Shooting George Monbiot’s Vegan Fox?

12th June 2018

Love him or hate him, George Monbiot always provides thought provoking articles. Yet, they are sometimes dangerously wrong, sometimes inaccurate and sometimes at risk of an accusation of being untruthful. Monbiot’s article  illuminates the fallibility of his truth, in ignoring the complexity and nuance of the detail; potentially misleading and misinforming the public.


The premise of Monbiot’s article is based on the paper published in Science .  From a personal point of view, I totally agree with his views regarding the abhorrence of large scale, industrialised meat production.  Animals that are intensively housed and fed on a diet that relies heavily on cereals and plant proteins, produced on land could otherwise produce food for humans. We can, and must, eat less meat, meat than does not compete with us for our food. There my agreement ends.

Monbiot uses figures regarding the production of greenhouse gasses, mainly CO2, to argue that a plant-based diet will reduce emissions by 50%, (theoretically). Personally, I have no problem veganism, each of us has the right to make their own choices, however those choices should be made on the right information. If you take a step back, one should question the premise that by changing to a vegan diet we will save the world. In actuality, moving to a fully vegan diet plays a limited role in the overall effects of reducing or halting global warming. It may in some way reduce the rise in CO2, but no more. We are approaching some critical tipping points. In 60 years, CO2 in the atmosphere has risen from 280 – 411ppm    and it will keep on rising, as we are still burning fossil fuels at an unsustainable rate.  Overall, we are adding some 10 billion t of C to the atmosphere every year. Not only that, but if we stopped adding carbon today, the buffer of C held in the oceans, from our emissions, 30,000 billion t, will still be released on a timescale of between 100 and 1000 years. This will not reduce CO2 to pre-industrial levels and stop global warming. With the additional greenhouse gases from the potential melting of the methane sinks in the Arctic tundra, we could soon be facing a point of no return.

Both Regenerative Farming, and Rewilding, will be able to help reverse and soak up these surplus carbon emissions, along with additional role transpired water from these grasslands will play in planet cooling. For a full understanding of the climate science behind Regenerative farming see Australian soil scientist and Climatologist Walter Jehne –

George Monbiot’s article is disparaging of Regenerative Agriculture, due to it being constrained by fences Whereas Rewilding, will be the saviour of nature and mankind, will have predators and trees will grow, allowing species to redevelop where currently there are none.  Surely rivers, coasts and mountains all act as natural fences, restricting movement of larger herbivores such as deer, wild horses and buffalo? The article maintains the vituperation of Holistic grazing, whilst promulgating the belief that Rewilding is the answer. Yet in truth, based on the science, the difference between them regarding climate amelioration is negligible.

This is the crux of the matter. Rewilding is based on the establishment of areas where grassland and prairies are taken out of outmoded set stocking grazing practices and allowed to regenerate. Large herbivores, buffalo, horses and deer all graze the open land, growing grasses, while wolves, lynx and other apex predators kill and eat the bounty of the land. Regenerative Farmers mimic wild grazing systems, establishing deep rooted pasture, introducing trees with Agroecological principles.  Large herbivores, cows, graze the pastures. By moving them on to fresh ground every day, just as they would in nature, using fences instead of rivers, killing the bounty of the land, us with meat to eat and milk to drink. In both systems soil carbon and water increase, increase natural fertility, with no artificial fertilisers or pesticides. In addition, no cereals or protein crops are fed, thus freeing all crop land to produce food for us. Our diets would move to be plant based and include extremely high-quality meat and dairy. The ideal would be from as local as source as possible. This is a long way from the support Monbiot gives in his article for highly processed ready meals, because of the lack of cooking skills in our population. This is straight from the corporate “solution” playbook, akin to sugary soft drink manufacturers saying lack of exercise causes obesity.

Is this disdain of Regenerative Agriculture down to the challenge he perceives it to be to his rewilding ideals, which he reinforces  by reference to discredited, reductionist research papers against Holistic farming?  Mr Monbiot would be more effective in his desire to stop global warming and buy into the rapid reduction of carbon in the atmosphere he would be supportive of regenerative agriculture.  It may not perfect, but Regenerative Agriculture is far better than the grain feeding, industrialised alternatives. Support for the production of real meat, from Regenerative Farming, would drive consumption, and drive the market demand,  stimulating the rise of climate friendly farming.

The production of methane is raised as a negative argument against rearing ruminants. Methane from the grazing cows, but also rewilded buffalo, horses, wildebeest, deer, from regenerated land, is oxidised by the raising water vapour, many times over the amounts the cows produce. Methane from herbivores in this system, is not a contributor to global warming.  (See link above to Walter Jehne.)

