man called Dale Vince – Chairman of Forest Green Rovers - a green football club. One man and his team making their difference, doing their bit. What of other sports? I have to say that I do wonder about the footprint of F1 as it moves around huge amounts of kit just to race in different countries.
What other things do we need to bring onto the table for consideration? Now that COP26 has wound up – and left me feeling concerned – do we just hold up our hands and say sod it, or do we set about doing our bit and letting others know about it. Not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. Remember – if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you have always got. What changes do you feel that you can make – that maybe you should make to cut down your negative impact on this wonderful, struggling world of ours?
PS do check out Mike Berners-Lee’s book – ‘How Bad Are Bananas’ – also, by the same author - ‘There Is No Planet B.’
PPS – I make no apologies if this has come over as me on a soap box. It is something which really concerns me and I can’t just sit on my hands and hope it will go away.
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