Several things have come together this week that have made me stop and think deeply about what is going on in Cornwall and the World in general.
I have been very busy in my vegetable garden, the combination of strong sunshine and finally some rain has left me with a lot of work to do. This year I have had bumper crops of Mange Tout, Broad and French Beans, Carrots, and Salad varieties. In general, apart from Carrots, root crops are poor and soft crops such as Courgettes are suffering mildew. While having a coffee break, I wondered how many other people in Cornwall grow vegetables seriously in their garden.
Another thing that interested me was a programme on the Radio where people who were said to be poor, updated previous interviews they had given. A couple of these people were certainly very educated, but unemployed and claimed to be in poverty. They both happened to be women. They said their salvation was being able to grow vegetable to see them through. It was not possible to guess whether these people lived in the town or country. On another programme people were being interviewed about Food Banks, giving details on what kind of food was available, and how they made “convenience” foods last to serve a family. Is self-sufficiency restricted to the middle class? Do only women deal with food and food preparation? Do the urban poor have to rely on opening tins? Or is it that certain people are not so subject to social change which has turned us into an “on the hoof” society, grabbing food when we can as we rush past?
This latter suggestion was brought abruptly into focus when I surveyed the pile of Broad Beans I had just harvested. What dishes am I going to use these for? Looking for the easy option, I entered “Recipes using Broad Beans” in a search engine. The first one I came to started “Open a 500g tin of Broad Beans”! Well what is the difference between a fresh Broad Bean, and one in a tin? Or even more to the point, what is the difference between a perfect fresh Tomato from the supermarket or the funny looking thing that I picked in the greenhouse? In some cases the answer may be “Not a lot”, but there are add-ons. By working in the garden I am able to judge what is happening to the climate, (I keep a log from year to year and have a digital read out of max and min temperature and humidity). Also I can see what is happening regarding the mass of insect life toiling away for good or ill unseen by most people.
What I see is not good. The countryside is not productive, we have lost Market Gardens and Smallholdings with vegetable crops. Greenfield sites on the edges of Truro, Falmouth, Newquay and Bodmin are being built on at an alarming rate, fuelled by the greed of developers and assisted by the Government’s need to build itself out of recession. Sudden weather events such as record high and low temperatures, hurricane strength winds and flash floods are now becoming the norm. Changes in climate have meant changes in insect population. I recently lost a hive of bees due to a respiratory fungal disease caused by the wet winter, and partly due to local farm practices. As a consequence the reduction of bees and other pollinators due to the late spring has meant smaller crops on my fruit trees. Surely by now, climate change must be obvious to even the most deeply buried Ostrich head?
What chance do we have of becoming a sustainable society? I am tempted to say “Not much”, but I am the eternal optimist. Firstly we must educate young people. I learned about gardening obliquely, a bit from my Dad (although I wouldn’t admit to him that I was interested), and the basics of vegetable life from studying Biology at school and college. Nowadays very little is taught about gardening at secondary school. Secondly, we have got to make it easier for people to make a start. Seeds are becoming increasingly expensive, and stupid rules are preventing the use of certain older varieties that are often the best. If you add GM crops and non-viable F1 seeds to the mix you have the recipe for a global cartel on the same level as Oil and Drugs. What happened to seed swops? There are plenty of people who will give advice to novices, and Gardeners Question Time on Radio 4. I have even found lots of very useful ideas in books produced to drive self sufficiency during the Second World War, so it is not as difficult as some people think.
Therefore the answer should be -use the Supermarket outside the back door, it uses less fuel to get there, it costs less, you don’t need a plastic carrier bag to bring it home and it tastes better. I know I am able to spend a lot of time gardening because I am retired, and also I am lucky enough to have a big garden, but some people use window boxes! Even so the message is – get out there and “Dig for Victory” against consumerism.