Tag Archives: food project

Taste in the Community

There are many ways to go about getting to know a place. You can spend prolonged amounts of time there, you can walk around and look at different views, speak with locals and hear what they say, breathe the air and sense the scents therein. Perhaps one of the most profound ways of getting becoming familiar with an area, however, is to use your sense of taste by trying the food from there. This sense of familiarity may well be what makes wild foraging still a popular activity, even in regions where it has become more popular to harvest your food from the local supermarket than from the forest or rocks of your home.

Salento Sea2. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Salento Sea. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Yet perhaps this is precisely why the allure of wild food collection remains. Even if you have lived somewhere for many years, if not your entire life, you can suddenly and very strongly gain a whole new perspective on the place once you put the food you have gathered from its habitat onto your tongue. Many folk tales and fairy stories speak of the binding power of food; “if you eat food in fairyland…you will never be able to return to the human world”(1). What we ingest is constantly changing us fundamentally, connecting us to the place where it comes from. Such a connection can be even more charged with potency if it is a direct link it is between you and the land from which the food came.

What better way, then, to get to know the land which I have just relocated to than to attend a foraging session and wild food lunch? Less than 1 week after arriving in my new home in Salento, Italy, this is exactly what I stumbled upon. Organised by local groups Sapori Autentici di Comunita (SAC) (Authentic Flavours of the Community) (2), part of Cooperativa Terrarossa (3), along with Salento Bike Tour (4), the event consisted of a guided bike ride around the area to check out the local plants and find which ones are edible. Many of the edible plant specimens were then laid out in a room of the Palazzo Baronale of Tiggiano, with their names in the local dialect, a language which apparently differs to that spoken in the nearby town. More helpful for me was the fact that the plants’ Italian and, most crucially, Latin names were also recorded. However, I appreciate the fact that the dialect-names were the largest on the labels, as knowing what the locals call a plant is by far the most useful information for you if you actually wish to share food with them.

Food sharing was the next activity of the day. It was fitting that the  event was held in what was historically a Baron’s palace, for it was certainly a palatial feast. If the maxim about eating food of the fairies also applies to Salento, I may never leave this place – though I’m not sure I’ll mind. We experienced many local ways to cook the plants, much of them totally new to me and all very tasty. One surprise was the use of Crithmum Maritimum (local name “ripilli”), which in Britain is known as rock samphire and with which, having lived next to the sea in England for many years, I am pretty familiar. I have used it often as a herb to flavour sauces or as a garnish.

~Rock Samphire or Ripili

Rock Samphire, Crithmum Maritimum, or Ripili. All the green parts of the plant are edible raw or cooked – though tastier cooked. The seed pods are also edible. Rock samphire is rich in Vitamin C. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

In Salento they treat this little succulent maritime plant not as a herb but as a vegetable in its own right, cooking it with garlic and olive oil in a way which fully brings out the flavour of the samphire without overpowering one’s taste-buds.  Needless to say, I am eager for the recipe, though I suppose I’ll have to wait for one of SAC’s cookery demonstrations for this.

It seems I won’t have to wait long. As well as organising such foraging tours, the group run demonstrations of local skills and recipes, and events focussed on local fruit and nut varieties, much like the work I was engaged in with Orchards Without Borders (see for example 5).

Below is a documentation of the wild edibles which can be found in this area at this time of year (late winter/early spring). The climate here is maritime – Salento is a long spit of land which extends out from the main part of Italy into the Ionian and Adriatic sea like the stiletto heel of the Italian boot, and wherever you are in the region you will probably not be more than around 40km from the sea. As well as this the main plant life is Mediterranean, though as mentioned I have already found some species which are familiar from colder climes, and so even if you live in quite a different setting you still may find this selection of edibles of use to you as you go about foraging in your own home.

Rock Samphire in its natural habitat. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Rock Samphire in its natural habitat. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

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The beach at Tricase Porto. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

It is always advisable to be cautious when trying new food for the first time, especially when you have never heard of it before. If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably best to avoid trying it until you’ve found out, though this should probably also apply to any new ingredient you find on a packets of food from your local supermarket (for more on this subject, see 6). But it’s ok! – exploring new tastes is very easy. Even if you do not have an equivalent group to SAC in your local area, there are many fantastic online resources which can help. One of my favourites is Ken Fern’s plant database Plants for a Future (7) on which you can search plant uses, including edible and medicinal.