I struggle also with Monbiot’s simplistic arguments for how soil fertility can be supplied solely by growing legumes such as peas and beans. Whilst this is part of the story, it is not the full picture- as ever the practical reality is in the detail.  I am not sure of Mr Monbiot’s Agricultural qualifications, apart from his stint on an intensive pig farm, but I have been in the farming and food industry for 40 years, hold a BSc in Agriculture, and twenty years of organic vegetable growing experience.

You cannot sustain a vegetable growing rotation with the legumes, peas and beans supplying the nitrogen to grow following crops. To build the fertility of an organic rotation, use of a mixture of clovers (a legume that fixes nitrogen)  and grass down for a period of at least two years, is also required.   Green manures help build soil organic matter, (Carbon) and retain nitrogen, but do not build N levels in the soil. Inputs of composted material will help boost fertility and build soil life and they need to come from outside the farm or the cropping area. There are Certified Stockless Organic Systems, (which are farms that do not rely on animal manures) but they do rely on external inputs that are not from animal origin.  Nevertheless, the main fertility is not from peas and beans grown for food as part of the rotation.  This is especially true when considering the main cereal crops grown for food; putting aside the questions of excessive carbohydrate consumption and the TD2 epidemic from processed carbohydrates   The cereal food crops, wheat, oats and rye, demand high levels of nitrogen fertility. Peas and beans grown in the mix of crops supply around 30-50 kg of Nitrogen per ha for the following cereal, which needs around 150 kg N per ha to grow to a reasonable yield. Organic farmers obtain this from the clover leys. The clover ley is essential also resting the soil, building carbon and reducing weed burden in following crops. The best utilisation of these clover leys is by grazing stock using regenerative agroecological agricultural methods.

My final concern is Monbiot’s naivety in the promotion of artificial meat. At what point does he think it will be in the ownership of small open sourced businesses?  Not only does artificial meat rely on the use of genetic engineering and stem cells from animals for its origins,, so not cruelty or animal free, it is seen as one of the biggest investment growth areas of big food

Our food system is already badly broken. With the move to artificial meats and associated Intellectual Property dividends, that are and will continue to be in the ownership of the corporate behemoths whose actions over the past 60 years have destroyed our true food system, this is only going to continue into the future. Monbiot’s article risks singing along to the globalised corporate tune loud and clear.

I appeal to Mr Monbiot in future, to be clear, not obfuscate, to engage rather than throw stones from the side-lines, to recognise the detail, use less rhetoric and to use his undoubted intellect and power to for a collective and positive end. And who knows, his vegan fox might well be welcome in the hen house!

A Season of Reflection

For many reasons the last three years have been a time of personal change and great growth for me. Over the last six months this change has been accelerating to arrive at a point where I would have thought totally impossible even twelve months ago.

I was aware of my “journey” and was embracing it, however it was accelerated on its way by one friend in particular, who has helped me push my boundaries, and helped me raise my own questions to which I have sought some answers, and for this I am truly indebted.

Any regular readers of my blogs will know my rantings are usually aimed at specific targets, or possibly aimed at low hanging fruit, the “easy pickings”. But now I am going to try and raise the bar slightly and encompass a wider range of thoughts and questions that have crossed my mind over my Season of Reflection.

Much of my thinking has been dominated by why should I bother? What is the point of trying to change the world, when we are faced with seemingly overwhelming odds stacked against us, from Brexit to Trump, the world is spiralling downward, let’s just say what the hell, lets go with it and enjoy the ride to the end of life as we know it. Much of this negative thinking was the realisation that I, as an individual, have such little effect on things, that one maybe senses the insignifacnce we all are as individuals. My blogging, twittering and work, all seemingly well intentioned, were all rages against the machine into the “echo chamber”, all to no real purpose, and potentially at a negative cost to me as an individual. It was pointed out to me this was possibly the wrong approach, as it was not achieving much headway in affecting the world, and would end in my total disillusionment.

I listed to these words and decided I did need to reset my approach. First action was to have a Twitter “holiday”, stopping the instant reflex action at every quiet moment to log in and react, retweet, argue or support the prevailing message of the moment. After all, did I really have anything to add?

My second action was to try and get more in touch with the natural world. Initially this seemed slightly odd, as I have spent my life living and working in the countryside, so why do I need to get even more in touch? In many ways, with the changes in my working life, in all honesty I was welcoming being just that bit removed from farming and the natural world, as on a personal level, much of my farming career was dominated by the daily trials  and tribulations the weather could throw at you. One of the greatest reliefs today is that my life is not dominated by weather forecasts, thinking about it last thing at night, waking in the middle of the night to listen for rain, and again first thing in the morning, when opening the curtains, with that sinking feeling as rain hitting the window greets you.

