Spring is in the Air

Thanks to your generosity last week, we will be donating €900 to The Irish Cancer society.

A sense of possibility and new beginnings is naturally in the air in Spring. On the farm, maybe it is the start of the new plant and seed arrivals that kindles this feeling, but there is a sense that we can do things better this year, that we will try a little harder to get things right, that all will be well in the end.

Nature is waking up, the birds are singing, the daffodils are blooming, the new leaves are beginning to unfurl on the trees. The extra daylight means that life cycles are changing and growth increasing, it is a natural rhythm, and it resonates on a subconscious level, if you let it.

Even our lovely new season salad is responding well to the extra light, and we will be harvesting ours and also Mick and Audrey from Millhouse farm will be delivering their gorgeous salad to us for all the boxes next week.

The sun is higher in the sky and on clear days you can feel the first tendrils of warmth, there is more power too in its rays and from now on the capture of this power to make electricity works well. (We installed a large solar panel array two years ago and it sits on the roof of one of our sheds generating clean renewable energy.)

Frequently now we can see plants growing, hear the birds singing and the insects buzzing well before it is time. This can be symbolic of a world out of sync and it has ramifications for all living systems. Planning a season of vegetable growing on the farm becomes more of a gamble as the natural order we rely on can change unpredictably and dramatically.

Luckily to date here in Ireland we have been spared the worst of the effects of the climate emergency. The climate crisis is a complex global problem but maybe the solutions are also simpler than we think? Down at the level of you and I there is much that can be done. Planting trees is one of the simplest ways to help redress the balance, as farmers we have an obligation to plant trees, and as gardeners there is always space for a tree. Again, thanks to your support, we just recently planted another 1500 trees here on our farm. By supporting local food growers like us and Mick and Audrey you too are doing your bit to tackle the climate crisis.

The prediction of the weather for the year ahead was often associated with a saying closely tied to trees, “ash before oak you are in for a soak, oak before ash you are in for a splash”. It seems this year at least here in Galway that the ash has won the race. Nevertheless, if living and farming in the west of Ireland has taught me one thing it is that the weather is unpredictable. It changes fast and sometimes when you least expect it, it surprises you.

Here is hoping for a lovely, sunny Summer surprise this year.

Kenneth

PS – DON’T FORGET IT IS DELIVERIES AS NORMAL FOR US NEXT WEEK, AND MONDAY IS A BANK HOLIDAY BUT NORMAL ORDERING AND DELVIERES APPLIES!!

We are maintaining the FREE Delivery over €100 next week also!

PPS – You have until Monday evening to grab your place on the Green Fingers course part 1 as we will be sending out seeds and resource packs next week by post!

Pigs and Plastic

In 2018, we said goodbye to plastic for good in our boxes – we were the first company to do that in Ireland. We sourced compostable plant based bags, we launched our ‘Plastic Free’ shopping aisle and we made a commitment to never include any plastic wrapped produce in any of our set boxes ever again. Over the past three years, we have expanded this range, adding lots more sustainable ‘plastic free’ groceries and we introduced a new BULK section of plastic free groceries – even better value.

Supermarkets can’t have it both ways. They maintain their single use plastic packaging; they argue that it prolongs shelf life and therefore it is necessary to reduce food waste, and at the same time they reject perfectly good food on aesthetics leading directly to large amounts of food waste!

The pressure that below cost selling and rejecting produce based on how food looks places on growers can mean that farmers struggle to sustain their livelihoods. There is always a price to pay.

Ironically, the argument for food waste reduction has been used for the continued use of plastic in our food chain, at the very same time that produce not looking the part is dumped! Maybe It is the food system and how we produce and sell food that needs to change?

We used to supply supermarkets and we were told that we had to pay for any produce on their shelves that they did not sell. They also demanded that we lower our prices and stopped ordering until we complied. We pulled the plug ourselves and focused 100% on our home delivery business.

The plastic problem and food waste are issues of our time and as with climate change, they can only be solved by changing our behaviour and by making these issues the very centre of all decisions taken. Our pledge is to do just that.

I will never forget our very first season of growing veg here in the West of Ireland on my grand-dad’s farm. We were told we were mad it could not be done. Others told us that the only way to grow veg was to use a “touch of Roundup” our neighbour wanted to buy the family farm and pretty much laughed at our attempts to learn to grow veg. The local garda called up to see if we were growing strange things! That was 15 years ago.

We have shown it is possible and viable to rekindle a sustainable food production industry in the West of Ireland, to relearn the lost skills of generations and apply them to growing food, but also to innovate and to do it in a truly sustainable way.