Whether you find any of the same species as listed here or not, may your foraging be fruitful and your wild food explorations exciting. Even if you live in the middle of a city, you may well be surprised to find what food is growing just under your feet, once you activate the senses to discover it…

Sonchus oleraceus, known in English as Sowthistle

Sonchus Oleraceus, whose English names include Sowthistle. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), stem (cooked), young root (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Foeniculum vulgare, known in English as Fennel. Edible Leaves, roots, flowers, seeds. Digestive

Foeniculum vulgare, known in English as Fennel. Edible Leaves, roots, flowers, seeds. Digestive. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Papaver Rhoeas, known in English as Common Poppy. Edible leaves when cooked, flowers, tasty seeds

Papaver Rhoeas, known in English as Common Poppy. Edible leaves (cooked), flowers, tasty seeds. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Smyrnium olusatrum, known in English as Alexanders. Edible leaves.

Smyrnium olusatrum, known in English as Alexanders. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), flowers (raw or cooked), stem (cooked), root (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Asparagus Acutifolia, known in English as Wild Asparagus. Edible shoots

Asparagus Acutifolia, known in English as Wild Asparagus. Edible shoots (raw or cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Shoots of wild asparagus, freshly picked. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Shoots of wild asparagus, freshly picked. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Sinapis Alba, known in English as White Mustard. Edible leaves, flowers

Sinapis Alba, known in English as White Mustard. Edible leaves, flowers. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Brunias Erucago, known in English as Corn Rocket. Edible leaves (cooked)

Brunias Erucago, known in English as Corn Rocket. Edible leaves (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Cichorium intybus, known in English as Chicory. Edible leaves, root (cooked)

Cichorium intybus, known in English as Chicory. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), root (cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Rumex Crispus, known in English as Curly or Yellow Dock. Edible leaves

Rumex Crispus, known in English as Curly Dock. Edible leaves (raw or cooked). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

Borago Officinalis, known in English as Borage. Leaves edible raw or cooked, flowers edible fresh or dried in tea

Borago Officinalis, known in English as Borage. Edible leaves (raw or cooked), flowers (fresh or dried in tea). Medicinal effects include euphoria-inducing (from the flower tea). Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Urospermum picroides, known in English as Prickly Goldenfleece

Urospermum picroides, known in English as Prickly Goldenfleece. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

~Picris Echioides, known in English as Bristly Ox-Tongue. Leaves edible raw (bitter) and cooked

Picris Echioides, known in English as Bristly Ox-Tongue. Edible leaves raw (bitter) and cooked. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

 

References 

  1. Lamborn-Wilson, P, 1999. Ploughing the Clouds: The Search for Irish Soma. City Lights: Monroe, Oregon.
  2. Sapori Autentici di Comunita, 2016. Sapori del SAC. Facebook, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/SaporidelSAC – retrieved 12/3/15
  3. Cooperativa Terrarossa, 2016. ‘Chi Siamo [Who we Are]’. http://www.cooperativaterrarossa.org/chi-siamo/ – retrieved 12/3/15
  4. Salento Bike Tour, 2016. ‘Home’. http://www.salentobiketour.it/en/ – retrieved 12/3/15
  5. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Orchards Without Borders: Exploring Diversity and Culture’. Abundance Garden, 11/12/14. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/orchards-without-borders-exploring-diversity-and-culture/ – retrieved 12/3/15
  6. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘The Importance of Eating Food’. Permaculture News, 25/9/14. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/09/26/importance-eating-food/  – retrieved 12/3/15
  7. Plants for a Future, 2016. ‘About Us’. http://pfaf.org/user/AboutUs.aspx  – retrieved 12/3/15

 

Exotic Excess at the Harvest Stomp

All photos by Alan Husband.

The Exotic Excess Cafe. Photo by Alan Husband.

The Exotic Excess Cafe. Photo by Alan Husband.

