ISSUE 9 | SPRING 2022 SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND ETHICAL BUSINESS
a h c t o k O y Popp on why g n i w o r ological g positive change. c e n i r a t or gs The risin e a 'Trojan horse' f r gardens a
Seasonality special | Shellfish ambitions | The truth about Easter lamb | NEW Lifestyle section
Celebrating regenerative women on the land. 4 comments 8th March 2022 Becky Blench Diversity
Day, where countries all Today marks International Women’s awareness and n of women’s achievements, raise over the world unite in the celebratio looking at bias this year is #BreakTheBias. And rally for gender equality.The theme equality in the time of the gender advancing as e, in agriculture is of huge importanc future. le sustainab more climate crisis is crucial for a Land group formed The Regenerative Women on the at the Oxford in 2021, following on from sessions the aim of creating Real Farming Conference, with to inspire new and connect to place a restorative farming. to entrants celebrated the At this year’s conference, discussions and looked at how growing number of female farmers more in. we can remove obstacles to welcome women work Globally, almost one third of employed and fishing. It is the in agriculture, including forestry for women in most important employment sector than 13 per cent of lower income countries, but less Women in the agricultural landholders are women.
Digging up the story behind your next meal. New website launching April 2022
Wicked Leeks magazine is published by Riverford Organic Farmers. Wash Farm, Buckfastleigh, Devon, TQ11 0JU. 01803 227416 firstname.lastname@example.org Editor: Nina Pullman Staff writer: Jack Thompson Design: Chanti Woolner Sub-editor: Ellen Warrell Marketing: Max Harrop Photography: Stuart Everitt Video: Christian Kay Contributors: Becky Blench, Emily Muddeman, Owen Gent. Cover photograph: Stuart Everitt
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easonality. What does it mean, how is it changing, and is it still a feasible way to shape sustainable eating in an era of climate change? Those are some of the questions we seek to address in this issue, as spring rolls around with its promise of new season harvests and warmer weather. But seasonality has gone beyond simply meaning what is available when – as food historian Sam Bilton explains (pages 6-7), it has gone from way of life to more of a watchword. While for chef Tom Hunt (page 8) it can be a source of contradictory, yet creative, inspiration, and for forager Jim Parums (page 9) it brings regular reminders of a changing climate. For others, simply buying any food is what they are most concerned with, never mind what’s in season, as we hear in a piece examining the links between sustainable food and food poverty (pages 27-29).
Elsewhere in this issue, to better represent and inspire modern lives, we’ve given our Lifestyle section a full revamp, with new sections on health, art, culture and, of course, food, with new voices and formats to bring ideas and discussions to life in different ways. There are also new elements recognising the power of community, of eating out, and of a different kind of shopping (pages 34-42). The power of storytelling also comes to mind when hearing from this issue’s cover star Poppy Okotcha (pages 10-15), whose inspiring and articulate understanding of how gardens can be radical places for self care, as well as cultural and environmental change, is hugely empowering.
Nina Pullman Editor, Wicked Leeks @nina_pullman
Read on screen: issuu.com/ wickedleeks-magazine Printed by: Walstead United Kingdom, 109-123, Clifton Street, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 4LD. Wicked Leeks magazine is printed on 100% recycled FSC certified paper, meaning it is harvested from sustainable forestry. Please pass on or recycle this magazine once you’ve finished with it.
CONTENTS & CONTRIBUTORS / ISSUE 9 NEWS / 4-5 Former model turned ecological grower Poppy Okotcha on the power of gardens, and the links between compost, personal care and activism.
OPINION / 6-9
FEATURES / 10-33
LIFESTYLE / 34-42
Food historian, writer and cook Sam Bilton on how seasonality went from way of life to watchword. P6-7. Chef Noor Murad on her identity as a child of multiple food cultures and how it inspires her cooking. P37.
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on wickedleeks.com: 1 Best one-pot meals to save energy 2 Best budget lunches 3 How does vertical farming compare with organic? 4 The ultimate guide to sustainable food in the city
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h @chrisfruitnet | 23 Marc of potatoes “Declining sales tables ge ve and root n’t afford ca le op pe e becaus il them”: the energy to bo chief ds @IcelandFoo ’s alker W rd ha Ric executive on #R4Today
@LdnFarmGarden | 24 March Young people are valued and trusted at city farms. We were on @ BBCRadioLondon today describing the alternative education and training offered by farms like @hackneycityfarm @mudchute. More £££ is needed. #CityFarmDay
STA R LET TER Supermarkets have sold the exciting nature of eating seasonably for profit. The produce that is imported, in the main, is tasteless, anaemic and not worth the bother of importing it halfway across the world. Jude
PIC OF THE CROP Below: Spanish growers faced a tough start to the season with a drought, strikes, and a sandstorm from the Sahara desert.
Join the conversation at wickedleeks.com 4 WICKED LEEKS | ISSUE 9
Ukraine war impact on food and farming:
What do we know? By Nina Pullman and Jack Thompson
he invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a humanitarian crisis, with over two million people now displaced from their homes. But as both countries are significant producers of essential farming commodities, like wheat, fertiliser, grains for feed, and fuel, the impact on food and farming across the world is likely to be huge. At the time of writing, here’s what we know so far and some of the longer-term impacts: Food world gets behind Cook for Ukraine A campaign launched by Ukrainian chef Olia Hercules and backed by high-profile names across the food world has raised almost £300k for Unicef to help families displaced by the war. Hercules, whose brother is fighting in Kyiv, has used her social media profile to raise awareness, and appeared across mainstream media and on a panel along with others including Yotam Ottolenghi to raise funds. She is now sharing information about how to help sponsor a refugee. Regenerative farming and the impact of fertiliser Hit by sky-rocketing prices of fertiliser (manufactured from oil), more British farmers are considering a long-term move towards regenerative farming – which uses soil fertility and livestock to reduce reliance on manmade chemicals. War opens door to palm oil Ukraine is a key producer of sunflower oil, used widely as
a commodity across the food industry. As a result of supply disruption, trade magazine The Grocer has reported more palm oil is already entering the market, as sources say the deforestation-linked commodity is one of the only alternatives. Calls for self-sufficiency clash with ecological efforts Calls for more self-sufficiency in British food and farming have been sparked, as violence escalates in Ukraine and the reality of the world’s reliance on key commodities produced there becomes clear. Ecological farming groups, like the Nature Friendly Farming Network, have warned against seeing intensive farming as a fix-all for food security, and that “producing more is not the answer”. Others pointed out how, particularly in Scotland, much land is used for animal feed or alcohol, instead of human edible crops. Wheat prices soar and Ukraine farming disrupted The price of wheat has reached a record high, as Ukraine and Russia are both major exporters. Prices have almost doubled compared to last year, likely to lead to more hunger across the globe as many countries rely on it. Farmers in Ukraine warn that there could be longer term disruptions to supply, as the Russian bombs are preventing them from sowing seeds for their summer harvest.
Above: Chef Olia Hercules is the face of Cook for Ukraine.
Credit Joe Woodhouse
News in brief Diet shaped by demographic People living in cities are more likely to consider cutting down meat and dairy intake, as they have better access to resources to allow them to do so, a new report on the psychology of food choices has found. Using a total of 130 hours of participant time, the report by the FSA found that fear of social backlash, cost, and distrust of marketing messages around both meat and plant-based food mean encouraging dietary change remains highly complex.
Open letter targets neonics U-turn A group of 53 ethical companies, including Neal's Yard Remedies and organic veg box company Riverford, have signed an open letter calling for the government to reconsider their reauthorisation of a toxic neonicotinoid pesticide, which was banned at EU level for its harm to bees. Thiamethoxam has been reapproved for use on British sugar beet crops this year after forecasts that an aphid-spread virus will be three times as high.
Sustainable farming doc seeks funding A new documentary film seeking to bring the vast benefits of sustainable, ecological farming to a wider audience is crowdfunding to reach its next phase. Six Inches of Soil will star a range of farmers who use ecological methods like agroforestry, soil protection, and no chemicals to produce food without degrading the environment. Due for release at the farming show Groundswell, the documentary has raised around £10k of its £25k target.
Apples and caulis from South West will be hit by climate change
auliflowers, broccoli and apples may not be as viable to grow in the South West due to climate change, if growers do not adapt. That was one of the findings from a new report looking at the effect of climate on growing fruit and veg in the region, which will see warmer, wetter winters, hotter, drier summers, and more frequent heavy rainfalls and storms. The other major pattern will be uncertainty, so “there is a chance of any kind of weather at any time in the year”, the report, by climate non profit Seeding our Future, found. Brassica growing will be affected by
the hotter summers, which could see them better suited to northern areas. Apples will be affected by a lack of ‘chill’ in the warmer winters, which they rely on to prompt flower opening at the right time to coincide with pollinators. Meanwhile, the new climate in the South West could also make other crops, such as certain types of squashes and fruits, including apricots, more viable. Water management will be key for growers facing climate change, including improving soil to retain moisture and investments in water storage, as well as protective covers. For more see pages 18-20.
Cardiff pilots edible playgrounds
choolchildren in Cardiff will experience food growing during breaktimes thanks to a new scheme to install 'edible playgrounds' and make healthy food more exciting. Cardiff City Council has teamed up with environmental charity Trees for Cities to build 15 multi-sensory spaces in schools for pupils to learn about nature and where food comes from, to help ingrain healthy eating habits and a connection to the natural world. “The scheme will enable us to help children and their families understand where their food comes from and the benefits home grown produce can have, such as helping them get the right vitamins and minerals in their diet,” said headteacher at Glan-Yr-Afon school, Rhian Lundrigan. "Encouraging children to eat a nutritious, balanced diet early on is important and our Edible Playground will help us to educate them on healthy eating during childhood, encouraging them to make healthier choices as they become adults," she added. Playgrounds in the Welsh capital will now feature raised beds, a greenhouse, a wormery and tool shed; all that they
Below: Combining food and play.
need to start growing food. “Through closely working with each school, Trees for Cities and the Council have been able to create bespoke playground designs where food growing can be accessed across the entire school, encouraging healthier diets and good eating behaviours for the future,” said Cardiff councillor, Sarah Merry. The edible playground pilot is part of a wider food strategy in the Welsh capital, Food Cardiff, aiming to create a thriving local food economy where everyone has access to food that is both healthy and environmentally sustainable.
ISSUE 9 | WICKED LEEKS 5
How seasonality went
from way of life to watchword SAM BILTON Food historian, writer and cook
Above: Seasonality used to dictate what was eaten; now it has become more of a choice.