My connectedness to the natural world has started by simply being in the natural world, not necessarily in the wilds, I was in touch from home. In its simplest form it entails walking barefoot. Touching the ground and walking several miles around my village has proved a remarkably liberating, after a lifetime of being reluctant to go near hard ground with stones on it. My feet seemed to adapt to fit around lumps and bumps on the floor, and my mind learned to become detached from any pain perceived and more importantly imagined. With practice I have managed quite long walks in the Dales barefoot, although would advise avoiding dead thistles!

Secondly I have found immersion in fresh water streams and lakes acts as in many ways as a “earthing” your body and mind. A far different feeling to being in a swimming pool.

Now I am fully appreciative that these findings are nothing new to anyone but myself.  They were a revalation to me.

Alongside this reconnection with nature I have spent the summer reading a series of books that have refreshed my determination to keep pursuing a better world, as my understanding of were we are now, has been reaffirmed.

The most refreshing and reinvigorating for me was Charles Eisenstein’s Ascent of Humanity. The book tries to breakdown the reasons why we have got to where we are now, as well as explaining how we have ended up being separated from the natural world and how many believe still man must and will dominate nature. Some may argue the author does sometimes move into areas that are harder to understand especially in the spiritual connectedness. However, this failure to understand is also potentially me needing to learn more.

My next read was Theory U Leading from the Future written by Professor at MIT C Otto Schaefer who explores their developed process now promoted and practiced the Prescencing Institute. It is a methodology that allows many stakeholders in an area, business, organisation, or community to promulagate collective change across problem areas.

The third book, Naomi Klien “This Changes Everything” on how climate change deniers from the corporate world are actively acting against any and all attempts to halt reduce CO 2 emissions.

My Season of Reflection has culminated with a symposium at Chisholme House, Hawick, with Colin Tudge, discussing the need for a Renaissance in Food and Farming. The five days of discussion with a wide range of interested and highly experienced audience.

I had originally ended this essay with a call for collective action, but on reading to a friend, they pointed out it was just like me walking lost through a dark forest, finally coming out the other side, seeing a beautiful house and then walking away without exploring.

I realised she was absolutely right, and actually I was not really exploring what the my Summer of Reflection had started to tell me. Had all this Reflection, thought and exploring actually meant anything,  had I learnt anything?, and what was the point of my writing at all.

I was then introduced to a group of writers, performers and publishers called Dark Mountian. Their manifesto can be seen at Reading through some their published works, I was aware this was where my path had been going for the last year. I had become totally disenchanted with the whole battle for the future of the planet, for the environment, and the future of the human species. Being one who thinks across boundaries, sees the linkage between everything, I was becoming totally aware of the complexity and many obfuscations that were in place preventing any sensible collective joined up actions that would eventually bring about outcomes that were desirable. Looking at the sustainability agenda of many those claiming to want to move forward it was really just same as before, with a green tinge. And I  am able to criticise, as that is exactly the work that I do, ensure that organically produced food is what it claims. I am one of the so called good guys! And I am completely aware much of the production is not much removed from production it claims to be better than.

Why was I thinking like this, and why had my Relective Summer lead me to this conclusion? Was it the reconnection to the natural world, in my own small way that had lead me to the realisation no matter what I do, what groups do, or what mass action is taken, we, as a race, are on the wrong path? It is not just the separation individuals have from the natural world but my own understanding of my version of Uncivilisation, as Dark Mountian term it,  at this point in our story, that is leading me to loose the passion I once felt. It is not just the size of the environmental battle we face, but whether it is the right battle? We should be not just redefining the battle either, but redefining the whole premise of who we as the human race are, and how we interact with the world. The pressure we as a race exert of the world, given the 7 billion of us, with the predicted growth to 9 billions in the not too distant there seems little hope of any redefinition of how we should be with the Earth.

I then started to ask myself, given the premise of the world as we know it, even if we followed the green agenda to is maximum, would still not be in a much better place, the resultant disruption to Earths biosphere probably as disruptive, maybe at a slower pace, or be completed with a better concienece?

Does this make it better, in my opinion, and of a few others, no! There need to be voices; calling to ourselves, calling to the crowd, calling to the future, saying where should we be, to bring us a human species into synchronisity with the Earth, all its life and its cycles. We need a new Genesis to be written, where humans no longer have dominion over the world and all life. It needs to be written large, we are part of the Earth, and its biosphere, no more no less. Starting from this point we can then we can redefine how the Earth can help us be part of it, because the truth is, we are going to be shown, in the not too distant future, that the Earth does not want us to be part of it.