The poet William Blake said “the thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest” (1). If he was right, then the visitors to the Exotic Excess Café at Groundwork (2)’s Harvest Stomp Festival (3) this Autumn Equinox are now very well provisioned. The Café, run by community interest group This is Rubbish (TiR) (4), was perhaps inaptly named as we were not selling anything but giving away huge amounts of surplus fruit and vegetables. As the autumn sun shone down on the tightly trimmed grass of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London, we could hardly move for interested and thankful visitors and happy festival-goers.

Thankful receivers bearing our plentiful harvest. Photo by Alan Husband.

Thankful receivers bearing our plentiful harvest. Photo by Alan Husband.

A Modern Harvest

The festival had many diverse stalls, from bee-keeping demonstrations with honey harvests to vegetable competitions for home-grown harvests. At the Exotic Excess café, however, we were focussing on a slightly different kind of harvest. As an estimated 36% of the food purchased in the UK goes to waste before it even reaches the consumer (5), there is a huge potential to intercept this and re-direct it to people who need food. As I have already explored through my work with the Gleaning Network (6) and the Food Waste Collective (7), there are a number of different strategies already operative in the UK for how to do this.

A key aspect of any food redistribution work is (unsurprisingly) sourcing the food and then finding hungry people to give it to. Perhaps of equal importance is the way in which we perceive and react to our food. If we show appreciation and thankfulness we are probably more likely to give value to the stuff we eat and see it as a worthy substance that should be used carefully and responsibly, rather than as a commodity. One fantastic way of doing this is to have a celebration! So that’s exactly what we did…

Talking about the Food

As we currently produce around enough food in the world to feed 12bn people (7). This coupled with the estimated 30 – 50% of food which is wasted annually on a global scale (9) shows starkly that food scarcity is an illusion and better organisation of food systems is necessary.

However, if we confront people with only facts such as those stated above, there is a chance of creating feelings of anger and/or helplessness. We prefer to inspire – which is why we have Exotic Hostesses serving up intercepted food on silver trays, and encourage communal eating in shared appreciation with a finale of a giant Salad Toss – where we entice members of the public to aid in creating a salad so large it has to be tossed in a tarpaulin.

Preparing Fruity Sticks, and for the Great Salad. Photo by Alan Husband.

Preparing Fruity Sticks, and for the Great Salad. Photo by Alan Husband.

Fruity Sticks and Salad Tosses

When I participated in the Exotic Excess Café last July at the Waterloo Food Festival (10) the predominant food stuffs we had intercepted was bananas, apples, peaches, grapes, oranges…In other words, fruit, fruit and more fruit. This year, we had many more vegetables to redistribute, including numerous packets of rocket and crates of lettuce, as well as carrots, courgettes and peppers. Thus the Salad was a savoury one, but we still had many many fruits to distribute, which we did in the form of make-your-own Fruity Sticks (a hit with the younger visitors) as well as inviting passersby to collect from our “shop” – actually, freely available produce for anyone to take and consume.

Who Could Resist? Photo by Alan Husband.

Who Could Resist? Photo by Alan Husband.

A Glimpse of Abundance. Photo by Alan Husband.

A Glimpse of Abundance. Photo by Alan Husband.

Excess to no Excess

At many food surplus events I have worked at, we have excess food at the end which it is a puzzle what to know to do with. I still have some kilograms of dried corn left from last September’s sweetcorn glean (11), waiting to be polenta-ed; and we were definitely far from taking all of the corn which was going to waste on that day.

However, the vibrant volunteers, along with the warmth of the day and the irresistibility of taking free food (especially when it’s been sprinkled with edible glitter) meant that the event was a great success. Once the festival-goers had got over any confusion or even suspicion about why we were not asking for money, most took to the idea with pleasure. So when we began gathering people for the grand finale, the Great Salad Toss, we ended up with quite a crowd of about twenty to take on the noble role of holding the tarpaulin while the salad ingredients were poured in.

Helping the Sultan to entice people to give a toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

Helping the Sultan to entice people to give a toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

Salad tossing can be a tricky business, and with such a giant salad it has to be seen as a precise art. Luckily we had This is Rubbish’s Sultan overseeing affairs, and the tossing went smoothly with much enjoyment from the crowd.

A perfect toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

A perfect toss. Photo by Alan Husband.

What’s Next?