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ood things that are out of season are but a ghost of their true selves,” mused author Ambrose Heath in the introduction to his 1932 cookbook Good Food, a month by month account of what’s good to eat. When Heath wrote these words, affluent Britons were already on board with being able to buy unseasonal foods even if it was for novelty’s sake. Today we have so much choice it is hard to know exactly what is genuinely in season. I know I can always buy airfreighted asparagus, but I still experience a frisson of excitement when I see the first bundles of English asparagus for sale in April and May. It simply tastes better at this time of the year. Prior to the 20th century, ‘seasonality’ was not the watchword that it is now.
Seasonality was a fact of life. You could only eat what could be grown on home soil or was shipped in from the near continent. In medieval Britain many people, irrespective of their social status, had access to small pieces of land on which they could grow fruit and vegetables. Any gluts that exceeded household requirements could be sold at a market, alongside a small amount of imported produce like onions or turnips (basically anything that stored well and could survive the journey relatively unscathed). Clearly there were times of the year when fresh produce was limited. This could be combatted by the householder through successional planting to ensure a supply of year-round herbs and salad leaves. In some respects, our forebears probably had a
greater array of leafy greens than we have today. Horticulturalist John Evelyn lists at least 35 in his salad calendar of 1664. Cooks in the 18th and 19th centuries could turn to food writers like Elizabeth Raffald and Isabella Beeton for advice on what produce was available and good to eat in a certain month. As in previous eras, most of this would have been grown in Britain. Undoubtedly, as Britain’s commercial interests expanded with its empire, along with technological advances like
refrigeration, so did the variety of produce available. In each of his suggested ‘Foods of the Month’, Heath includes ‘Empire Imported Fresh Fruit’, like pomegranates. By the 1950s, commercially frozen fruit and vegetables became readily available. Food writer Elizabeth David railed against this innovation, believing the English housewife had been so brainwashed by the deep freeze that she would rather pay over the odds for frozen strawberries in January than buy juicy oranges. “Is
it necessary…to eat all this food out of season?” she fumed. We all like a bit of variety, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Some beloved produce, like citrus fruits and bananas, simply can’t be grown in the UK. I, for one, wouldn’t want to live without lemons. But it is good to enjoy great British produce, like asparagus, when it is in its prime, just as our ancestors did. After all, "food which is in season is the best food of all.” Well said, Mr Heath.
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I respect the contradictory nature of seasonality TOM HUNT Chef and food writer
he grassroots local-seasonal food movement (revived in the 90s and early 2000s by chefs such as Fergus Henderson, Hugh FearnleyWhittingstall and Skye Gyngell), created a foundation for what the food sustainability movement has become today. But what do local and seasonal mean? To our head chef, Ian Clark at Poco in Bristol, it means sourcing as much fresh produce as possible from within 50 miles of the restaurant. To most, ‘seasonal food’ means ingredients stamped with a Union Jack, grown in the UK. However, this loose definition, importantly, misses out how the produce was grown. In my cookbook, Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet, I published my manifesto
for a sustainable diet. "Eat local-seasonal food" is part of my manifesto, and I believe a local-seasonal veg box is the keystone to any sustainable diet. In my book, I define 'seasonal food’ as: “produce grown locally – or within a certain radius – without extensive external inputs, such as heated greenhouses, special storage like gas-regulated refrigeration, or hydroponics.” For example, apples are available all year round because they are stored in temperature and humidity-controlled, oxygenless rooms. These storage processes are important to preserve seasonal bounty and prevent waste, and imported foods are important for our food security, but they come with an environmental cost. We have a complex, global food system that feeds
Above: Seasonal food is a source of creativity for chefs.
8 WICKED LEEKS | ISSUE 9
the world through symbiotic geopolitical relationships. But our dependence on these foods depletes our food sovereignty, and certainly blurs the lines of seasonality. It’s important to keep our eyes open; local-seasonal food can be more environmentally damaging than imported produce if it’s grown with excessive energy, fertilisers and pesticides. I learnt from Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson that local isn’t always best; tomatoes grown in an artificially heated greenhouse in the UK can produce anywhere between two-10 times as much carbon as sun-ripened tomatoes transported from Spain by road. Personally, unless I’ve got a huge craving for fresh tomatoes, I opt out and wait for the natural UK season to start in June or July. During autumn, winter and spring, I’m happy eating canned or preserved tomatoes. Then when summer comes around, the joy of eating a locally grown tomato is nothing short of orgasmic. ‘Seasonality’ is a transitory term that means different things to different people, and brings up the question: does seasonal food have borders? Should a country’s borders determine a food as seasonal? Perhaps a food’s seasonality should be defined by its locality in combination with climate and/or bioregion; natural, environmental characteristics, rather than manmade divisions. For example, Brittany is as close to Devon as the Midlands, and shares a similar climate, flora and fauna, unlike Scotland which might be several degrees colder. I’m neither an academic nor a scientist, so I like and respect the ephemeral and perhaps sometimes contradictory nature of the term seasonality. Local-seasonal food, to me, means buying, cooking, and eating produce that is at its best. Ripe produce that is at its peak, in flavour and texture. Eating seasonally intertwines our eating habits with the rhythms of nature and inspires us to explore the full diversity of ingredients a farm has to offer, increasing the number of plant species we consume.
‘Seasonality’ is a transitory term that means different things to different people.
Though I am no scientist, there is palpable change across our traditionally recognised seasons. Left: Wild food is ‘hyper-seasonal’.
When the woods are your seeds and your supermarket JIM PARUMS Forager and founder of Forage Box
inter dormancy affects plants and animals alike, and humans are no exception. Many choose to hibernate in their caves, but as a forager, I choose not to hide away when the days get colder and shorter. Instead, I opt to embrace the seasons and all the wonderful variety of wild food available across the whole year, noticing changes in nature on an almost daily basis. Allotmenteers are programmed with that same acute sense, able to spot the tiniest green growth in late winter as nature limbers up on the starting line before the pistol fires at the start of spring to set the growing year off. Excitement builds as seed catalogues convert to seed packets and windowsills start to fill up with trays and pots, each of them hopeful little containers of coiled potential. Imagine then, what it is like having that same anticipation every time you step out into the great outdoors. When your local woodland is both your seed tray and supermarket, the giddiness for growth can be exhausting.
Foragers are always on the lookout for signs that conditions are right for a species to have kick-started the next stage of growth. Wild food is hyper-seasonal, best imagined as an annual merry-go-round. Hold out your hands to grab what you can, but when it’s gone past, you have to wait until next year. There’s no great polytunnel to grow all of our wild spaces in, so we are entirely at the mercy of the elements. What this means is that there are ‘bad’ and ‘good’ years for certain plants and fungi, as unseasonable weather patterns disrupt or accelerate growth. Take the glorious Mirabelle plum, for example. With flesh sweeter and juicier than any fruit you can buy in the shops, it should be at the top of any forager’s list to go hunting for in the height of summer. When it’s a good year, it tends to be a bumper crop and many a freezer shelf has been overloaded with bags of this ambrosial hedgerow fruit. However, this is all too infrequent, and the responsibility for this sits squarely with unpredictable seasons. Plum varieties, such as the Mirabelle, rely on their flowers being pollinated after the last chance of frost, as their tender petals cannot survive the freeze-thaw process and hence the fruit does not set.
In a world that is seeing so many freak weather incidents (nowadays ‘since records began’ is all too common a phrase), it is not surprising to get a frost as late as May in the UK, knackering all tender growth for foragers and gardeners alike. Climate change is undeniably a factor in these extreme weather events. Though I am no scientist, there is a palpable change across our traditionally recognised seasons. From second springs in September, to being snowed on in July, there is a school of thought to suggest that our seasons are becoming less defined. Longer winters, excessively damp summers, and extreme mercury readings mean the predictability of the seasons, which makes foraging such a rewarding way to base one’s diet, is corroding. So, as foodies, how can we help? Well, there is one way to help battle climate change and curb the changes to our seasons, and that is to eat more seasonally. If you eat blackberries in December, the energy and subsequent emissions required to grow that fruit is stark. Heated greenhouses, air miles and deforestation impact enormously on the environment, so any food grown naturally, wild or otherwise, is your first step to saving and savouring our seasons. And what better way to do that than putting your wellies on when the rest of the population is hibernating?
Above: Scarlett Elfcup mushrooms.
ISSUE 9 | WICKED LEEKS 9
FEATURES / THE BIG INTERVIEW
MODEL GARDENER Words by Nina Pullman
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Credit Stuart Everitt
Former model Poppy Okotcha on why gardens are a 'Trojan horse' for positive change, and the link between compost, environmental activism and personal wellbeing.
THE BIG INTERVIEW / FEATURES
Poppy Okotcha moved out of London during the pandemic.
ISSUE 9 | WICKED LEEKS 11
isten to Poppy Okotcha talking and you will be hard-pressed to look at your garden in the same way ever again. The former model turned ecological grower and forager has gained thousands of followers for her friendly, informed stories on social media of her own gardening journey. But it’s her belief in gardens as a place for radical change and personal wellbeing that is most compelling, and takes her from the realms of gardening advice to a powerful and rising voice for cultural and environmental activism. As she describes it, at 30 by five metres her garden in Totnes, south Devon, is average size for the UK, and as such “can offer a blueprint for what’s possible for an average person”. Her aim is to create something functional, but also beautiful, with a focus on edible and medicinal plants. Having moved from London mid pandemic, she has spent the last 18 months “observing” her space, and the plants and wildlife that live there, including a friendly blackbird who persuaded her to leave in place a tall holly tree. But she also sees gardens as a “Trojan horse”; a “peaceful place” from which to learn, discuss and address anything from structural inequality to climate change and a consumerist society. “For me, growing offers such an incredible space, not only for personal wellbeing and growth, but also space where we can connect, grow community and grow food, and grow new cultural
No one suspects a garden as being something radical, and then it is. 12 WICKED LEEKS | ISSUE 9
Credit Stuart Everitt
FEATURES / THE BIG INTERVIEW
narratives for how we should live in the world,” she says. “I think that’s the power in gardens. They’re not just a space that can be productive, or beautiful, they can be all these things. And I think they can become a really beautiful political tool, in that they’re peaceful and almost like a Trojan horse; no one suspects a garden as being something radical, and then it is.” This doesn’t sound like something you would pick up from weekend trips to your local garden centre, and sure enough, Okotcha’s connection to gardens was shaped by experiences in her formative years.
