Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Future foods

Thank you to homesweethomefront.co.uk for this image. There are several more on this site.It's been a difficult year for food growers throughout Europe. You've probably seen some of the headlines about grape harvest failures, potato blight and veg rotting in the fields. Food prices will almost certainly be going up. Parts of the UK have also been seriously flooded though this pales into insignificance when compared to the weather horrors suffered by tens of millions of Indians, Bangladeshis and Chinese in recent weeks. So what does the planet have in store for us? What can we do about it?

Worst summer in years: This year has been the worst since we started growing vegetables 6 years ago for our Llangybi Organics co-op. The summer has been lousy for most of the growing period up to today (with gale and heavy rain warnings yet again from the Met Office). We have lost whole crops due to wind and rain. Potato blight (to name but one issue) struck early and quickly destroyed even the blight resistant varieties we grow. The result? We've had to work doubly hard to save enough veg for our customers by preventing slugs eating the lot, combatting moles and voles, nursing surviving veg to prevent pests and disease outbreaks (much more difficult if you're organic as we are) and re-sowing some veg while there's still time. Oh, and then there were the weeds, the worst weeds ever meaning long days of hoeing and mostly handweeding.

And the future? Summers like this are in line with climate model predictions. For us in northern Europe (and, particularly, north and west Britain and Ireland), we can expect more of this sort of thing. More rain and more wind as global temperatures climb for the simple reason that warmer air holds more water vapour. So we're going to have to get used to it. The Mediterranean may roast and shrivel but we'll be cool, wet and windy.

Food shortages: Britain is a rich country and the solution to food shortages would normally be to import more of it from somewhere else. But with a world population approaching 7 billion, there's going to be demand from everywhere which has been affected by floods, storms and droughts. Rich countries can, for a time, import what they need because they can afford to pay over the odds. Then what? The poor, as ever, will suffer and die... and we in the rich North might have to pay more for our food and have much less choice than before. Supermarkets won't be so super.

Local food; secure food: Maybe with increasing prices and more shortages, people used to loading their trolleys each week at Tesco will begin to wonder if maybe buying local isn't so bad an idea after all. As well as fresh food you get security: food security. We at Llangybi Organics don't propose to give up in the face of climatic adversity. We feel we, like many others, are setting an example which will be needed more and more everywhere as shortages begin to bite. We can't compete with supermarkets whose cheap food is based, ulitmately, on exploitation, but we can offer our customers staple vegetables and more, especially if they come and help us out by volunteering. We do, by the way, already have a couple of volunteers whose help is invaluable and who help us to feel part of a rather special community. It's a good feeling.

Thinking the unthinkable: Suppose international crises became so severe that major food importing ceased to be an option? It could be small local growers who should be there to fill the gaps. Sadly, most small growers and family farms have been destroyed by the supermarket system of grabbing the cheapest food from anywhere in the world without paying the true price (in labour costs and especially in transport 'costs' in which pollution doesn't register). But a hungry population without cheap supermarkets and cheap transport is going to need small growers again. We would be very unwise not to think in these terms so that if the going gets rough, there are still options open.

Climate changes, Digging for Victory and small farms: Spades, not ships. Nor HGVs nor aircraft, eh?
Our aim on our small farm was to provide quality veg and fruit for people within walking or cycling distance. It hasn't worked out like that as most people in the village prefer 'choice' offered by supermarkets and they have cars to fulfill their requirements. In the future, it may not be like that. People may suddenly begin to appreciate their local veg farm. Will we be around for long enough for that to happen? The speed at which the world's climate seems to be changing may mean that we could be.

City folk and their food: But what of the people in the cities? How will they get their food? Will they be able or willing to repeat the wartime 'Dig For Victory' experience when everyone grew as much food as they could in their gardens or on their allotments? Most people these days are so disconnected from food producing that they wouldn't know where to begin. The expertise is still around in the few remaining small farms, horticultural businesses and that dedicated body of allotment-holders. That could help.

Dig! Dig! Dig! And your muscles will grow big
Keep on pushing the spade
Don’t mind the worms
Just ignore their squirms
And when your back aches laugh with glee
And keep on diggin’
Till we give our foes a Wiggin’
Dig! Dig! Dig! to Victory

from HomeSweetHomeFront

Disclaimer and final cliche: This post is not some long-winded way of promoting ourselves and advertising for customers. We have as many customers as we can manage. The only way to increase production, if we wanted to, would be to dig up some more of our land. Out of the question for a couple whose combined ages amount to 119 years. Even so, the potential to provide food for many more people is there on our farm and others around us if only vegetables were valued as central to our health. Instead, local farmers find it simpler to grow cattle and sheep. They're right: it is simpler. But the same land could grow veg for ten times the number of people than the animals will feed if needed. Now that's food for thought.

1 comment:

Bry Lynas said...

I accidentally deleted Tim Weller's 28 August comment on this post (because of spam comments I had to remove). Here it is again. Sorry, Tim!

Tim writes: Thanks for this excellent post, Bry. This is all good stuff and you both are pointing the way forward - the true pioneers and trend setters. Well done! How right you are when you write, "But the same land could grow veg for ten times the number of people than the animals will feed, if needed."