We are in the grips of a catastrophe! With snow persisting, I gather from several more enlightened sources (ie. those who've found the energy to leave the warmth of the house and venture out) that our beloved supermarkets are feeling the strain of supplying fresh food and there are... EMPTY SHELVES!
For those of you who don't know, our shops generally apply a 'just in time' approach to their stock, keeping minimal amounts in store and supplying their outlets with just enough to satisfy the usual customer demand (all of this is calculated automatically as your purchases are whizzed past the till). In some senses this is an excellent idea - it prevents overstocks and waste and ensures that only essential deliveries are made, minimising lorry traffic and the associated carbon emissions.
This week has, however, been a little different. With the onset of snow and the resulting public alarm, panic buying of goods has stripped the shelves of fresh milk, bread and vegetables. Producers have been locked in and in fact some farmers have reported that they have had to discard large quantities of food as it can neither be harvested nor collected. Unfortunately, with the tight parameters of 'just in time' restocking, customers have been forced to leave their favourite stores empty handed.
Of course we won't starve (generally at least. There are very many people in this country who are genuinely very hungry, but that perhaps is a tragic story for another day). Most of us have full, sometimes overflowing, freezers, larders and cupboards and we might not fancy an out of date desiccated packet mix nut roast with a combination of rice, freekah, giant couscous and lentils with a few leaves of cabbage between six (as we had for tea) but at least we have something to eat. We are the lucky ones in this day and age. But it has got me thinking about just how vulnerable we are. A few days of bad weather and we start to struggle.
I bragged about this picture last summer. This salad was made entirely from ingredients that I'd picked from my very modest back garden. The tomatoes and cucumber were from the greenhouse and were accompanied by nasturtiums, fuschia, courgette and dianthus flowers. In the summer we were blessed with an abundance, but this weekend, as I tried to get a fix on what might just be surviving under the snow, it was a sorry tale of soggy chard and a very old cavalo nero kale plant. If the supermarket hadn't been able to kit us out, we would've been hungry quickly. Even with the dried fruit that's stopped on top of the kitchen shelves in jars since last year, we certainly wouldn't have lasted more than a few days without empty bellies!
Almost above the very real and pressing concerns of climate change, I do not like this feeling of vulnerability, the feeling that the rug could be pulled from beneath us at any time. We are reliant on the systems around us, out of our direct control, and I'd much rather have the security of resilience to change, to crisis. When I talk to people about food growing, when I share the knowledge I have so they can do the same, I often stress the potential cost saving, the educational value of children knowing where food comes from, the absence of chemicals, the higher nutritional value of fresh veg, the saving of the planet... What I stress less is the security of knowing that whatever happens, if your garden is full of food, you will at least be able to feed your family, come what may. You will also be everyone's best friend!
So I am resolving to up my game, We have summer growing stitched up, but we could do more. The front garden is underused and I've not the patience to sow winter crop seeds now for food a whole year away. It feels though that this is too important now and that things must change.
Despite the cold and the lack of light (which is actually far more of an issue for seed sowing) I've made a start. These past few days I've sown broad beans, kale and alpine strawberries (I'm really not holding out much hope for these!) and, in the propagator, the more Mediterranean type crops that need as much of the year as possible to reach harvest - tomatoes (several types), aubergines, chillies, peppers, basil, cucumbers and melons - far more in each case than I will ever need, but plenty to share around later. It feels good to get started.
For those of you who require a little more inspiration than my makeshift kitchen potting bench and borderline obsessive seed tray neatness to inspire you to kick off, then I'd recommend following the Vertical Veg Gardener, especially if you're pushed for space. The picture that heads Mark's post is, of course, exactly what my garden will look like this year! But even if this is a little ambitious, take a moment out soon to plant some seeds and grow a few food plants. You never know just when you might need them!
(Don't forget to check out our courses if you want to learn more about food growing, or join the Barefoot Community Facebook group for real time advice and answers to questions).
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.