Her first memories of green space are aged five, living in the urban sprawl of London, and include a bright purple buddleia bush covered in butterflies, and collecting snails in a bucket. Notable, she says, for already centring on living things rather than food growing, along with a sense of safety in the outside world that was fostered by her mother. Soon after, the family moved to South Africa, a move Okotcha now sees as “crazy” for a mixed race couple only eight years post-Apartheid. But it was here where another part of her identity was formed. “We were there until I was 12 and that again has
Credit Stuart Everitt
THE BIG INTERVIEW / FEATURES
Left: Gardening can be a space for personal growth. | Above: Spring sowing's underway. really informed a lot of who I am today, seeing racial injustice and disproportionate distribution of wealth and all the effects that come with that,” she says. Returning to the UK after the breakdown of her parents’ marriage, 12-year-old Okotcha then witnessed the restorative power of gardens first-hand; something that made a lasting impression. Experiencing financial struggles, the family moved around a lot until, at one of the houses they landed in, her mother managed
to cultivate a garden. “For me, seeing her going from a woman who was really broken to growing poppy flowers, or digging a compost heap and a pond, that experience of seeing how it brought life back into her was the thing that taught me how powerful growing can be," she explains. Then comes a rather unusual addition to a CV for any gardener, as Okotcha moved to London where she became a model, entering a whirlwind life of runway shows, international photo shoots and Vogue features.
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She is, she says, somewhat embarrassed to have this time at the heart of the fast fashion machine “hiding at the back of the cupboard”, but it also brought home the impact of consumerism on both planet and people. “It only took a few years and I was like, this is madness. This is not just breaking the planet but us as individuals,” she says. “And I think seeing that from the inside of a system that is so fast, very quickly turned me in the opposite direction.” That direction became rooted in the gardening traditions of permaculture and biodynamics, although Okotcha says she takes “bits and bobs” from each rather than adhering to the letter. One of the principles she does follow is a passion for soil health, and she can go into the raptures at the drop of a hat over the power of her worm bin and the joys of good compost. She has also come to see compost as a symbol of how the act of nourishing soil can teach a much wider lesson. “In the garden, it’s the basis for a healthy, thriving ecosystem where things are being cycled,” she says. “And then for me personally, I feel that composting is the dingy, mucky bit that
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ISSUE 9 | WICKED LEEKS 13
FEATURES / THE BIG INTERVIEW people don’t really talk about. It’s not on the front of the cover of a magazine, it’s not like flowers or the harvest of tomatoes. “For me, composting has come to symbolise the care you have to put into yourself. The idea that for something new to be born, sometimes something has to die or decay, and create the conditions for next year’s cabbages. That’s something I really try and integrate into my day-to-day life and how I run my activism.” It’s very typical of a conversation with Okotcha that a story about gardening quickly wends its way into a lesson for life, and this is indeed how she has come to understand her interactions with the natural world. “One of the really powerful things about growing, and when you start to understand systems thinking, very quickly the practices start to become principles that you live by,” she says. “I think culturally we’re very much living in this eternal summer, like we can just have, have, have, and take, take, take. When we have to replenish the system and it doesn’t work like that. There has to be winter, and you can’t keep taking,” she says. Seasonality has very much become a buzzword in food, even if there is very limited understanding of what it actually means. “Interestingly with food, seasonality isn’t necessarily the crux of it all, it’s more about whether the food was grown agroecologically,” says Okotcha, who says she "doesn’t buy into" the mantra of feeding herself and her family, and instead feels part of a bigger, sustainable food system through local agroecological and organic veg box schemes. But back to compost. In a way that feels particularly pertinent given the recent trauma of Covid separating loved ones, Okotcha believes that understanding and witnessing the cycles of life and death in her garden in some way prepared her for the recent loss of her mother-in-law. “Witnessing seasons, witnessing pests and disease, and just the reality of life and death. It’s a small, small comfort in context of losing a loved one, but somehow it prepares you I think – I’ve found that anyway,” she says. While her eloquent voicing of the links between planet, people and sustainable living certainly stand out, Okotcha is keen to highlight the value in knowledge passed down through generations and across
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Right: Okotcha felt at home in the outside world from an early age.
diverse backgrounds, paying tribute to the many immigrant communities who bring their skills to urban community gardens, as well as the indigenous wisdom around harmony with the natural world that underpins permaculture systems. But as a visible black woman in the world of food growing, environmentalism and social media, and before that in modelling, she also feels the responsibility of inspiring and giving voice to those who are under-represented. “It’s a funny one because so often I almost feel resentful for the fact that by being a black woman in this space, it becomes radical,” she says. “And sometimes I just want to be – I don’t want to be part of that. But you are part of that, and that’s the reality of the world we live in today. “I do know that the first time I saw a black woman in a Vogue magazine I cut it out and put it on my wall, and I ended up in the fashion industry. So I feel like if a little girl growing up sees me, and thinks that looks interesting, I’ll have done something useful. I do think that seeing people who look like us in the industry makes a big difference.” Gardening, of course, is a hotbed for structural and racial inequality in the UK, as Okotcha is well aware. “In the UK, 87 per cent of people do have gardens. But as you look into cities it goes down to 60 per cent or so, and then when you look at demographic that’s where the problem of access really starts to emerge,” says Okotcha.
It's a funny one because I almost feel resentful for the fact by being a black woman in this space, it becomes radical.
THE BIG INTERVIEW / FEATURES
Credit Gaby Sweet
More and more we're understanding that the urge for green space has a genuine impact on us psychologically. “The gardens are there but they’re there for a certain type of person, and when you start to look at ethnic minority groups, black people are the least likely to have access to green space or indeed gardens. I think [they are] four times less likely than white citizens. England is an incredibly green country, but it’s not necessarily proportionate.” And you don’t have to go far to understand why this inequality is so unjust. As an ambassador for the newly formed Nature as a Human Right campaign, Okotcha says: “More and more we’re understanding that, scientifically, that urge for green space has a genuine impact on us psychologically and physiologically. It impacts our lifespan, our success or failure at work, how well we do in school, how we interact with each other, our personal relationships. So much is about green space,” she says. Collectively, UK gardens make up 10 million acres, more than the total amount covered by protected nature reserves. Seen like that, a movement of ecological growing that keeps carbon in the soil, reduces chemicals, restores wildlife, connects with diverse communities and shares knowledge, is a hugely powerful latent force. As Okotcha puts it: “I think it can offer an amazing blueprint for cultural change. And when we start to look at issues like climate change, and all the other ethical problems we face today, so much of it is to do with culture. What we think is or isn’t acceptable.” It might be a blueprint for the future, whether that’s cultural or environmental, but the power of Okotcha’s articulate and inspirational storytelling around gardens is very much in the present, and already inspiring a whole new audience to create positive change.
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FEATURES / SEASONALITY
Perceptions of seasonality YouGov poll: When is it in season? Broccoli
Nearly all year None of these Don't know
Correct answer: June to November
April to November June to December July to September October to February
April to December May to September June to November July to September
Nearly all year 0% None of these Don't know
Correct answer: Nearly all year
ow aware are people about vegetable seasonality? And how much does it influence when they buy them? Industry campaign Veg Power, which aims to increase the intake of veg among UK adults, commissioned YouGov to survey 2,000 people to find out. While the answers were based solely on availability of produce grown in the UK, regardless of how it was grown, the results are an interesting snapshot of which veg is most seasonally misunderstood. Eating seasonally can cut food miles, and means that food is likely to be produced with less energy and inputs like fertiliser, as it is naturally growing at this time. It is a good general rule to follow, but there are also caveats, such as British produce grown in heated glasshouses. This technology means the official season for tomatoes is much earlier – but it’s in the height of summer, when light and heat levels are highest and mimic a Mediterranean climate, that British tomatoes can be grown with no, or very little, extra energy and are most sustainable. Interestingly, in the YouGov survey, most people said the tomato season was between May and September, which is probably more aligned with when non-heated tomatoes are in season. The ‘correct’ answer and when you will find British tomatoes on supermarket shelves is April to December; what goes unchallenged is whether they are a sustainable, as well as seasonal, throughout this period. It’s why asking how your food is produced, as well as when, is a useful addition question to consider.
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April to November June to November July to September October to February
Nearly all year None of these Don't know
Correct answer: April to December
Habits and seasonality Data donated by research company IRI Worldwide to the Veg Power campaign compared when people typically buy certain veg, and whether this matches their peak seasonality.
Courgettes Courgettes had the highest level of seasonal awareness in the survey, with 39 per cent answering correctly (June-September). And yet people buy them all year round, apart from at Christmas.
Asparagus Hard to miss, asparagus has one of the shortest, best-known and most heavily promoted seasons.
Cauliflower Cauliflower has a much longer season than broccoli, yet both are associated with winter meals, and consumption is driven by weather and tradition.
Broccoli Despite its summer-heavy season, most people see broccoli as a winter veg, good with roasts and stews. Sales are at their lowest when British crop is at its best – July, August, and early September. There is opportunity to show that broccoli works well in salads, stir-fries and other summer dishes.
SEASONALITY / FEATURES
Jersey Royals Prized for their paper-thin skin and nutty flavour, the Jersey Royal potato season
UK field rhubarb, with a juicy and more tart flavour than the early season forced varieties.
Elsewhere: See the start of UK salads, like Iceberg and Cos. The first UK tomatoes, which will have been grown under heat. Plus look out for Spanish cherries.
Globe artichokes, turnips and kohlrabi In the leaner months of homegrown veg, these three offer variety. End of season: UK apples and pears are now over. Both will now start to be imported from the southern hemisphere.
pril and May are the start of what's known as the Hungry Gap, when UK winter crops are over but the new season's are yet to begin. Where you shop will decide what is available and ‘seasonal’ to you at this time. If you buy a veg box and eat a mainly UK-seasonal diet, extending it to the seasons of our closest neighbours, you will see a few British favourites like asparagus and Jersey Royal spuds, combined with tunnelgrown lettuce, and the last of the British leeks and spring greens. Top these up with Spanish and French salad veg like lettuce, peppers and tomatoes. If you’re perusing supermarkets, you will likely also see early UK tomatoes, which will be grown indoors using extra light and heat at this time. May and June bring the welcome return of new season UK veg, including the first broad beans, radishes, and bunched carrots. From overseas, expect the delights of Spanish-grown melons, and grapes from Italy and Greece, as the frontrunners of Europe's fruit season. While the seasons might merge on supermarket shelves to create the illusion of year-round availability, geographically they can be miles apart. In spring, there are plenty of changes – spot the end of European citrus in March/April, from where it will move to supply from South America. Check packs and you'll see blueberries and raspberries also still coming from the southern hemisphere until the UK season starts, starting with Scottish-grown berries in May.
Asparagus Starting with Spain (from early April), then onto the UK season from mid April until the end of June.
is short and they are best eaten as fresh as possible.
A new regular column by Wicked Leeks editor Nina Pullman to track what's in season, at its best or coming soon.