All feedback I received on the day was positive, and we collected many ‘food waste pledges’ from people inspired to take personal, practical steps towards reducing food waste in their own lives. There will probably be more Exotic Excess Cafés to follow – check out the TiR website (4) for more information – yet ideally, we shouldn’t have to run such events at all, if we all begin using food in a responsible and respectful way.

To this end TiR have many other projects including the brand newly launched ‘Stop the Rot’ (12) campaign, aimed at influencing government and industry to introduce new ways of dealing with food which will reduce the amount of waste in the UK. In order to be effective the campaign needs as much publicity from the British public as possible, so feel free to spread the word. Even if you do not feel you wish to place your energy into national politics, remember that all government action is ultimately decided by what the citizens of a country do – or don’t do.

All change begins at a personal level, and in this time of harvest it is worth noting the abundance around us and perhaps changing our perceptions to envision and act towards a more fruitful future.

References

  1. Blake, W, 1790 -93. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Bodleian Library: Oxford (Re-printed 2011).
  2. Groundwork, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.groundwork.org.uk/Pages/Category/about-us-uk – retrieved 2/10/15
  3. Groundwork London, 2015. ‘The Harvest Stomp’, Project Dirt Events. http://www.projectdirt.com/apps/event/37931/– retrieved 2/10/15
  4. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  5. WRAP, 2015. Estimates of Food and Packaging Waste in the UK Grocery Retail and Hospitality Supply Chains. http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/UK%20Estimates%20February%2015%20%28FINAL%29.pdf – retrieved 2/10/15
  6. Feedback Global UK, 2015. Gleaning Network. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/– retrieved 2/10/15
  7. Hanover Action for Sustainable Living, 2015. ‘The Food Waste Collective’. http://www.hasl.org.uk/food-waste.html – retrieved 2/10/15
  8. De Schutter, O, 2013. ‘Report on Right to Food’. United Nations General Assembly: Geneva
  9. Institute of Mechanical Engineers 2010. ‘Waste Not Want Not’. IMechE: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0 – retrieved 10/9/15
  10. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Exotic Excess, Lower Marsh Market, Waterloo’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/event/july-2014-exotic-excess-lower-marsh-market-waterloo/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  11. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Gleaning First-Hand’. Abundance Garden, 3/11/14. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/gleaning-first-hand/ – retrieved 2/10/15
  12. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Stop the Rot’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/project/stoptherot/– retrieved 2/10/15

Notes

All photos by Alan Husband. Want to see more of the day? His Flickr album is here: Harvest Stomp on flickr.

Happy Giving Thanks Time

 

Last week saw the celebration, observed in the USA and by many others around the world as well, of Thanksgiving: a festival to observe the importance of giving thanks for one’s food, marked usually with a feast, presumably as with extra food we can be extra grateful.

The festival has its roots in the end of harvest celebrations of many Native American tribes and indeed most cultures around the world, who would usually hold feasts at this time of year to thank the earth and the plants and animals for providing for them, and continuing to provide for them (see for example 1). This seems an important thing to remember and to celebrate, although it should not necessarily be only once a year. While it is appropriate to be aware of the changing of the seasons and give thanks for autumn’s abundance in preparation for the cold scarcity of winter, food is something which most of us eat every day, so why should we not celebrate this at every mouthful?

Changing attitudes

Perhaps one reason why there is currently so much food waste in the world is that many in our modern culture are forgetting this key fact: that food is something we can be joyous about, and not only at thanksgiving. If this is forgotten, then the celebration may as well not have happened. In a way it is nice that the Thanksgiving festival is still acknowledged in a culture which could be seen from some angles to be rather shallow and unfeeling. However, when we look at statistics like the fact that every year, American families throw away around one third of perfectly good food (2), or that every Thanksgiving the food waste figures raise drastically (2), then it seems that we have a little way to go before we can really be said to be giving thanks.

In 2012 a report estimated that every Thanksgiving, “$282 million worth of perfectly edible meat will be wasted, enough to feed each American household in the country 11 additional servings” (3).

This phenomenon does not relate only to food; and it is not characteristic of only the USA either. In the UK in 2012 again (for some reason I cannot find more recent figures; hopefully a sign we are getting less wasteful?) a report estimated that over Christmas we throw away 2m turkeys, 5m Christmas puddings and 74m mince pies (4).