EU Referendum -more than about money?

Having the EU Referendum foisted upon us, by a Prime Minister who has been backed into a corner by a rebellious party, on a thin majority , means we, the voting public, now have the opportunity to decide our countries future. By some it is seen as our route to salvation, by others a great threat to future stability of Europe and the UK.

I have been watching the debate on costs, benefits, sovereignty and patriotism that has been extolled by both sides of the debate and now wonder how I should be voting. It has also set me considering the mental processes we all should go through to try and determine how we should vote.

The Prime Ministers “hard won” concessions from the rest of the EU leaders in February are claimed by In supporters to show how we can be part of the EU while still retain a special relationship with it, compared to other EU members. This maybe true, and one may also question how much of it was basically arranged to make the process look tougher and harder than it really was. I am sure most other EU countries were prepared to make our negotiations work, to allow the PM to come back to the UK claiming a significant victory. Out supporters also had the chance to claim they changes were not sufficient to prevent our continued loss of sovereignty and all the other evils of the EU.

We are now hearing of the positive effects there will be if we leave; the negative effects if we stay; the negative effects if we leave and the positive effects if we stay! Confused?

It maybe my nature, but I think we should be looking at a deeper level than just the positive or negative, the fluff of news headlines,  sound bites or statistics and the lies that are hitting the headlines, getting the shares or re-tweets; but we should be looking at the intuitive reasoning we all have in our being.

When I look back at our history; and I believe it is a great history; the UK has lead the World in so many areas, our influence, good and bad, has played important roles in most areas of society, science, politics, industry etc etc. Now that history has always been linked with us leading the way starting within the country, the ideas then moving abroad being, and taken up by others. I don’t accept revisionist historians, we did what we did because it was what we thought was the best course of action at the time. (what would they revise when looking back at us 200 years hence?) But our lead for much of the last 400 years has come about because we are a melting pot, with influences, thoughts and genetics from many different peoples of the world. One may argue that this mix of culture going back over 2000 years, compared to many other countries, along with our island status, has left us with a unique view on the World and how it should work.

Those that claim we should be able to claim back our sovereignty by leaving Europe are, I perceive, in denial of that history. When were we truly sovereign? When did we have a chance to operate without regard to our relationships to others in the world?  Looking back-

Post War- Membership of NATO, the United Nations and EU

WW2, no matter how we play it and with the admittance of Churchill, we needed the USA?

Post WW1 with the formation of the League of Nations- working together;

19th Century- Ruled by a German Royal family

18th Century – Dutch Royal Family

14th – 17th Century Strong influence of Catholic Church

Medieval Period – French influence of ruling families and land owners

Dark Ages – Viking Rule – Danelaw

55-54 BC Julius Caesar’s Roman expedition to Britain

Iron Age- tribal Kingdoms

We have never been a totally sovereign nation, where we have been free to make choices without external countries or peoples having an effect of what we do.

I cannot see for one moment how leaving the EU will allow the UK to regain a sovereignty that is truth we have never really possessed. Yes it might mean we can scrap the working time directive for example, but workers can opt out now anyway, and actually many people quite like not having to work more hours than necessary! We might reduce the constraints of lorry drivers hours, until a driver falls asleep and causes multiple deaths on a motorway; In truth many of the EU imposed rules are quite liked by people, even if they don’t quite appreciate the reasoning.

Some have argued that the rules are not followed by other countries, firstly as a member of the EU lets get that changed by engaging, secondly, if we are not members, what influence will we have?

I cannot understand those that claim we can work better with the rest of the world and don’t need the European market as much as they need us. They are our nearest neighbour. In terms of practicality, ease of access, it must make more sense to trade with, on an open basis those closest to you. As more of the world progresses and rises the economic ladder costs of all commodities including fuel will rise. Movement of good will become, and is becoming an important factor in the price of industrial production. Not only that, but currently if we wish to export products to the EU we must meet EU rules of quality of construction. Some are claiming this is unnecessary Red Tape, but this will still be in place if we wish to export to the EU, but we could scrap all these regulations for the UK, meaning production will have to be to two levels one for export to EU and one for home/rest of world. So Red Tape will still be in place. I spend two -three days a week in factories in the UK and Europe and no one ever mentions to me the excessive red tape they face. I cannot see that for the majority of workers and consumers in the UK any Brexit Government will do more than tinker at the extremes of rules, without huge public backlash, once they start to see what is at stake.