S E A S O N ' S E AT I N G S
June Samphire arrives for a short season, adding crisp saltiness to fish or veg.
Broad beans A traditional UK summer staple, broad beans are ready to harvest from May-June.
New season radishes are full of peppery flavour, while spring onions and carrots start to arrive.
Strawberries Despite the annual race to put the first strawberries on shelves, the main crop is
actually timed to coincide with the Wimbledon tennis tournament at the end of June. Elsewhere: European fruit: enjoy Spanish-grown melons as the season kicks off, as well as grapes from Italy, Spain and Greece.
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FEATURES / FRUIT AND VEG
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FRUIT AND VEG / FEATURES
OVER? At a time of climate crisis, how possible is it to eat ‘seasonal’ as growers face increasingly erratic weather that bring new challenges and patterns every year? Nina Pullman finds out more.
Clockwise from left: Erratic rainfall is affecting crops; Asparagus is starting earlier; English apples require cold winters; Carrot flavour can vary.
ild winter brings British asparagus to shops eight weeks early,” was the headline in a national newspaper at the end of February. While the start of such an iconic seasonal favourite is usually cause for celebration, something being harvested so far out of season is nowadays just another concerning sign of climate change – like seeing daffodils just after Christmas, or the first cherry blossoms falling in early February. But are the seasons changing that dramatically? And in an age when we’re told to ‘eat seasonal’ as a shortcut to sustainability, is doing so even possible amid increasing climate disruption? The grower responsible for that super early asparagus had actually spent years developing an intricate warming system for the asparagus beds, covering them with coir (coconut fibre) which heats up quickly, and growing them under cover in tunnels. Nevertheless, even he pointed to the “unseasonal temperatures” of last winter, noting that in the sun, the air in the tunnels reached a toasty, and not at all wintry, 25 degrees. It's a pattern that was noticed by Elise Wach, as part of her research for a report
looking into the effect of climate change on fruit and veg growers in the South West. “It’s a combination of new weather patterns and more unpredictability,” she says, of the changes the UK climate is likely to undergo. “Broadly, we will see warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. That’s the pattern. Spring and summer are becoming more unpredictable. On top of that there are also really odd years, with more likelihood of extreme rainfall or drought. That has already changed and will continue to change. “There is some shift in [seasonality], as the spring crops are shifting earlier. And the summer crops can finish earlier because they are bolting,” she says, talking about leafy greens like spinach or salad. “We might also see earlier purple sprouting broccoli, for example. “But I would caution against saying seasonality has gone out of the window. It’s shifting but it’s not that dramatic, and it depends on the year.” So there’s no harm in looking forward to the new season Jersey Royals or summer strawberries just yet. But while a supermarket supply chain might smooth out all the obstacles and make it seem like there is always something at its absolute
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FEATURES / FRUIT AND VEG peak, behind the scenes it is a different story. “What definitely has changed is the amount of rain that falls at any given time. When we get heat, it’s very hot, and when it’s raining, there’s a lot of rain. We also don’t get much of a winter,” says Joe Rolfe, an organic carrot and root veg grower in Norfolk. “The year before last was so hot and dry, the crop was baking in the ground. We barely got anything. A soil probe was showing about 50 degrees in the soil, so it was basically baking the seed.” Rolfe says he copes with this by farming with his teams “in short bursts”, ready to take advantage and work efficiently in any weather window. He also buys from growers across the country, including Scotland, to counter any localised weather disruption; something that’s becoming increasingly important. In her report, Wach found that looking further ahead to how new weather patterns will start to play out yielded yet more changes. “The most significant finding for me was the risk to some crops that are quintessentially South Western: so apples, cauliflowers and broccoli. I hadn’t quite clocked that,” she says. “To imagine there might be a time when you can’t grow apples in this part of the country is quite mad – they will grow, but there won’t be significant production.” So-called topfruit (apples and pears) needs a certain amount of ‘chilling’ and low temperatures in the winter. Without that, the timing of flower opening changes and doesn’t correspond with when pollinators are active, and so fruit yield is lower. “Looking at the projections of warmer winters, that’s the main issue,” explains Wach. There will also be opportunities for new crops, like apricots and grapes, to grow in England’s new-found climates – but despite new growing potential, the biggest challenges will be the impact on what we already grow, particularly around managing water or new pests. Another quintessential winter veg, cauliflower, and its brassica cousins like broccoli, have already been affected. “Calabrese broccoli is a tricky one; it’s
almost impossible to grow now for summer because of hot, dry periods and erratic wet weather in autumn causing quality issues,” says Hannah Croft, crop supervisor at organic veg box company Riverford, who says in terms of timing, anything in spring is now difficult. Of course, it’s not just British growers whose crops are being affected by climate – far from it. A major supplier to the UK at this time of year is Spain, currently experiencing a record drought and an irrigation ban across the country. Rather than it being a question of what’s in season when, in the south of Spain it may soon become a question of what will grow at all, or at least what will be the cost of countering these extremes. “When you have a drought, it’s not just about watering more now, it’s about having a different water collection system in place and choosing what kind of pump to get for a bore hole, considering how far the water table might drop in the future. But that’s a huge investment,” says Wach, highlighting the indirect cost implications for growers trying to plan around climate change. “It’s not something that can be mitigated in one season – these are substantial longterm investments.” Growers doing things in an ecological way are already better placed for climate resilience, she continues, as healthy soil retains more moisture, and healthy biodiversity supports the whole ecosystem. Extending the season and protecting your own supply of fruit and veg in a sustainable way can also be done in the home – Wach suggests freezing or drying fruit that grows locally as a good way to preserve it throughout the winter. So what does all this mean for people hoping, and wanting, to eat seasonal? Ultimately, it will be increasingly useful to understand the challenges faced by anyone trying to grow food now and in the future. As Wach puts it: “It seems like it will be more noticeable for growers than it will be for consumers, and the knock-on effect on us will be to eat more flexibly, be aware of what’s available and eat that rather than searching for something else.”
The year before last was so hot and dry, the crop was baking in the ground.
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Be aware of what's available, and eat that rather than searching. Root facts In areas of the country without too much rain, carrots are left in the soil, covered with straw, to store over winter; while in wetter areas like the South West, they are lifted and stored in warehouses.
Seasonality and flavour While seasonality has come to mean when something is simply available, it can also mean when something is at its best in terms of flavour. For carrots, which can almost be supplied 52 weeks a year, thanks to storage techniques, and fertilisers used by non-organic growers to keep plants healthy, the times when the crop naturally yields are still when they are at their most flavoursome. In some ways, an organic growing cycle is closer to this annual pattern of seasonality according to flavour, as growers don’t use fertiliser so are more closely tied to soil temperatures and natural weather cycles. “In terms of seasonality, products that are young in age will always taste the best in my opinion,” says carrot grower Joe Rolfe. “New season in Norfolk is AugustSeptember, and it’s not always the season you think about eating veg. On the plus side, the products we grow lend themselves to salads and BBQs. “You look at brassicas, which grow above ground and are perishable, they grow really well in summer – but no one really eats cauliflower in summer,” he adds.
SACRIFICING LAMB Eating lamb at Easter is a strong cultural tradition rooted in religion – the only problem is it may be out of season. Hugh Thomas finds out more. Above: Lamb is a traditional Easter meal.
f we’re conscious of eating fruit and vegetables at the right time of the year, for reasons of flavour and sustainability, should we not want the same of meat? At the time you read this, about three quarters of the British population will be making their plans for Easter celebration. For many of them, that entails buying a lamb joint for their Sunday roast. But however
well-ingrained this custom is, it might be ill-advised. “Basically, Easter is the wrong time to be eating lamb,” says Owen Singer, who owns Penleigh Farm Butchers. Up until a couple of years ago, Singer was rearing his own lamb for his shop in Frome. “Inherently, lambs are only starting to pop out now [early March]. “If you think you need to get lamb from the end of March, then they need to be born in January, when
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FEATURES / MEAT
England was a powerhouse of the European wool trade, which made eating lamb almost unthinkable.
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there's not much grass and the weather's shit. So is that the right thing to do? All because, by tradition, we need to eat lamb on Easter Sunday?” And a relatively recently found tradition, at that. England was a powerhouse of the European wool trade in the Middle Ages, which made eating lamb almost unthinkable. Doing so would waste the profitable fleeces it would otherwise produce throughout its life, so mutton – that is, meat from an older sheep – was much preferred. As Mrs Beeton wrote much later
in her book of household management in 1861: “Mutton is undoubtedly the meat most generally used in families.” Post-industrialisation, the tables turned, and gradually wool became seen as the by-product of sheep cultivated for their meat. As the UK population rocketed in the Victorian era, so too did the need to feed all those new mouths, so for sheep farmers, the pressure was on to transition from wool to meat production. As wool devalued, it was pointless and expensive for a farmer to keep an unproductive sheep in their flock. Like with veal, it became preferable to send young male sheep, surplus to requirements, to the abattoir as soon as is realistic. Unlike veal, there’s also strong, convenient religious connotations with the animal. Reverend Liz Dudley says the Old Testament is riddled with references to lambs, sheep and shepherds. But it is the plagues of Egypt in the Book of Exodus which are the most telling. “The last plague that God sends is that the angel of death will pass over the land, and will kill the firstborn of everything,” she says. “And the instruction was that they would take the blood of a lamb and mark their tools with
MEAT / FEATURES their blood, and they should roast – not boil – the lamb, ready to flee. From that story we get the tradition of Passover, and our date for Easter is linked to Passover.” Even so, lamb as a symbol of sacrifice reaches its peak in John’s gospel, and it is perhaps here where lamb is most closely linked to the modern religious foundations of Easter. “Here,” says Dudley, “Jesus is the lamb of God, and is the sacrifice. In the way that they sacrificed lamb – which took them so far in the relationship with God – Jesus comes along and moves it up a level by being the sacrifice that enables us to find a way back to God.” If you eat grass-fed lamb at Eastertime, it’s likely to be from climates opposing ours, like that of New Zealand. The other possibility is that your Easter lamb is from a breed not limited by the seasons; as Singer puts it:, “it’s up for it all year round,” which was the case with his Dorset sheep. “But you have to keep lamb inside, and make sure there's plenty of dry food like hay as there's no energy in the grass,” he explains. A stocky breed with a thick coat, Dorsets might be built for the colder months. “But
it's not great,” says Singer. “Keeping them inside you think would be the nice thing to do, but they get too hot and sweaty, and there’s an increase in mastitis however much straw you put down. Whatever you have to do for them isn't what I'd call optimal. What I would call optimal is having lambs pop out in March on a beautiful spring day so they can do their thing in the field." Lambs need at least six months to mature before they’re ready for slaughter, but even by that point they haven’t put down much weight or fat. Perhaps, then, the issue is less ‘why we shouldn’t eat lamb at Easter’, and more ‘why we shouldn’t eat lamb at all’? At 12 months but under two years, lamb becomes hogget, which is cheaper and arguably has more flavour. The difference, Singer says, is simply: “People aren’t paying a premium for something that’s not as good.” Though hogget might not always be as tender, it is less likely to be fed indoors on animal feed rather than grass, and is an alternative to ’seasonal’ grass-fed lamb shipped in from New Zealand.