Such figures seem to suggest that we need a little more encouragement of being thankful, because after all, as Dana Gunders of environmental research group the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points out, “part of being thankful is not wasting food” (2).

Abundance!

Many people are doing something to facilitate this change in attitude. Last week saw the Brighton-based Food Waste Collective’s winter food re-distribution event, ‘Good Food for Good Causes’, during which time we repacked and redistributed just under 2 tonnes of donated food to around 30 charities and community groups from all over the city. The event was our first in the Brighton Open Market, which turned out to be a fantastically public venue and a good site for showcasing the Food Waste Collective to members of the public, as well as helping raise awareness of our partners, such as Plan Zheroes (5), The Gleaning Network (6), Food Warriors (7) and The Real Junk Food Project (8).

This latter group are just launching in Brighton and their aim is to create a full-time café which uses only surplus food to cook tasty and cheap meals for anyone who cares to come by. I went along to help out at their first ever event, where they were catering for Theatre Uncut’s (9) series of plays on themes of social change. The first night of the Theatre Uncut shows was last Thursday which as it happens was also Thanksgiving. As we served out around 100 delicious servings of surplus dinner, the theatre-goers really had something to be grateful for. Less food waste in the city and more food available; something we can all say thanks to!

For more on the Food Waste Collective events, check out my article here. Photos are available to view on David Ashwanden’s page here.

                An important way in which we can help to bring this message to the public is through participative education. Talking to people and finding out their perspective as well as sharing ours is much more effective than telling them what to do, and it was with this in mind that I helped out with a Love Food Hate Waste stall outside a supermarket in Brighton and Hove, during which time we shared tips on cutting down on festive waste as well as listening to others’ feelings on these issues.

A question of logistics

The Real Junk Food Project’s launch was so successful that on the first night we managed to serve out all the food that was cooked that day. A great response, but one which elicited mild panic, as we were doing the catering for the same event on Friday evening as well. This is where the idea of abundance suddenly got really interesting. Around four or five core food-finders put out various feelers, using mainly social media and connections as well as contacting donors who we already knew about. No one was expecting to get enough food for Friday’s event.

So it was somewhat of a surprise when it came to the end of Friday night and the theatre-goers began rolling out of the venue (an old market, as it happened), protesting that they could not possibly take any more soup. We had managed to collect not only enough food to feed everyone; we had plenty to spare and more besides!

While this was in itself a thing to be celebrated, swift action needed to be taken before we became the very thing which the Real Junk Food Project was set up to alleviate: wasters. But who would take around thirty servings of hot soup on a Friday night? Homeless shelters and refuge centres were quickly contacted; with the replies that cooked food could not be accepted as it is difficult to tell what is in it. For some moments, then, we were stumped; until one volunteer had the bright idea of calling some friends who lived nearby and asking them to bring Tupperware. In this way we managed to shift most of the surplus; the remainder making its way to street people we met on the way home, as well as to our own freezers.

Thanksgiving: all year round

The experience with The Real Junk Food Project showed how, when one trusts in abundance, it can proliferate, sometimes a little too wildly. With a little ingenuity (and a lot of plastic containers!), however, it seems possible to always utilise what we have, and to share in the celebration of the abundance of our world.

Right now we are living in times of great excess; this should not necessarily be a cause for concern. When the excess is used correctly and respectfully, we can turn waste into something wonderful. Of course, it would be better if we if not create so much waste in the first place, and perhaps as we become more aware of the significance of what we eat this will surely lessen.

References

  1. Harvest Festival, 2014. ‘Harvest Festivals from around the world’. http://www.harvestfestivals.net/harvestfestivals.htm – retrieved 1/12/14
  2. Smith, M, 2012. ‘Here’s how much food you’re going to waste on Thanksgiving’. Vice News, 26/11/14. https://news.vice.com/article/heres-how-much-food-youre-going-to-waste-on-thanksgiving – retrieved 1/12/14
  3. Zerbe, L, 2012. ‘The worst turkey statistic ever’. Rodale News, 16/11/12. http://www.rodalenews.com/food-waste-facts – retrieved 1/12/14
  4. Smithers, R, 2012. ‘It’s time to cut the obscene amount of Christmas waste’. Guardian, 20/12/12. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2012/dec/20/obscene-amount-christmas-food-waste – retrieved 1/12/14
  5. Plan Zheroes, 2014. ‘The Idea’. http://www.planzheroes.org/ – retrieved 1/12/14
  6. Feedbback UK, 2014. ‘Gleaning Network’. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/ – retrieved 1/12/14
  7. Facebook, 2014. ‘Food Warriors!!’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/foodwarriors/?fref=ts – retrieved 1/12/14
  8. Facebook, 2014. ‘The Real Junk Food Project Brighton’. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Real-Junk-Food-Project-Brighton/246123485595051?fref=ts – retrieved 1/12/14
  9. Brighton Theatre Uncut, 2014. ‘About’. https://brightontheatreuncut.wordpress.com/ – retrieved 1/12/14