The scariest faction with in the Leave campaign, as I see them, are the Free Marketeers, who want to open the UK up to a totally free trade position. This group, with a tendency to be big- big oil, big business, big pharma, big ag. believe basically in the market, letting the devil take the hindmost. This group, do not mind if we loose the EU regulation, as it is too controlling for their likes, it asks too many questions, or ensures safety or rights or the environment get some say before profit. They want the lowest cost, at any cost to be able to make their products on the shelf. If it means lets have more imports of cars from China, with their emission levels, lets make it happen; lets have cheap foods for processing and if the farmers of the UK can’t match the price so what? No matter the environmental or welfare costs at the point of production. But, they say, we can export to any country in the world, without the rules of the EU putting our prices up. We will have trade agreements with other countries and send all our quality products to China and India. If they are quality products, then they are produced to a high quality, therefore not cheap to produce, therefore EU rules will have little effect on cost of production; and quality production does not employ the whole working population and finally, are we not doing that at present. Secondly, we may as a country get some short term windfall export deals, but in the longer term, China, India and the like will move their standard requirements upwards and do the free traders think that the EU will not have a strong influence upon how they develop their own rules. As at this present moment in time, they know if they wish to sell into the EU they have to meet our standards.

What of the EU if we leave? In all the guessing and posturing that is occurring, I have yet to hear what of the future of the 27 remaining countries may hold. I suspect their Governments are really quite worried. It we vote leave, there will be pressure from many parties, especially on the right to force votes in other countries. Will it then strain the Euro, would it collapse as Governments start to pull away from the centre, to appease those wanting to leave? Will it bring about the disintegration of the EU? Those wanting us to  leave, no doubt will be smiling saying we knew it wouldn’t last! But what comes next? With migration pressure, at least the EU can been seen to be working together, yes with difficulty, but at least together. And in future years, with climate change ( Not that Vote leavers Lawson, Farage and  Paterson believe in it)  who is to say what we have seen from Syria would not pale into insignificance! The breakup of the EU would set the continent and us back politically, maybe 100 years and look where that lead us.

No I do not live in an ivory tower, the world and the EU are not perfect, many things could be changed, but at the bottom of it all we must and should work together as closely as we can, for the world is getting smaller and our role and direct influence, becoming less and less. Although we have an illustrious past we must recognise  today we have around 0.000001% of the worlds population! We need the EU.

This brings me to my final point, the future! How can we as a country, in this more and more integrated world become more isolationist. Should we become the North Korea of Europe? All our lives are becoming more and more inter linked with national boundaries being seen by the younger generations are less and less important. We realise how the vast majority of other countries and peoples are just like us, with the same dreams, wishes and desires. Yes we do like our identity, but it is becoming a personal identity, with our immediate surroundings less important, our lives interlinked by social media and much wider travel than ever in the past. The minds of the younger generation are open to much more that mine ever was at their age. This referendum should be about them and I have stated before, that it should only those under 50 should be allowed to vote, as they are the ones in 10 or 20 or 30 years times that will feel the full force of any decision made on the 23rd June.









What Is Happening to Retailer Honesty?

Loss of Truth from Retailers


This blog was inspired by a simple post that came across my Twitter feed of a Tesco customer showing proudly how they had bought some wonky veg. I made a comment of how they were being mislead as the carrots were not wonky and from there I realised how much of a confidence trick they retailers were playing on customers who care about what they buy. This was the picture:

Tesco wonky veg

Thank you to Rita Hagan for permission to use the picture and for accepting my challenge of her tweet with politeness and interest.

As you can see the wonky carrot on the bag picture does not reflect what is in the bag.

When Rita tweeted Tesco asking for clarification, the arrogance of the reply was astounding

Hi Rita, I am sorry it appears these carrots didn’t get the memo. I hope they suffice. Thanks – Steph”

So this lead to my thoughts:

The majority of the food we purchase comes from the big six retailers in the UK. With this domination of the market, they in turn, have the ability to communicate with us, the consumers, in a away that is probably only been held in the past by Government. Apart from family, friends and employers, we potentially spend more time under their influence than any other factor in our lives.

The retailers have transformed and refined the act of buying food to such an extent that most shoppers probably do not start to understand or, I suspect, want now, to think about the issues that surround this simple act. As such we rely totally on what retailers tell us, that they are acting in responsible and caring ways, helping us get the best, most ethical, environmentally safe food and is the cheapest it will be.