At 12 months, lamb becomes hogget, which is cheaper and arguably has more flavour.
Left top: Sheep are common across the UK but mutton is still rarely eaten. Left bottom: Winter lambs are kept inside.
The meat of the
Because grass isn’t as sweet or plentiful in winter, ruminants like deer, cattle, and goats could, or should, be considered seasonal. Less so with pigs, which naturally breed all year round. Eating at the right time of year also comes into play with some fish and shellfish, especially in the interest of giving stocks enough time to recover. Dover sole is at its best in the summer, for example, while monkfish is best eaten during the winter months.
Organic recipe boxes Veg-packed seasonal recipes, and all the organic ingredients you need - dinner sorted.
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Credit J Hatcher
FEATURES / SHELLFISH
Above: Shellfish is a uniquely sustainable protein source. Right: Shells can sustain reef life and help store carbon.
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Oysters and mussels are a climate-friendly source of protein, but they are also powerful players in the fight against climate change and to protect ocean health, finds Anna Turns.
SHELLFISH / FEATURES
We should be eating more shelled molluscs because they're sustainable to produce and good ecosystem engineers.
Credit David Smyth
n mid-March, 24 tall, tower-shaped cages were carefully lowered and secured beneath the pontoon at Northern Ireland’s Bangor marina. Each one contains clusters of mature oysters. During May and June, once the sea reaches 15-18 degrees, these 648 native oysters should spawn, and tidal currents will carry the next generation of larvae from this new ‘nursery’ out into Belfast lough. Heidi McIlvenny, marine conservation manager at Ulster Wildlife Trust, hopes this pilot regeneration project will allow native oyster beds to re-establish after the stocks crashed following overharvesting. The shellfishery in Belfast lough closed in 1903, and oysters weren’t seen here
for more than a century. But two years ago, researchers found a couple as they walked along the foreshore, indicating that conditions were suitable for oysters. “That was a good start, but we knew intervention would be required to help them thrive in big numbers,” says McIlvenny. Native oyster beds are one of the most endangered marine habitats in Europe and, according to the Wildlife Trusts, UK native oyster populations have declined by over 95 per cent. But until the 20th century, oysters and other bivalves (molluscs with two adjoining shells) such as mussels were an everyday staple. “They were overfished and we dredged them all out, but they used to be so abundant and cheap. Once they became rare, they got more expensive, and today, most people would only eat them with champagne in a fancy restaurant as a treat,” says McIlvenny, who wants projects like this and others in the Solent, Loch Craignish on Scotland’s west coast and the Humber estuary to “reignite the oyster in our cultural, collective memory.” Eating habits aside, bivalves are also crucial for healthy oceans through their role as ‘ecosystem engineers’. As they grow and reproduce, they pile on top of each other, creating reefs, which are the foundation for entire communities of marine life. These reefs have the ability to lock down what’s known as ‘blue carbon’ (carbon in the ocean) by stabilising the sediment, faeces and dead shells beneath them. “So if you can protect your reef and make sure it’s not going to get dredged or washed away, then ideally the carbon underneath is being stored and locked away, therefore not being released into the water or atmosphere. Scientists are working on quantifying that,” says McIlvenny.
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And while they tend to be fairly robust, farming shellfish in conjunction with other species, like seaweeds, could help counter some of their joint challenges. “Combining mussels or oysters with seaweeds and creating more of a closed system in the open ocean, encouraging the recycling of nutrients between different animals such as sea cucumbers or sea urchins, could use ecology to create really sustainable ways to farm,” says Scales. Back in Ulster, McIlvenny hopes her oyster cages will provide a valuable window into this underwater world, and demonstrate that positive transformation is possible. “We’ll be inviting schoolchildren and community groups to pull up the cages and help survey the wildlife as citizen scientists,” she says. “It’s rare that people who aren’t researchers can get involved in marine conservation, so that’s pretty great.”
When is peak shellfish? While people don’t wait for the shellfish season like they do for English asparagus, it is worth following a few guidelines. Only eat foraged shellfish during months that contain the letter ‘R’. This old wives’ tale comes from the 'Red Tide' levels that can become high during the summer season, increasing the chances of harmful algae. That said, tides are now carefully monitored and shellfish is rigorously tested if
Credit David Smyth
Oyster and mussel beds provide shelter and breeding grounds for marine animals such as European eels, colourful sea slugs and fish. They are a key part of the marine food chain, feeding on plankton and providing food for other animals. And because they’re susceptible to sedimentation and sensitive to chemical pollution, they’re also indicators of healthy habitats. So regeneration projects like the one at Bangor marina, combined with sustainable shellfish farming, have a powerful potential to boost ocean health. But to really drive this restoration, the UK needs a stronger domestic shellfish market, according to Dr Vicky Sleight, a marine biologist at the University of Aberdeen. “We should be eating more shelled molluscs because they’re sustainable to produce and really good ecosystem engineers. But to scale that up, we need to make eating them culturally more mainstream,” she says. “If nobody is going to buy them, there won’t be an industry to grow.” Oyster beds and mussel farms don’t need feeding, and there’s no need for any chemical input. Then there’s the fact shelled mollusc aquaculture is at least a 1,000 times more sustainable than the terrestrial farming of livestock, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilo of edible protein, according to a 2019 study by US scientists. But while they are a climate-friendly food source, shellfish could also be impacted by a changing climate themselves. Establishing more mussel and oyster beds could be a vital form of climate adaptation, but right now, nobody knows exactly how bivalves will respond to threats such as rising sea temperatures and increased ocean acidification. Helen Scales, marine biologist and author of What a Shell Can Tell (out 8 June 2022), likens this to a giant experiment: “We’re trying to predict what the future is going to hold, but we won’t actually know how changes are going to ripple through ecosystems until it’s playing out,” she explains. “Changing sea temperatures could affect spawning, but because larvae and eggs drift around, bivalves do have that ability to shift range, and I do think we’ll see more of that as species try to keep pace with climate.” Bivalves could also be vulnerable to ocean acidification, because the changing pH makes shell production more difficult.
Credit David Smyth
FEATURES / SHELLFISH
Above: While they help mitigate climate change through food and ecosystem benefits, shellfish may also be threatened by it.
bought from a reputable source, so risks are relatively low. Another argument for following the ‘R’ rule is that during the summer shellfish are spawning, which can change their taste and texture and mean they may not be at their best. Reducing shellfish consumption during this time also allows for the species to repopulate. For more info, visit fishbox.co.uk or mcsuk.org/goodfishguide.
MEAT / FEATURES
his article is part T of a new series by Wicked Leeks, Sustainable Cities, exploring what sustainable food means to those living in the city.
miling faces and fragrant aromas of toasted spices greet you as you walk into the bright orange café in Walthamstow, north east London. In this warm and uplifting space, you would never guess the people inside are tackling three of society’s most pressing issues; food poverty, food waste and social isolation. The friendly environment of the Hornbeam Centre and Community Café sits in stark contrast to food banks, just as a recent study reveals the heart-breaking mental health impact of using them.
Above: The Hornbeam Centre in Walthamstow.
How do we balance sustainability with food poverty when food is too cheap for farmers but too expensive for many? Jack Thompson meets three organisations facing up to the challenge. “It’s about solidarity, not charity,” says project coordinator Sophie Aoun, who explains that the Hornbeam Centre aims to combat rising hunger and poverty through community projects. “We’re trying to bridge inequality in our neighbourhood through ways that are more empowering than the traditional food bank model,” she says. We often hear that food is sold too cheaply to allow farmers to produce it sustainably in low-intensity systems, prioritising animal welfare and without
excessive chemicals. But, at the same time, it is also still too expensive for many in our society. There are 4.7 million people in the UK struggling to put food on the table, and food bank use is at an all-time high. To add another stat to the mix, at the same time, a third of all food is wasted. Something is clearly wrong. “On one end there’s all this food waste,” says Aoun. “And on the other, so many people are experiencing food poverty in the UK.” The Hornbeam Centre tries to tackle both these problems by rescuing surplus food from
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supermarkets, farmers and even allotments. They then distribute it to six community hubs and cafés in the borough, including their own, called the Gleaners Community Café. The café then transforms it into hearty vegan meals. Today they’re serving up Caribbean rice and peas infused with fresh coconut donated to them, with an aromatic Keralan curry made with surplus veg. So far, it looks just like any other café. Except you might not recognise the unusual shape-based pricing of the menu, which offers four different prices for the same meal, according to how much you can afford. Different prices are symbolised by different shapes, ranging from £1 to £10. “It's beautifully divided between the four amounts,” says Alex Lee, a member of the Gleaners café. “If we did 20 lunches, there would be six squares (£10), six circles (£6), six stars (£1) and two triangles (£3).” “You’re catering to people from every background, and that’s what is really interesting and powerful,” Aoun adds. “You’re not just a charity tackling food poverty.” Alongside issues of hunger, the idea of sustainable food could seem a distant concern. But the Hornbeam and the Gleaners recognise that the issues are interlinked. “We cut our costs down by using surplus and we use our purchasing power that comes from the [pricing] squares to
Credit Sam Mellish, CoFarm Foundation
FEATURES / FOOD POVERTY
How do you solve food poverty? You solve poverty.
buy organic,” says Lee. But ultimately Aoun believes you cannot tackle the root cause of food poverty with food waste. “How do you solve food poverty? You solve poverty,” she says. “How do you solve food waste? You solve overproduction. “It [food aid] is helpful in the interim, but in the long term it doesn’t really solve the bigger systemic issue.” That’s why the Hornbeam Centre has teamed up with Plenty to Share, a campaigning organisation that speaks with one voice on behalf of food aid organisations concerned about the structural issues that cause food poverty. Feeding hungry people with food waste should only ever be a short-term fix, according to Harry Morgan, project coordinator at Plenty to Share, but companies, food banks and the government see it increasingly as a win-win scenario. “It’s about keeping food waste and food poverty as separate and systemic problems,” explains Morgan.
Above: CoFarm currently donates all its produce. Left: The Gleaners Cafe operates a 'pay what you can' pricing system.