Gleaning First Hand

Gleaning First-Hand

Before I ever heard of the term ‘glean’ in any other context than ‘gather information,’ I already had experience of situations of abundances of food being underutilised. In Andalucía, where I lived for some time, I saw or heard about many cases of orchards or tree plantations whose owners can no longer afford to pay people to pick the fruit when it is ripe, so it makes more economical sense for them to simply leave them on the trees. There are also fields of trees which have been totally abandoned; perhaps the farmer died and all of the younger generation have moved to the cities.

Untended Olive Grove

Untended Olive Grove. Photo by David Ashwanden

In some parts of Spain there are entire villages who have suffered this fate, and if an enterprising group of young people were to go and set up homes there they may be able to revive the whole village and help it develop in whatever way they wish to. Indeed, this has become something of a trend, and there now exist real-estate agents who offer abandoned villages for sale to enterprising groups (see for example 1). How they obtained the villages and by whose designation they have the right to sell them is another question, one which I will not explore here.

When things are left in this way it presents amazing opportunities; but what I did not experience in Andalucía was an organised way of collecting all the fruit which would potentially otherwise be going to waste, and so when I embarked upon my first glean this September as part of the Sussex Gleaning Network (2), it was to be an eye-opening experience into how much we can harvest when we harvest together.

Gleaning with a smile

For me, it started with an apple. I quickly progressed to plums, and later participated in a mammoth glean of delicious sweetcorn. Pumpkins are looming on the horizon; sometimes I imagine this might be akin to how Eve felt. After taking that first apple, why would you go back?

The Sussex Gleaning Network (2) organises gleans by first getting into contact with farmers to see if they are likely to have any surplus produce, and if they would be happy for gleaners to take it. Once farmers have agreed the Network then has a relatively short space of time in which to plan logistics; as we cannot know until the actual harvest time exactly how much surplus there will be, if any.

This means that volunteers who are ready to spring into action the moment a date is set are absolutely key to gleaning work. Rideshares are sorted, lunches packed, pick-ups co-ordinated and directions, inevitably, mis-followed, and then we arrive on the farm.

On both of the gleans in which I have participated there were more than ten other volunteers, making the whole occasion wonderfully sociable. Everyone brings a little food from home which then gets placed together in one giant shared meal, and the fresh air and the actual visible evidence of so much abundance helps to foster the good mood.

Gleaners Together

The communal aspect of the picking also helps engender a connection with your fellow gleaners; there is a sense of shared creativity, of working together to make something beautiful. This sense is something I often experience when playing music together with other people as well, and perhaps it was no coincidence that many on the sweetcorn glean suggested that we think of some corn-harvesting songs to sing together to help the picking.

It may also not have been a coincidence that we did have a way of making music in the corn fields too.

Corn whistle

Corn whistle. Photo by David Ashwanden

Yes that's right - an ocarina in the shape of a corn cob. Why would you go on a corn glean without one?

(Photo by David Ashwanden). Yes that’s right – an ocarina in the shape of a corn cob. Why would you go on a corn glean without one?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of equal importance was the continuous punning which went on all day. You would be amazed with how many corny one-liners can be made on the subject.

Reasons to glean

We heard some of the reasons why the apple and plum farmer had so much surplus. One was that apparently it has been, in England, a particularly good year for apples. You would think that this would make a farmer joyous at harvest time; but because of the market which he has to sell to, instead it means that there are too many apples for sale and the prices go down.