Maybe there is hope after all that the bigger issues will be addressed and we can live a cleaner greener future.On food waste there is one thing is for sure: our two pet rescue pigs never complain when they see us coming, they get the truly unusable food and recycle it back into nutrients for the land!

Thanks as always for your support.

Kenneth

PS Reuse is so much better than anything else and we have always championed this, our boxes are the ultimate reusable container. We collect them and reuse them every week.

5 Ways to Stop Food Waste

At the farm , rescue pigs George and Florence enjoy any food waste we incur.

When we think of food waste, throwing out a wobbly carrot or a bruised apple, we usually just think of it as a waste of a few cents. But food waste is actually one of the largest contributors to climate change. Growing, processing and transporting food uses significant resources, so if food is wasted then those resources are wasted too. It is estimated that globally, around 1.4 billion hectares of land is used to grow food which is then wasted. That’s a lot of land that could be returned to the wild and a lot of wasted food emitting methane as it rots. If food waste was a country, it would be the 3rd biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

A brilliant article on the subject of food waste has just recently been published in the Irish Times. Read it here. The article was sponsored by the brilliant initiative, Food Cloud which redistributes food waste in Ireland to those in need. Please do check them out and see how you can get involved.

I’ve been asking you for your food waste prevention tips and tricks over the last few weeks (thank you for those – can you spot your tips below?) and after collecting them all I’ve realised that they boil down to 5 main themes.

Here are some of your brilliant food waste tips, thank you! Please add anything I’ve missed in the comments.

1. Planning & Preparation

  • Write a menu for the week before shopping and only buy what you need. Or if you get a weekly veg box delivered then write a menu as you unpack the box and stick it on your fridge.
  • Plan to use up delicate ingredients with a shorter shelf life first. Things like salads, herbs and greens first, save the hardier root vegetables for later in the week.
  • Before you buy even more fresh food, shop from your own fridge, freezer and pantry. How many more meals can you make with what you already have? Delay the next shop as long as possible.
  • If you know you don’t have much time for cooking, spend some time meal prepping:
  • Cook batches of soups/stews/bakes, freeze them in portions to be taken out when you need them.
  • Make yourself a sort of ‘fridge buffet’ which you can dip into for lunches – separate boxes of cooked grains, roasted veg, dips, dressings – for food safety, only do 3 days worth at a time.
  • Pre-wash and chop all the veg you need for your menu so that when you come to cook it’s much quicker. But be careful doing this kind of prep as chopped veg doesn’t last as long as whole. Only do this 3 days in advance maximum.

2. Storage

  • Learn how best to store different fruits, herbs and vegetables so that they stay fresh longer. 
  • Should they be in the fridge or in a dark cupboard or a fruit bowl? Do they need to be in water to stay fresh longer? Are they better in or out of their packaging? Is it better to store them muddy or clean?
  • Always rotate! Put new ingredients behind older ones and use up the old ingredients first.
  • If you don’t eat a lot of bread, store sliced bread in the freezer and just take out a few slices at a time when you need it.

3. Eating ‘Root to Shoot’

  • Think to yourself, ‘does this really need to be peeled?’. Probably not. Especially if you are using our organic produce. Also by not peeling you get the maximum nutrition and fibre out of the veg.
  • Question which parts of the vegetables you are discarding. Cauliflower and broccoli leaves and stalks are all edible and delicious. Carrot tops are a brilliant parsley-like herb substitute. Beetroot leaves can be eaten like chard. Mushroom stalks are edible. The core of cabbages can be finely sliced and added to stir fries. The dark green tops of leeks and spring onions are edible…
  • Any clean peelings and offcuts you do have can be collected in a box in the freezer. When you have enough to fill your largest pot you can simmer them in water to make a tasty and nutritious stock.

4. Loving Your Leftovers 

  • Have a strict rule that any leftovers from dinner must be eaten for lunch the next day (or frozen for another meal).
  • Find imaginative ways to repurpose your leftovers into another meal. Can it be turned into a soup or a curry or a pasta sauce? Can it be baked into a pie or a frittata? Would it be nice in a wrap or a sandwich? Can it be bulked out with some more fresh veg and simply eaten again?
  • Make croutons or breadcrumbs with stale bread or the bread ends you would otherwise throw out.

5. Preserving Any Excess

  • If you have a glut of a certain fruit or vegetable, find out the best way to preserve it:
  • Make chutney, jam or pickles? There are endless recipes online for inventive ways to make delicious jars of tangy chutneys and pickles and sweet jams. 
  • Lacto-ferment? Using just salt and a little know-how, transform your unused cabbages into sauerkraut or kimchi or your cucumber into sour dills. Any vegetable can be fermented. 
  • Freeze? Find out the best way to freeze your excess. Does it need blanching first?
  • Dry? Use a low oven or a dehydrator to dry out excess fruit or veg. Then rehydrate it when you need it (garlic, mushrooms, carrot slices…), eat it dry as a snack (apple rings, mango, kale crisps…) or blitz into powder and make your own bouillon (celery, onion, garlic, carrot, herbs, mushrooms…).