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FOOD POVERTY / FEATURES
Credit Sam Mellish, CoFarm Foundation
We set out to find a way that local sustainable food doesn't cost the earth. Crunching the numbers 8.8 per cent of UK households have struggled to put food on the table this year, a rise of 7.3 per cent from last year.
Above: A volunteer 'co-farmer'. | Below right: CoFarm has seven acres of land.
People on Universal Credit are five times more likely to struggle to afford food. The Trussell Trust gave out 2.5 million food parcels in 2020-21. Food banks are providing 128 per cent more emergency food parcels than they were five years ago. Source: The Food Foundation/Trussell Trust.
Credit Sam Mellish CoFarm Foundation
green space that helps them to manage their mental health,” he says. “And it's providing a social place for people to meet others that they might not ordinarily socialise with.” And Shelton and his team of cofarmers are keen to prove this is a scalable solution for food poverty, the environment, and community cohesion. “Ultimately what we're trying to do is get a quarter of million acres by 2030,” Shelton reveals. This is an admirable ambition, but director at Plenty to Share, Melvyn Newton, has doubts over how donating food addresses the root causes of food poverty. “You can't end food poverty until you end poverty,” he says. “People need to be sovereign in the market. They need to be able to afford to buy what they need to buy.” “It’s about strengthening the social safety net, reversing the £20 a week [Universal Credit] cut and delays to benefits,” adds Morgan. “In the longer term, a living wage income is something that seems crucial.” Organisations like the Hornbeam Centre and CoFarm are challenging the norms in how to provide muchneeded support in a more dignified way. But ultimately, they recognise that the solution is way out of their hands. “As a small community organisation, there’s no way we can do it all on our own,” says Aoun. “All we can do is help.”
Credit Sam Mellish CoFarm Foundation
“We say it's really important to keep these two (issues) very distinct, and the solutions are completely separate as well.” Meanwhile, Gavin Shelton, director of CoFarm Foundation, a communitybased farm in Cambridge, questions the ethics of giving food waste, often intensively produced and unhealthy, to people in food poverty. “It feels like there's something so deeply wrong that if you don't have a high disposable income, then you don't have access to food which is sustainable, safe and nutritious,” says Shelton. The team at CoFarm is aiming to show that local, organic food is for everyone, including those in food poverty. In two years, the 500 volunteering ‘co-farmers’ have donated £52,000 of sustainable produce to people on the breadline in Cambridge, the UK’s most unequal city. “We set out to find a way that local and sustainable food doesn’t cost the earth because otherwise it will always remain a fringe interest for a small number of people that can afford it,” he says. Having donated their entire harvest the past two years, Shelton accepts that they’ll need to start selling 25 per cent of their produce next year to financially sustain themselves. But he maintains that the project doesn’t rely on the sheer benevolence of volunteers, because they too benefit from the scheme. “They're learning about growing, they have access to an amazingly pleasant
One million adults in the UK have had to go a whole day without eating because they couldn’t afford food.
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FEATURES / FARMING
missing middle Processing, milling, spinning or butchering are the hidden parts of the supply chain but they could also be the missing link in a sustainable future, finds Olivia Oldham.
Above: Using natural fibres would reduce the footprint of fashion. Right top: A mill at the Nottingham Mill Cooperative. Right bottom: A roller-breaker helps turn flax into linen.
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lmost everybody has heard of the ‘farm to table’ movement, with its suggestion of a direct connection between the fields and the plate, mediated only by a brief sojourn in the kitchen. For some foods, like fruits and vegetables, this picture is more or less accurate. But for others – like bread, or hummus – this narrative passes over a key piece of the puzzle: processing. This is the ‘missing middle’ of the agricultural system: the vital yet often undervalued or ignored services that transform a cow in a paddock into a steak on a butcher’s counter, or that turn grain in a field into the flour in a baker’s kitchen. Across the sustainable farming movement, there is a growing
awareness that for producers to change the way they farm, and for consumers to change the way they eat, something needs to be done about the middle of the supply chain. Rosie Bristow is a Masters’ student at Heriot-Watt University, studying how small- to medium-scale processing equipment can play a part in developing a regenerative textile industry for the UK. She’s particularly interested in flax, and the linen fabric it can be used to make. Britain once had a thriving flax industry, but over the last few centuries it has been lost, with no flax being commercially grown, and no mills left to process it. “I think the fashion industry as it currently exists is so horrifying and intertwined with colonialism and
FARMING / FEATURES
Credit Nick Evans
Credit Plaw Hatch Farm
The missing link is the processing equipment. If we had that, it would link up the two sides: farmers and designers. exploiting people,” says Bristow. “I feel like we ought to be able to make clothes and home furnishings for ourselves without it being so extractive and destructive of the planet.” This sentiment reflects the goal of the sustainable farming movement – that is, to produce food and fibres in a way that honours the dignity and health of people and the land. But without the means to transform raw materials like flax into finished products like linen, achieving this goal is challenging. “The missing link is the processing equipment,” says Bristow. “If we had that, it would link up the two sides: farmers interested in growing a new fibre crop, and fashion or interior designers interested in using regenerative textiles. But there’s just nothing in the middle at all, other than sort of medieval wooden spinning wheels.” The problem isn’t always that the middle is ‘missing’, though. Some food scholars even argue that in some cases, it’s growing, with a smaller number of ever-larger companies taking control of much of the processing sector. The archetypal example of this trend is that of abattoirs. According to the Sustainable Food Trust, as of 2018, 88 per cent of all sheep in England are slaughtered at a mere 32 abattoirs, while 73 per cent of cattle are slaughtered at only 19 facilities. In an effort to do something about this
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Credit Plaw Hatch Farm
FEATURES / FARMING
Above top: Farmers need confidence there is a market for flax. Above bottom: Fibreshed is a movement to connect wool farmers with weavers. Right: Deborah Barker.
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Around 65 per cent of flour production in the UK is controlled by just four companies. dizzying statistic, the Trust have established a campaign for smallscale, local abattoirs. They argue that these are essential for the production of traceable, high-welfare, rare-breed and sustainable meat. A similar fate has befallen grain mills, with around 65 per cent of flour production in the UK controlled by just four companies. “The processing infrastructure has been taken out of cities and really
centralised,” says Emma Shires. “It’s been taken away from where people can see it.” Shires is an engineer-turnedflour miller who, alongside bakers Kimberley Bell and Emilie Lowen, recently co-founded the Nottingham Mill Cooperative. In 2021, they bought a small, modern, stone mill which they’ve put in the window of Lowen’s bakery, right in the Nottingham city centre. Their goal is to share the process of
FARMING / FEATURES the answer if you don’t have the right people around the infrastructure.” When it comes to pulses, Meldrum argues that the necessary processing capacity does already exist – just at a larger scale. What’s needed, he says, is for producers to work collaboratively to make use of that existing infrastructure. “We have had to build relationships,” Meldrum explains. “We [Hodmedod] use five different seed cleaners and processors in total. It has meant that we haven’t had to invest huge amounts of money in very specialist bits of equipment.” “The problem we have at a smaller scale is that when we ask people to process for us, we get pushed to the back of the queue,” he adds. “We are still getting our 2021 harvest cleaned and processed for us. If we could capture some of that capacity and the skills that already exist in that space, then a big customer could go straight to that regenerative processor and know that they are supporting a particular type of agriculture.” Deborah Barker, director and co-founder Southeast England Fibreshed, shared a similar observation about the infrastructure available to process sustainably-produced wool. “Some of the bigger mills are interested in working with smaller amounts and smaller
businesses, but it takes a certain volume just to get the machinery going, so you have to bring the wool together from different farms.” Unlike Meldrum, Barker sees this as a problem: the Fibreshed movement she is part of is particularly interested in preserving the traceability of fibres to a single farm, meaning that existing larger-scale infrastructure might not be appropriate for their goals. Nevertheless, she says that “what matters is to support the mills that are there. If they had some investment, you could produce smaller, more workable machines than we have now. That would make life a lot easier for people working the machinery and would make it more accessible.” Ultimately, Bristow thinks the processing sector needs to be at a “human scale”. “I wouldn’t want to be trying to raise five million to buy a huge industrial mill and copy what they’ve got in the Netherlands,” she says. “I feel like that wouldn’t create very exciting jobs. I don’t want to go back to the industrial revolution and have everyone work in a big factory. “I’m trying to imagine an industry that doesn’t exist. It needs to be a new, different style of work – a set-up that’s actually enjoyable. Otherwise, it’s not going to happen other than as a weird, niche hobby.”
It's not just the mills that are missing, but also the millers.
transforming grain into flour and bread with the public. In doing so, they hope to build long-term, direct relationships with local farmers, and to develop a thriving, diverse and resilient grain network in their area. A lack of infrastructure isn’t the only barrier to this dream, though. It’s not just the mills that are missing, but also the millers. “We need to be able to bring more farmers and millers and bakers in,” says Shires. “There’s got to be lots of little people.” “What’s actually missing is people and social capital, rather than hard infrastructure,” says Josiah Meldrum, cofounder of East Anglian pulse and grains business Hodmedod. “It’s easy to buy a whole load of kit, but that in itself isn’t really
ISSUE 9 | WICKED LEEKS 33
The armchair activist Activism isn't all about protests and megaphones. One of the most powerful actions is switching pension to a green provider or putting pressure on your existing one to disinvest in companies fuelling the climate crisis. This could cut your carbon 21 times more than going veggie, giving up flying or switching energy provider, according to the campaign Make My Money Matter.
to our brand new Lifestyle section, refreshed to inspire and represent modern day lives in all their diversity, difference and day-to-day rituals. One of the greatest joys of food is sharing it, whether that's through dining out or eating in; a chance to explore new dishes, and connect with food and the people around you. Food is also a powerful lens through which to 'travel' and understand others – so each issue, we will meet a different food culture, guest and recipe. In Arts and Culture, a new focus on literary and artistic representations of food and climate issues seeks to reach people who absorb the world best through these forms, while showcasing inspiring exhibitions, films, poems and art. In Health and Wellbeing, themes will cover physical and mental health issues; expect to see anything from eco anxiety to the menopause in future issues, while this edition is a special focus on spring cleaning for body and mind. Elsewhere, find our Grow Your Own page revamped for the urban space. And finally, we offer our new Anti Consumerism Shopping Guide, with ideas to buy and make for a lifestyle that is lower impact, cheaper and less stressful. Enjoy!
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Shore power Lying between ocean and land, and bypassing the issues of overfishing or intensive farming, a quiet revolution is brewing. Seaweed can provide a plant-based fish-like flavour, nutritious food source, or packaging material – and even help clean up polluted waters. Scan the QR code above to watch the latest Wicked Leeks film on the wonders of seaweed.