When walking round any food retailer, the messages we get are multi factorial, many subliminal and all designed to help us make the “right choice” for us. We then make our choice, feeling we have done our bit for the brand/farmer/environment/fair price/cost/family/ease of use/treat/guilty pleasure/……./……../…….. (insert your own words).  These purchasing decisions are aided by our concerns from external influences, press, social media, TV….. when causes rise to the top for their 15 mins of fame, new trends appear and the cycle continues.

Now I understand the pressure retailers have been under for the past few years and the shareholder pressure the “big four” have been under. Having worked inside the food industry for many years it is no surprise they have got to this stage now. However it does seem the processes they developed over the years are now starting to unravel. Retailers are madly trying to row themselves out of their own created creeks with paddles that are becoming more flimsy and canoes with more holes than any time in their history.

My past blogs have majored on the methods by which retailers have encouraged waste in the produce supply chain, by use of artificial specifications, pricing, best before dates, order and sales disparity and a myriad of subtle and not so subtle means to their perceived advantage over the competition and drive to achieve more sales. General customers do not appreciate or understand most of these actions and when they are told something by the retailer assume they are being told the truth especially when these messages are coinciding with the general media zeitgeist  Trust in where their food comes from, i.e. the retailer is paramount.

Retailers claim they have the their customers best intentions at heart and all their customers must be free to chose the produce that suits them the best, all they is doing is facilitating the customers right and ability to choose. This is correct on a surface level, it is all there somewhere in their offer, where it be Basics, Fair Trade, Wonky Veg, Organic, Taste the Difference………….all is on the shelf for us to buy. Our purchases then enter the “big data” number crunching that they use to decide what they should be doing, what trends are occurring, how their use of media, in store adverts, TV ads, campaigning and all the other ways of communicating with us are working. This then allows them to plan forward strategies, so while seeming to set the agenda, all they really do is follow the crowd…Us!

Now all of a sudden wonky veg has come up the priority list for the retailers and they have to be seen to do something about it. My first blog regarding the waste in the produce supply chain,  http://Vegetables, Best Before Dates and Food Waste was posted in Jan 2015. It was prompted by my reading of Tristram Stuart’s book on food waste and my realising no one from within the industry was saying it how it is.

With Tristram’s and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s  War on Waste campaigning the retailers have responded by introducing “wonky veg” selections alongside “normal” vegetables. These tend to be sold at lower prices and promoted as ensuring more of the crop is being used, reducing waste in the supply chain, environmentally friendly etc etc…… However they are all stretching the truth, at best, and lying to customers at worst.

In principle I initially welcomed the principle of what was happening, with some reservations, knowing how they work. But what is now happening is the creation of specific lines of “wonky veg” that are not actually wonky! They are playing the game with consumers and selling them vegetables that are either not from their supply chain, or that are being called wonky, to meet a another niche product line. This leaves the consumer feeling they have done good things for the planet, the farmer and reduced waste. In truth all is has done in the main, is to create an untruth, that treats all involved with disrespect and a cynical contempt.

I have purchased “wonky veg” from retailers to use for myself, to see how wonky it is. Now bearing in mind I have been growing and supplying vegetables for over 30 years and packing vegetables for retailers for over ten years, I think I have the right to claim some degree of knowledge in this area.

If we look at typical wonky veg lines of roots, carrots, onions and potatoes supplied to retailers they are graded at least twice before they reach the shelf. Firstly on farm when harvested, surplus soil, tops and obvious rotten, broken damaged ones are removed, the produce is then generally either dried and stored (potatoes and onions) or moved directly for further processing, ( carrots).

They then enter the packing factory. Potatoes and carrots are washed, size graded, by diameter and passed through an inspection line, which used to consist of people throwing out badly damaged, mis-coloured and unsuitable roots. This is now mainly done using automated optical graders that can sort electronically individual vegetables, computer controlled, that can measure and remove finely tuned defects to different grades, retail, wholesale waste etc.  After this they are packed into bags, ready for distribution.

These advertising films from Tong and Haith UK machinery manufacturers freely available on You Tube show carrot and potato packing in operation.

It can be seen the way carrots are split graded with small diameter ones being removed and the final hand grade removing slightly bent ones to waste. Carrot growing is now so developed the vast majority of the crop is suitable to be sold without any being thrown out as a waste or wonky veg as can be seen when looking at the crop leaving the washer, at this point no carrots have been removed, how many truly wonky ones can be seen, actually very few. The size grading is where most waste is artificially introduced. Retailer specifications prescribe exactly to the mm the diameter allowed in bags. If a carrot is under generally 20 mm  sold as stock feed, or over 35 mm at the crown may go for further processing, or wholesale sales. It is a similar method for potatoes.

