Thursday, October 05, 2006

Column, October 3, 2006

I HAD Russian kale at the weekend.
Worry not, this has not become a column of what I have been mostly eating the previous week. I only mention it because it’s of relevance to the future of farming.
Not that I consume enough of the stuff, nice as it was with a little chilli, garlic and tomatoes, to keep any sort of agricultural enterprise in business.
No, what’s of interest to the future of farming is that it didn’t come from a supermarket, it came from a local farmer.
In an effort to spend as little time as possible in the Dantean depths that are the aisles of supermarkets, Mrs B and I have been making an effort to shop anywhere else.
To this end we have started getting a box of veg delivered by a local organic farmer – hence the appearance of Russian kale on the Banks dinner table this weekend.
Now, I don’t recall ever having had kale, Russian, curly, or otherwise, in 41 years of eating anything that’s put in front of me. But that’s part of the charm of this scheme, you’re guaranteed staples like spuds, carrots and onions, but the rest of the box is pot luck – whatever is in season. Fortunately they include a recipe for the more obscure items, or else the Russian kale might have been languishing in the Siberia of our freezer for some time.
But even better than that, though the kale was Russian in variety it was grown locally. It was picked, shoved in a box, and dropped off at my door hours later. You can’t get fresher or healthier than that.
Contrast that to supermarket veg and their insistence on having everything available, whether it’s out of season or not. Fruit and veg are flown thousands of miles packed in inert gas so they don’t decay.
Fruit is selected for shelf life not taste and then it’s picked green and hard so that it will withstand travel across half the world before it arrives on the shelves, Of course it never ripens properly and so it might be cheap and available out of season, but it also has about as much taste as the cardboard box it’s packed in.
Now, where this is of rel4evance to farmers is in the actions of the farmers that supplies me. More and more are doing the same, either providing box schemes, or going to farmer markets and cutting out the middle man – Tesco, Asda/Walmart, Morrisons, and selling directly to the public.
But typically, supermarkets seeing that there is a mood in the public to support local producers and not have their groceries flown in on a fleet of jumbo jets, are muscling in on this trend for locally-produced food.
They will trumpet now that they are selling local milk and meat and veg. Though as we’ve seen in the case of Bangor Tesco, local can mean that short trip down to…erm… Port Talbot .
It’s not hard to see the sense of organic box schemes and farmers markets, they’re better produce, better for you and better for the environment.
So how come the industry is so unutterably rubbish at getting that message across both to consumers and to government.
While on a shopping trip at the weekend I spied a leaflet on the counter inquiring as to whether I was a ‘friend of local food’. Well, I thought, with my organic fruit and veg safely unpacked at home and the fact that I was then buying bread from a local small baker, local food and I were not just friends, this was the beginning of something deep and meaningful, we were going steady.
The leaflet was produced by something called the National Farmers’ Retail Markets Association, or FARMA, and it wanted me to drop a pre-printed card in the post to Lord Rooker, at DEFRA.
On the card I would declare that I was a FRIEND OF LOCAL FOODS, their capitals, not mine, that I valued an alternative to going to supermarkets and that LOCAL FOOD AND FARMING MATTER TO ME! PLEASE DON’T IGNORE IT, again, their capitals, and their decision to use ‘it’ when they should use ‘them’.
I wonder what will happen when an avalanche (they hope) of these cards arrives at the House of Lords and ashen-faced flunkies approach his lordship, all a-tremble saying: “Beggin’ your pardon Your Lordship, but it’s the postbag, it’s enormous and we’re afraid to say that there are a lot of FRIENDS OF LOCAL FOOD out there, telling you not to ignore LOCAL FOOD AND FARMING.”
If this is the best that FARMA can come up with then they’ll be losing no sleep over at Tesco/Asda/Morrisons – they’ll just do another two-for-one offer on “Andalusian-pygmy-potatoes-smothered-in-Columbian-heather-honey” (no, I don’t know if they exist, but you can bet your life they soon will do if some buffoon in braces at M&S is reading this) and they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.
I wonder if too many farmers are already on the supermarket treadmill for the smaller organic ones to really have a go at them. After all, if you really criticise the supermarket industry, aren’t you by association criticising those who choose to supply them.
Wales , despite efforts to the contrary, is still a nation where small farms survive, often against incredible odds and their produce is second to none.
Getting that message across to the consumer is what’s important and you don’t do that with half-baked campaigns that are the equivalent of asking people to support motherhood and apple pie.

WELL done to the burghers of Conwy’s environment scrutiny committee for proving that not all burghers are silly burghers by batting back the council Cabinet’s decision to rule out a cycle path on Llandudno prom.
The committee has asked that the cabinet rescind its earlier decision which would have meant cyclists taking their chances with traffic in the town centre instead of cycling along one of the UK ’s most famous promenades.
Let’s hope the cabinet heeds their words and allows a scheme that will add to the town’s many attractions.

THE rescue helicopters get scrambled only to be stood down because what was thought to be cries for help on Snowdonia’s slopes were in fact mating goats.
I hate to say this, but I’ll get it in before someone English does, if there’s one place you would have thought they would have known what it was it is Wales .
Must have been tourists that dialled 999.

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