SCAN FOR SEAWEED FILM
Open the gate A fifth of the population cannot access the countryside due to mobility issues, as they are unable to use stiles or kissing gates. The government is calling on landowners to open public rights of way to disabled people, in line with the new Countryside Code Guidance. The National Land Access Centre in the Chilterns already showcases the use of mobility-friendly gaps, gates and stiles. It's time for this inclusive approach to nature to pick up pace.
Trends on trial
LIFESTYLE Our verdict: Not a quick meal. You have to hard-boil the egg, let it cool completely, peel and then grate it (though pre-boiling the eggs could solve this). We started using a standard grater and it looked like cheap, artificial mozzarella-like cheese. It looked better using a very fine grater. It started to fall apart towards the end of grating, and tasted like… well, egg!
Is grated egg all it's cracked up to be? Foodies on TikTok and Instagram are going crazy for grated egg… yes, you heard that right! So what’s all the fuss about? We tried it on top of a seasonal, more climate-friendly version of avo on toast using crushed broad beans. By Emily Muddeman
Overall: Not sure it’s worth the hype. It doesn’t add anything flavour or texture-wise, and it’s a bit messy. If you’ve only got one egg, it is quite a good way of making a little go a long way, but you could also finely chop the egg with a knife. Testing this did remind us how good crushed broad beans on toast is. And we hear rumours that grating tomatoes is a whole different ball game, and one that the Ottolenghi chefs very much swear by.
Eating in or dining out? One of the great joys of food is communal eating. Whether you’re cooking for friends at home or eating out, try our recommendations for where to go, what to ask, and ideas for dinner table discussions.
Go Spring, Somerset House, London. Taste sustainable fine dining at a fraction of the price in this West End location, where a £25 ‘Scratch’ menu is on offer between 5:30 and 6:30pm, Wednesday to Saturday, made with the lunch menu’s surplus food. Creative chefs use up the odds and ends and transform them beyond recognition.
Wherever you eat out, try asking about the seasonality of the produce. What are the chefs enjoying cooking with at the moment? This is a direct route to the freshest ingredients.
What makes food delicious? It seems contradictory that the most memorable meals are often not in fancy restaurants, but in food stalls, homes of friends, or a random venue you walk into without planning. What influences our experience of taste, and what is your most memorable ‘food moment’?
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LIFESTYLE / SPOTLIGHT
Provenance and history
Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is also known as ramsons, wild cowleek, cowlic or wood garlic. Native to temperate areas with acidic soil across Europe, the UK and Asia, throughout history it has been widely used as a natural remedy for various ailments. Today it's still known for its healthboosting qualities, including digestion, immunity and heart health, and it's known as the 'magnesium king of plants' for its high levels of the mineral.
The leaves are a cross between a spring onion and traditional garlic, the flowers bring a hint of peppery cress, while the stems offer a slight memory of chives. It is a wonderful ingredient that blasts the taste of garlic into dishes without over-powering them with the spiciness that can be associated with conventional garlic.
Most cuisines have a use for garlic, from chimichurri in South America to flavoured oils and stir fries in China. When raw, wild garlic is delicious paired with fresh herbs and zesty lemon, or used as a garnish such as in Italian gremolata.
The leaves won’t tolerate much cooking, so it’s best to just add them chopped up at the end. Alternatively, stir through a mushroom risotto, bake into scones, or make your own flavoured salt. The bulbs can be used like conventional garlic, or they are delicious thinly sliced and added to salads. The stems and flowers make fantastic garnishes, or for something more challenging, try wild garlic gnocchi.
Wild garlic is part of the allium family, which include onions, leeks, garlic, spring onions, and many more. The green shoots from fresh or 'wet' garlic can be used as a substitute when wild garlic is not in season.
Music to cook to
Try old English folksongs to capture the foraging atmosphere, or perhaps a Ludovico Einaudi piano piece as you prepare Italian wild garlic gnocchi.
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Pairings or swaps
Fresh wild garlic leaves can be made into a fiery pesto or paste with a pestle and mortar. A garlic press is always useful for quickly crushing the bulbs.
WILD GARLIC W
ild garlic is one of the most recognisable and widely foraged vegetables in the UK. Its unmistakeable entrance into the season is a welcome sign that spring is tantalisingly close, and the dark, miserable winter days are behind us for good – at least for another eight months, writes chef James Evans.
Food waste tip
You can ferment garlic in honey, or make oils and preserves. Wild garlic leaves are best fresh, but can be stored for several days covered with a moist tea towel in the fridge. Or make a batch of pesto and freeze in easy portion sizes for a splash of green when the season is over.
Never take more than you need. Forage lightly, or buy from a trusted ethical retailer. Wild garlic looks similar to poisonous leaf Lily-of-the-Valley - if in doubt, consult an expert.
TRAVEL AND FOOD CULTURE / LIFESTYLE
Black limes and Marmite are a bit of a contradiction but, in my world, they completely make sense, writes Noor Murad.
orn and raised in Bahrain, to an Arab dad and English mum, I am no stranger to aromatic plates of lamb and rice, chickpeas and yoghurt, mung beans and lentils, and a plethora of spices; black limes very much included. To those unfamiliar with black limes, or loomi aswad in Arabic, they are limes that have been dried in the sun: bitter, sour, earthy and robust. And they’re in almost every Bahraini dish I know. Yet as little me sat in the school playground, red lunch box in tow, it
was a Marmite sandwich I’d greedily sink my teeth into, its salty, yeasty qualities giving way to a thick lashing of butter, crunchy slices of cucumber, and soft white bread (as a proper Marmite sandwich should be, of course). “Gross,” said my classmates, “What is that stuff?” They weren’t so convinced. Marmite is as exotic an ingredient to your average Bahraini as black limes are to my Northampton-based gran. In my pantry though, they sit cheerfully side by side, knowing they’ll be used and cherished in equal measure.
My parents say I was born inquisitive and always up for a snack. This inevitably meant parading around the kitchen as mum made her famous Welsh cakes and Victoria sponge, sneakily dipping my fingers into bowls where I could. But I would also jump at a car ride with my dad, knowing that we’d end up eating piping hot samosas out of oil-stained paper bags, bought for pennies from a street-food vendor. This amalgamation of East meets West has very much seeped its way into my cooking, with a more Western take on Bahrain's unique mix of Persian, Arab and Indian flavours. Citizens of the world, myself and so many cross-culture kids find themselves belonging nowhere but everywhere at the same time. In that case, you could say my food style is a little bit Arabic and a little bit English. I like to call it Arab(ish). Credit Eleanor Heatherwick
Brunch from Bahrain
Ingredients 2 blocks of Greek feta (360g), each cut into 4 triangles (8 triangles in total) 35g rice flour (or plain flour if gluten-free flour isn't needed) 1 large egg, well beaten 100g mixed black and white sesame seeds, lightly toasted 2 tbsp olive oil ½ tbsp lemon thyme leaves, or regular thyme leaves
SYRUP 120g runny honey 1 tsp ground black lime (optional) 3 lemons: 1 juiced to get 1 tbsp, and the other 2 left whole
Sesame-crusted feta with black lime honey syrup Serves 8 | 1 hour 15 minutes (prep 15 mins, cook 30 mins, chill 30 mins)
This dish is a little bit sweet, a lotta bit salty, a tiny bit bitter and a whole bit crispy. It’s exactly what you’d serve for brunch, with bacon, if you like, and not much else, as it really is quite rich.
Method 1. 2.
Line a shallow baking dish with baking parchment. Pat dry the feta pieces, then dip each piece in the flour, gently shaking off the excess. Coat the egg, followed by the sesame seeds, making sure the feta pieces are completely coated. Transfer each piece to your
prepared dish and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or longer. Preheat the oven to 220°C fan. Drizzle the coated feta pieces with the oil and bake from cold, for 18 minutes, very gently flipping the pieces over halfway, or until golden and warmed through. While the feta is baking, put the honey and black lime, if using, into a small saucepan on a medium-high heat. Once it starts to bubble, turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until it turns a deep amber caramel, about 6–7 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Use a small, sharp knife to peel and segment the remaining two lemons and stir the segments into the cooled honey mixture. When ready, pour the lemon syrup directly over the feta in the baking dish, sprinkle with the thyme and serve at once, straight from the dish.
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love by Noor Murad and Yotam Ottolenghi (£25, Ebury Press) is out now.
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LIFESTYLE / HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Spring cleaning for
Seasonality is a key component of wellbeing that can nourish us physically and emotionally, but can 'spring cleaning' ourselves actually work? Becky Blench finds out.
pring cleaning is so needed after the more enclosed, indoor lifestyle of colder months, cocooned from the elements. We want to fling open doors and windows and have a clean sweep, getting rid of any clutter, as nature stirs with the returning warmth and increasing daylight. We tend to feel much better for a cleaner, clearer house, but what about our lifelong home – our bodies? The concept of doing a ‘detox’ has grown ever more popular, generally done as short-term dietary interventions designed to eliminate toxins. The British Dietetic Association calls detoxing a ‘marketing myth’, yet detox products are more popular than ever, and superfoods from around the globe are touted as the latest big thing to feed this demand.