These films show typical pack house operations today, fast, efficient and able to provide exactly what their retail customer requires, down to the last minor blemish or mm of size.

At no point in any of these films did we see lots of what retailers imply is wonky veg. The reason is, for the crops shown the “wonky veg” is more down to the minor blemish on the skin or the slight difference in size determined by the retailer specification. It is nothing more than that. What is happening is the retailer is slightly changing these parameters, or creating new parameters and calling them wonky.

Couple these new crop parameters with branding, such as is being used by Tesco, Morrisons and ASDA customers are being fooled into thinking they are being sold something they are not.

Retailers should be removing the artificial wonky specifications are should just pack the crop into bags. Remove the obvious rots, badly damaged, but leave the rest in. It may mean they have two sizes in bags, small produce and big produce, but that is all. If we as customers think about it, when we cook carrots, what do we do, we peel and slice them up, so does it matter the size of the original? How many times do you cook whole carrots or onions.

The other knock on effect of the creation of artificial wonky veg is the reduction in the overall price of the crop, which in turn feeds back to the grower. It may seem that the price on the shelf of this wonky veg is much lower than “normal veg” beside it. However all this does is reduce the price paid overall to the grower. There has been huge deflation in food prices over the last three years and as I spend my time with many large vegetable growers, I am greatly aware none are making any money. The retailer pressures, mean few are enjoying the pleasure of growing good food, that most came into the industry to do.

Most over the last 5 years say they have at best broken even, or at worst lost money in 4/5 of the last years.  They do not request huge price increases, 5 to 10% will mean they are able to make a reasonable return. If things carry on the way they are, in five years time we will not have a vegetable growing industry in the UK. It will have been exported!  There is little new investment, or new entrants coming into the businesses and when the current owners have had enough, they will retire and following generations will do something easier. This is true across all sectors if you are organic or non organic.

Retailers must be made to see how their actions are dishonest to their customers, deceiving them, by claiming to solve a problem they create, in the case of wonky carrots, potatoes and onions they currently sell, whilst still maintaining artificial specifications for other crops, such as cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, bananas and many other imported and home produced crops.  I was at a large cucumber packer recently and the pack house manager said to me 50% of the cucumbers they out grade during the imported season are suitable to be eaten and sold, but are just slightly bent, or not quite the right weight. For them this can equate to several 20 cubic meter skips going to landfill every week. (being wrapped when delivered to pack house they can’t be reused as stock feed).  This is the real obscenity the retailers do not wish you to see or know about.

As customers we all have the choice what we buy, however we must have an educated choice and that education has to come from places we trust. With retailers we expect the information we receive to be trustworthy, but with wonky vegetables retailers are letting us down, letting themselves down and ultimately letting their shareholders down.







Why Should I Vote – Election 2017

Another Election Another Dilemma

So Theresa May has called a surprise election. I am now in a dilemma.

Should I Vote?

I believe in politics and politicians. I believe we should all be involved in the political process. Against the popular opinion, I am sure most politicians do try and help the country and move us forwards. I would not like to be a politician.

We are in a complex world, with many claiming the Political system in broken, with many challenges to the so-say established order taking place, from Brexit to Trump.

If you believe some on the left, much is due to the effects of Neo-liberalism, others the end of Capitalism,  some that climate change is bringing us to the point of collapse others that we should not worry about the fake climate change hoax and lets roll forward with globalisation and let the free market rule. All combined to form potentially complex arguments, keeping “Those braying sheep on my TV screen” to quote Paul Weller, telling us all what is happening in the Westminster bubble.

With our greatest ever connectivity across the world, many more people now see the answers as increasingly complex, multi-factorial counter-intuitive and more often than not cross many old party boundaries, so the argument is that “the thinking voter” could actually pick policies from each party and agree with them.

But we only have one vote.

So do we pick the party with the most appealing policies or the one with the least non appealing ones.

But you may well say, that life is always thus and we have to make our decisions based on what we think.

And I would agree.

But my question still stands, not because of indecision, (although some may argue that is part of my Libran starsign- I can’t decide!)

So tell me why I should Vote-

The Constituency I live in at the 2015 Election returned the following result-

Turnout of 54,559 =71.6%

The majority was 20,761 = 55.4% of the vote

The Seat is the 92nd safest Tory seat in the country.

My single vote will not make any difference to the outcome of the election.

My single vote will not register on Westminster.

My single vote will not ensure my views are considered by the next government.

I am disenfranchised.

Should I vote?




Garlic-Fresh is Best?