Another reason is the war in Ukraine, which has resulted in some trade being stopped between Russia and the EU. We heard that Germany and Poland usually export apples to Russia but that since they cannot now, the next natural export market to turn to is the UK as the pound is relatively strong right now. Thus, in spite of the particularly good year which we have had here in England for apples, supermarkets are actually turning them away as apples from elsewhere are cheaper.

With the sweetcorn, the reasons appeared even more arbitrary. The farmer simply said that he probably would not be able to sell all of the corn, and so he was not going to harvest it. He did not seem worried about his financial situation. I did not get a chance to question him in detail so I don’t know exactly what his personal circumstances were or why he felt the need to abandon vast swathes of his crops. It could be that he receives subsidies for his work and so is not in dire need of gaining a return from the corn. For more on this see (3).

Gleanfest

Regardless of why or how it comes about, gleaning puts you in direct connection with food in its naked state, before it become embroiled in the occasionally tortuously long networks of packaging, processing, shipping, transporting etc. so common to our food today. This in itself makes going on a glean a worthwhile experience and I would encourage everyone to do the same, if only to feel first-hand what it’s like to actually pick the fruit or vegetables which you eat on a daily basis. This is one of the key ways in which we can begin rebuilding our connection to the food we eat and the natural world of which it and we are a part. To then be able to bring that to share with people who do not have much access to fresh food makes it even more worthwhile.

Sussex Gleaning Co-ordinator Vera Zakharov adding to the huge amount of corn

Sussex Gleaning Co-ordinator Vera Zakharov adding to the huge amount of corn

You also learn a lot when you come and glean. I have grown corn in the past but many people may not have seen it in situ; and I am certainly not expert enough to have ever come across ‘smut’ before. No, I’m not talking about some kind of crazed cornography (see what I mean?); it’s a type of fungus which grows on corn that looks like this:

SMUTMore SMUTLooks delicious, right? Well, unless you are Mexican it may be surprising (it would certainly not be my immediate instinct to put that substance into my mouth) but in some parts of the world corn smut is seen as a delicacy. See (4) for more information – it is apparently even good for you.

Abundance amounts

On the apple and plum day we managed, with between ten and fifteen people, to harvest a total of approximately 982.5kg of fruit to be redistributed through Fareshare (5). This hefty amount pales in comparison to what we harvested on the day of the corn, however, when we ended with something in the vicinity of 2.5 tonnes of sweetcorn, distributed through Fareshare to groups in Brighton and Hove but also Community Food Enterprises or CFE (6), a similar group who instead of operating nationally are based in London, who took as much as they could to that city.

On both days one of the most poignant aspects was the sheer amount of fruit and vegetables which remained even after we had filled the Fareshare and CFE trucks, and every volunteer had taken as much as they could realistically carry. Some volunteers and recipient groups may have been a little concerned about what they would do with it all; though I remain confident that all fresh food can be preserved in nutritious and long-lasting ways. With this in mind I and my fellow food-gathering accomplice filled two large backpacks with sweetcorn,  making sure we tried some of it first.

Tasty!

Tasty!

We were now ready to embark upon a whole plethora of food preservation experiments.

The results were, as you may imagine, delicious, and I shall share some of them with you in the next blog post.

References

  1. Aldeas Abandonadas (Abandoned Villages), 2014. ‘Venta de Aldeas’. http://aldeasabandonadas.com/venta-de-aldeas.html – retrieved 28/10/14
  2. Gleaning Network, 2014. http://feedbackglobal.org/campaigns/gleaning-network/ – retrieved 28/10/14
  3. Monbiot, G, 2014. ‘The farming lobby has wrecked efforts to defend our soil’. Guardian, 5/6/2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/jun/05/the-farming-lobby-has-wrecked-efforts-to-defend-our-soil – retrieved 28/10/14
  4. Mendoza, M, 2010. ‘Corn Smut Delicacy Huitlacoche is Good for You.’ Huffington Post, 27/04/2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/27/huitlacoche-corn-smut-goo_n_553422.html – retrieved 3/11/14
  5. Fareshare, 2014. ‘About’. http://www.fareshare.org.uk/about_us/ – retrieved 28/10/14
  6. Community Food Enterprises, 2014. ‘About CFE’. http://www.c-f-e.org.uk/About%20CFE.htm – retrieved 28/10/14