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Although it is hotly debated whether detoxification is of real benefit, we certainly do expect a huge amount from ourselves physically at a constant pace, without always listening to what we need to support wellbeing, or focusing on whether we are eating the right fuel for our body each season. Conclusive contemporary research on detox diets is lacking, but the roots of detoxing go back way further than you may think. I asked Kazz Lawton, co-founder of medical herbalism duo The Seed Sistas, whether the idea of cleansing our systems with plants holds water. “Traditionally people have undertaken cleanses as a good clear-out at various times of the year; the change of seasons bring an opportunity to take stock and re-evaluate,” she explains, sharing that it
HEALTH AND WELLBEING / LIFESTYLE
Springtime herbal helpers Enjoy three springtime herbal helpers from The Seed Sistas’ Sensory Herbal Handbook: is a worldwide ancient practice, with core aims and meaning that go much deeper. “The idea of cleansing the body comes up in fasting, mud treatments, purging, heat treatments like saunas and sweat lodges. What we are using the word 'detox' to mean is supporting the body with transportation and excretory systems, to promote optimal functioning of the body and all the organs.” Lawton’s view of detoxing is very different to the popularised version, where it is seen as a quick fix to get into smaller clothing or prepare for a holiday. A trained medical herbalist who has worked with clients for over two decades, she has seen the positive effects of cleansing in terms of supporting nutrition and digestion, which she calls the foundations of health. Instead of some rapid, radical detox, in the cleansing process there is a gentler lead-in before more specific herbs are used to address any health condition. It is a much more sustained approach, which looks at the rhythm of the year as a whole, using herbs to support what our bodies need, rather than suddenly doing an isolated pre-summer juice fast. “If you are looking at once a year and then returning to the same diet for the other 11 and a half months, then the body will be shocked into the detox and there can be a damaging knock-on effect, putting strain
on the body," she says. "We say that detoxing for long enough (around three weeks) helps to embed the good habits and takes aspects into your day-to-day living, giving year-round boost to health and the system." So could a more seasonal approach, where we connect with the herbs growing at each time of year, help our health and wellbeing? Lawton feels it definitely can. “Naturally following the plant cycles of the year, the fresh green growth of spring is perfect for aiding the body in supporting the organs of elimination like the kidneys, liver, and also the lymph. They are so high in minerals at this time; the whole body can become refreshed and invigorated by the greens of spring,” she says. We can use plants and resources that are growing now to bring us back into harmony with the season. A free, feelgood activity that can connect us with this active phase of the year is foraging for simple herbs that can be used in cold infusions, teas, salads, and soups. “Nourishing the body in spring is something the whole family can do through using spring green herbs in your daily meals. After a long winter of root vegetables and hibernation, boosting nutrients from nature’s harvest is a great way to gear up for the energetic sunny months ahead,” says Lawton. Seasonality is a key component of wellbeing that can nourish us physically and emotionally. We are given the opportunity each year to clear out the old, replenish our energy, and start anew; nature gives us an invitation to create space for that when we see the green shoots of spring.
We expect a huge amount from ourselves, without always listening to what we need.
Illustrations by Becky Blench, who is also a nature-inspired artist and illustrator.
Chickweed One of the more nutrient-dense 'weeds' readily available, containing generous amounts of minerals, vitamins, and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid. It can also be chopped and added to salads, or juiced with celery, dandelion leaves, nettle, and a bit of apple or pear for a great morning drink.
Dandelion leaves Eaten lightly steamed, raw in a salad, or made into pesto, they are an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals, and their bitter taste does wonders for improving the digestion: the perfect detox leafy veg.
Nettle leaf tips Nettle is a nutrientrich source of iron and other minerals and makes a delicious nutritious spring soup. A great addition to any spring herbal tea, it is a native superfood; full of uplifting nutrients, anti-inflammatory nettle has also been known to relieve hay fever symptoms. SAFETY NOTE It is important to be 100 per cent sure that you are identifying the correct plant before you ingest anything – get a few good books and join both online and realtime foraging groups. As with all medicinal herbs, seek the advice of a qualified medical herbalist if you are pregnant, or have existing health conditions.
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LIFESTYLE / SHOPPING
The anti-consumerism shopping guide Buying less stuff is cheaper, less stressful, and has a much lower impact on the environment. Our new guide will help you curate this approach with a different theme each issue, compiled, tried and tested by lifestyle writer Becky Blench.
The DIY edit: For a spring clean and cleanse, eco-style: 1
A nurturing organic oil, massaged in circular motions beginning at the feet and working upward towards your heart, can help revitalise. Try Sea Buckthorn Body Oil from natural beauty BCorp Weleda, £19.95, weleda.co.uk For a clean, green home, Go Toxic Free by Anna Turns has easy and affordable ideas for low-chemical living and cleaning.
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Treat leather shoes and bags with natural products to keep leather supple and prevent cracking. Leather care kit, £18, clothes-doctor.com Don’t head to the shops – as part of your wardrobe spring clean, repair and wear what you already have. The Art Of Repair by Molly Martin is a great guide for beginners.
De-bobble jumpers gently with a pumice stone to give them a new lease of life before storing them away for next winter.
A homemade zero-waste coffee body scrub will pep up your circulation, exfoliate and moisturise your skin. Mix ½ cup ground coffee beans, ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup coconut oil and ½ tsp vanilla extract together and store in an airtight jar.
GROW YOUR OWN / LIFESTYLE
Small spaces have the potential to grow serious amounts of food.
Food growing for tiny spaces
Credit Sarah Cuttle
Vertical and '3D' growing Thinking of a growing area as a cube can help pinpoint new places to put plants and to make more of a space. Look up to see if higher areas offer new spaces to grow or better light. Growing ladders are simple genius, they enable four or five shelves of plants in a space where otherwise there would be space for only one. Shelves can be freestanding or fixed to walls to create new growing ledges or to raise plants up into more light. Climbers help make the most of vertical space and can reach up into sunnier areas, and hanging baskets are also a neat and cheerful way to fill empty vertical spaces, helping to create a 3D garden.
Above: Use ladders or shelves as growing space.
Thinking of a growing space as a cube can multiply the food you can grow in tight places, writes Mark Risdill Smith in an excerpt from his new book.
mall spaces vary, but there is often the potential to grow quite serious amounts of food in them. I found I could grow far more than I initially thought possible, eating homegrown food every day. The revelation that I could grow a decent amount of (delicious) food was both exciting and motivating. How much you’ll be able to grow depends on the size of your space and its microclimate, among other things. To increase yields in small spaces, there are also complex hydroponic towers and hightech vertical walls available, but I’m drawn
towards the less costly and more accessible technologies. In my experience these work well, are low cost and easy to look after. Create a living soil and thriving ecosystem Learn how to make good quality worm compost. Use wood chip or leaf mulches to protect the soil and provide food for microbial life. Add a layer of well-rotted, organic manure to the bottom of pots or as a mulch on the top. While it can be hard to create a balanced ecosystem in a small, urban space (slug predators, for example, are often lacking), do what you can to nurture life and diversity.
Catch crops and interplanting ‘Catch crops’ is a term for fast-growing crops like radish, pea shoots, spring onions or rocket, sown to make the most of temporary empty spaces. For example, three weeks before tomatoes are ready to plant out, grow a crop of pea shoots rather than leaving the pot empty. Or you can sow radishes around the edge of a courgette seedling.
Manure in the city You might be surprised at what is possible to find in a city once you start looking. In London, I collected bags of well-rotted manure from the local city farm in my rucksack, and I filled my bike panniers with comfrey leaves and nettles when cycling along the river Lea, with wood chip from a community growing project and free green waste compost from a community garden.
The Vertical Veg Guide to Container Gardening by Mark Ridsdill Smith (£25, Chelsea Green Publishing) is out now.
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LIFESTYLE / ARTS AND CULTURE
Art speaks where words are unable to explain.
Recognising the need to reach diverse people in diverse ways, this page takes inspiration from student researchers at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, discussing food and climate issues in different formats.
Illustration by Owen Gent
She pulls things from the earth with bare hands, clipped fingernails crusted, compact with the black. Roll the stem, between this finger and that, then ease; out of that musty damp the bulk of root, to straggling tip. Japanese radish, long as thumbs, lobster pink with peppered, brittle flesh; beet that bleed into scored wood stain fingertips in violent ink – she shakes all this life in her hands, sieves the clotted soil and breadcrumbs dirt. Plucking at broad beans, freeing full fat pods from strained seams, peering at pale bright flesh, their bitter caps she’ll not look up. ‘There’s something pressing in my head.’ She pulls things from the earth. Katie Hourigan | from Ten Poems of the Soil, published by Candlestick Press.
An act of cultural generosity By Becky Blench
ithout story, what is the land – a pretty backdrop, a leisure location, a resource to be used? Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters catapults you into a different world view, where ancient creation sagas course through contemporary culture. A pathway for handing on Australian indigenous knowledge to the next generation, Songlines are a network of stories that ‘map’ the continent by linking narratives to geographical features and significant sites. A profound deep dive into the ‘Seven Sisters Dreaming’ narrative, this immersive exhibition of more than 300 artworks made by indigenous artists from the central and western deserts of Australia guides you across its vast landscape.
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Above: Songlines map stories onto the land. Huge canvases tacked to the wall or laid flat are vast complexes of intensely coloured acrylic paint dots, which dazzle like a constellation of neon stars and feel as big as the night sky. Representations of survival resources, such as where to find food, water or shelter, cross over with where a mythical being was born; merging in a dizzying way that is conceptually very different to the western view of time and place. Wild woven sculptures by the Tjanpi Desert Weavers that loom over you in the space illustrate the fluid way in which
Songlines continue to be reinterpreted today, as mulgawood and emu feathers mix with wire and bright acrylic wool. Intertwined are song, dance, and story, shared via a state-ofthe-art film dome, touch screen interactives, projections and an audio journey, giving people new ways to connect. This show holds out its hands and invites you to learn, an act of cultural generosity even more profound given our horrific legacy of colonialism, which began with Cook setting sail from Plymouth, where The Box Gallery is sited. The Box actively addressed this history, and has pioneered a new collaborative approach through hosting the first exhibition of its kind that isn't just about First Nations Australians: they speak using their own voice and hold the space on their own terms. Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters was in Plymouth until the end of February. It is now on tour in Berlin until September 2022, and Paris until July 2023, Visit www.nma.gov.au/ exhibitions/songlines to experience some of the interactive show content for yourself.
THE BACK PAGE / LIFESTYLE
Out and about Good to Grow Day 22-25 April | Nationwide The annual celebration of community gardens. Go to goodtogrow.org to get involved in your local garden.
FarmED Literature Festival 15 May | FarmED, Chipping Norton
Inaugural festival will host speakers and authors on agroecology and sustainable food. Tickets £55.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 Until 5 June | M Shed, Bristol An exhibition showing the 100 most powerful wildlife
photographs of the year. Tickets £7.
Food Forever: The future of food 21 May-18 Sept | Kew Gardens
4. Not available all year (8)
1. The basis of a healthy garden (7)
6. Inspiring gardener and perennial wildflower (5)
2. Those who search for food in the wild (8)
7. 'Songlines' map cultural stories onto this (4)
3. Bitter leaf, not just for rabbits (9)
8. Restore with a leather care kit (3)
5. Spring seasonal star (9)
Kew Gardens uses art to illustrate the impacts of our food on the planet. Ticket included with garden entry.
Groundswell show and conference 22-23 June | Lannock Manor Farm A regenerative farming event with a festival-like atmosphere, where progressive minds unite. £80-100.
| Answers on pages 4-38...
11. An expression of creativity (3) 12. TikTokers grate this (3) 13. Used to detox (5)
4. The start of a plant (4) 9. Grows wild, a staple in cooking (6) 10. New potato with protected origin (6)
14. Sustainable protein (9)
15. Allows UK tomatoes to be grown in winter (4)
18. Food is grown here (4)
16. Traditional Easter meat (4)
19. Natural fertiliser that can be found in cities (6)
17. Useful to store DIY body scrub (3)
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