Tomatoes from Italy, apples from Chile and broccoli from Spain, all spotless and carefully wrapped in plastic as if freshly picked a couple of hours ago. They may look and sound very appealing, but the fact that the average tomato travels more than 1800 miles to reach London is not just bad for the environment, it is unsustainable, less nutritional and even apparently less tasty.
We are so used to having everything available at any time of the year that most of us never stop to think about where our food is actually coming from. As it stands, more than 40 per cent of our food is imported, a figure that’s rising according to the Global Food Security program. In an effort to encourage local food production as a way of ensuring both long term food security and environmental sustainability, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs hopes that local communities can grow their own food.
Luckily, east London’s small-scale farmers have a solution. By producing home-grown food they are not only providing fresh produce to the city dwellers, they are also helping to reduce carbon emissions by eliminating transnational transportation.
“There is plenty of seasonal veg around. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean it’s not possible to eat local produce”, said Kerry Rankine from Growing Communities, a Hackney based organisation working to create sustainable food systems. “The farmers we work with are harvesting leeks, kale, sprout tops, chard and cabbages, as well as providing carrots, potatoes, squash and greenhouse crops such as pak choi and watercress.”
Growing Communities wish to provide an alternative to the imported greens at the supermarket. They run urban salad gardens in Hackney, work with small scale farmers in Greater London and organise the Stoke Newington Farmers Market each Saturday at St. Pauls Church on Stoke Newington High Street. Anyone, with or without green fingers, itching to do some digging and sowing are welcomed to volunteer with Growing Communities. Introductory sessions began on February 3.
Geoff Juden, the founder of East London Garden Society, agrees with Rankine. “Most people are unaware of what may be grown through winter. Garlic is a good one or potatoes.”
And even though this season: “Isn’t the most exciting time in the garden”, Juden encourages people to continue growing and harvesting throughout the colder months.
“The reason community gardens are being built throughout east London is to provide a more sustainable way of living for east Londoners. It is important that as much food as possible is grown locally, as it brings communities together”, Juden told Eastlondonlines. “Much more than this, people will reach a point of appreciating good, healthy, organic food, thereby gaining a taste for the best of what nature is able to provide.”
The majority of the imported greens we find in our supermarkets are being picked long before they’re ripe to endure the long travel time, which causes reduced nutrition levels. Vegetables that have been harvested at the right moment are healthier – and taste better.
You can even save a quid or two by changing from supermarket to farmers market. “We source direct from organic local farmers for the majority of the produce used in our box scheme, and all the produce at the farmers market is sold direct by organic or biodynamic farmers. Usually this is cheaper or the same price as the organic vegetables and fruit from supermarkets, as you are dealing directly with the farmers and there is no middleman involved,” said Kerry Rankine.
If you base your diet on the organically grown harvest in London, what you eat will change with what the season has to offer. Some people might miss their strawberries during the cold months, but there are a range of recipes available for anyone ready to try out some new winter dishes. Ever wondered how many different suppers you can create from a leek?