Please tell us how you avoid food waste in the comments. We’d love to share these top tips with our community. Liz x

Wonderfully Wonky

Last year Joe my son found a potato and I don’t know if I should be alarmed or encouraged by the fact he wanted me to put it “online”. Joe is 7. He found this unusual potato and he wanted everybody to see it and funnily enough it tasted just as amazing as any other potato, but it certainly would not have made it onto supermarket shelves.

Finding unusual shaped vegetables for me is like a bonus, if we harvest carrots and find one that looks like it has two legs, or one like this potato we found last year, then we are delighted. They are funny and unusual and like nature are not uniform. Is there anything wrong with mishappen or “wonky” veg? Absolutely not, they taste the same, they were grown in the same sustainable way. Then why do supermarkets reject pallet loads of them because they do not meet “specifications” of “size” of “shape” or of “visual appearance”? They do, and it is a tragedy of modern times that we feel it is ok to dump food based on appearance.

A recent report on the factors that are most important to consumers when it comes to deciding on whether they will buy fresh produce or not is how it looks. I fault not a single person for this, it is hard not to be conditioned in this manner with our current supermarket led food chain.

A very involved and complex system has been developed to give us picture perfect produce at the lowest possible price. The look of the produce, no blemishes, straight carrots, no knobbly bits, shiny apples, picture perfect tomatoes is one of their major criteria when deciding whether to accept or reject a batch.

The reality of working with nature and growing food of course is that it comes in many shapes and sizes. There is so much beauty to be found in producing food, and not just on the surface, certainly Joe’s potato makes the cut every time in my book.

What is more important? How something was grown, or how something looks?

Here is the thing then, supermarkets make a massive deal about selling wonky veg, eliminating food waste etc but in reality they do very little! There should be “no wonky” veg, no grading out based on how something looks, knobbly bits and all. But that is not the way things are. If all we ever see is clean shiny picture-perfect produce, how will we react when we see something that is different, will we think possibly there is something wrong?

What about dirty veg? We send out our carrots, potatoes and parsnips with dirt on the roots. It makes sense, it keeps the produce fresh and therefore requires less packaging, because we have you, we can do it, we like it, and we get the impression you just might like it too! Please tell us if you do or if you do not!

As always thank you for your support, the wonky veg say thank you too!

Kenneth

Vegetable Values

What do you think about a major supermarket sending 12 pallets of pineapples (nearly 12,000 pineapples) to waste because they had some blemishes, where is the right in that?

Thankfully, charities such as Food Cloud exist and they stepped in to rectify the situation in this case. If they did not exist where would this food go then?

Fresh food is so devalued by supermarkets, it makes me want to cry! It does not benefit the consumer, we think it does but ultimately it does not. How can a supermarket sell onions for 49c? It is not possible to grow a kilo of onions for 49c.

It is the retailers whether it be Tesco or Amazon that hold the keys to the kingdom, they set the prices, they hold all the power, and we the consumer give it to them. They only care about the bottom line driven by profit. But when the damage is done, when the soil will no longer produce the food, what good will all the money be then?

Did you know that supermarket buying practices force the last few cents from the farmer? New supermarket buyers get targets to improve margins, they go straight to the farmer and demand better discounts. Is it really any wonder that young farmers might be disillusioned with the trade? There is a strike next week by farm workers in Spain demanding fairer working conditions and wages, all of this is driven by our cheap food system.

This practice of selling produce below its value, once unthinkable, makes cheap fresh food acceptable in the eyes of the consumers, and how would we be expected to think otherwise? It is everywhere we look, it has effectively been normalised.

On our farm this year we produced just short of a quarter of a million-euro worth of produce. We broke even, and that is with the farm team working flat out, and having crops grow well, it was a good year. If we had to sell all our produce at supermarket prices, we would have been gone a long time ago, so would the jobs and the people.

Imagine, instead of a race to the bottom, a system that allows for investment in the farms, in the people on the farms, in the biodiversity. A system that does not allow 12 pallets to be dumped because of a blemish on a few pieces, that does not require workers to strike for fair working conditions.

All we need, is to say “no more” to loss leading fresh produce.

I do feel a little better now for getting that off my chest and thank you for listening.

Thank you for your support, thank you for buying our produce, thank you for supporting local jobs, thank you for supporting local food production, thank you for supporting sustainable food production and thank you for sticking with us all year.

You make our farm possible.

Have a magical and safe Christmas.

Kenneth