Garlic, it could be argued is one of the most enigmatic plants; used in almost all cuisines of the world, adding so much to many meals, from hidden subtlety to the strident onslaught of flavours, loved by many hated by some. In recent years it has become part of the mainstream in the UK, as our food culture has blossomed, with most home cooks having bulbs to hand.

But what is behind the ubiquitous white bulb, lurking in the dark recess of our fridges? It is available now like so many foods 52 weeks of the year, facsimiles of perfectly smooth skinned, millimeter graded precision, one, two or three bulbs netted and tagged within an inch of its life on supermarket shelves. I hope to try a lift some of the mysteries of its history, production and how to get the best from it.

My history with garlic is probably in line with the UK’s own recent food renaissance of the last 40 odd years. In my dim and distant childhood, with basic wholesome, but (sorry mum!) conservative and tasteless food, a Vesta Curry was possibly the nearest to garlic I came! (And I doubt any was in that either!) After University in the mid 80’s I ran a PYO farm near Oxford, where we grew garlic. It used to come as seed, ready split, and we planted a few rows, along with the 50 or 60 other crops we grew. Only some came up, we ended up with a few not very exciting bulbs, and sold them after picking and drying them on a shed floor for a few weeks. It was never very profitable, but we always had some customers who would rave about it and snap it up. They were mainly Europeans, and being near Oxford, often visiting academics. Few of the locals bought it.

Scroll forwards twenty years and I am now involved in packing and processing vegetables. As an offshoot I am asked to carry out some consultancy work for a business supplying garlic pre-packed to one of the big four retailers. They were unhappy with their supply chain of Spanish garlic, and had decided to develop with a local company, producing it in the eastern Bulgaria. The new EU member was looking for new ways of developing it’s agricultural economy. I became involved when the area grown was moved from trial stages to 60 ha, to provide agronomic and farming advice. After spending a couple of years with this project I had the opportunity to rent some land in the UK and so decided to grow garlic in Yorkshire. This I did for three years, until the weather and various other business distractions caused me to stop growing. After this time my contact with the crop was only in the packing and supply to retailers.

After these experiences how much do I know about garlic? In truth, not much, but a bit more than some I guess! No one does need to know much, but with a little knowledge, the return, in terms of the enjoyment will ensure the use of the right garlic in our cooking will be repaid a thousand fold.

A good book is a suitable place to start this quest, and for me the best reference you can have is The Complete Book of Garlic by Ted Jordan Meredith. For details on natural history, different types and modern strains it is an excellent book. It is American centric and maybe surprisingly, shows how the USA has a far higher and far more diverse garlic culture than us or maybe even the perceived home, France!


Details of the crops history are detailed in this excellent tome. In short it originates from the European/China borders, growing in harsh hot dry summers, combined with very cold winters. As a result it is a very robust plant, that survives the winter, with little or no foliage and then grows very rapidly when the spring warmth starts. The bulb and the cloves form very late in the plants growth, the last few weeks bring about rapid transition. Harvest is critical to quality of the bulbs. The skins covering the bulb, enclosing all the cloves are paper thin and are easily stained, not a problem to the eating quality, or far worse, disappear if the bulb is exposed for long, to wet conditions when mature. If this outer skin is lost, the individual cloves are then exposed to pressure from diseases and general rots, they will split apart and quickly become unusable.

Supermarket Garlic in The UK

In the UK the majority of the garlic we buy will be from supermarkets. If in line with other vegetables, in excess of 80% of what we consume will be from this source. Of the garlic available, the vast majority will be from Spain, or China. And this will be mainly of one type, Morado. It is a hardneck type, as can be determined by the pencil like core from where the flower spike has or will developed. It has 10-12 small cloves in a double row, and stores well, after harvesting in June. It has an average potentially strong flavour, not really subtle, not really refined, very much, as we get it here, a poor relation to the many other fantastic varieties available.

Types of Garlic

There are many many many varieties of garlic. They have all originated from a similar region of the world. Garlic reproduces vegetatively, i.e. there is no sexual reproduction, as although it flowers, the seeds are rarely if ever produced. It does produce bulbils, on the scrapes (flower stems) that are exact copies of the parent plant, and will produce plants that take a couple of years to produce a plant with split cloves. So varieties that are around today, are taken direct from finds in nature. The is no breeding programs, (as far as I am aware), so all today’s varieties are direct from wild strains, with limited selection of individual lines.For example the following link to a paper detailing the genetic similarity and diversity of 211 varieties held in American collections.

Click to access jashsgarlic.pdf

What this also shows is there are many named varieties that are very similar. Indeed within the UK if a grower keeps the seed and re grows it for three years, they can name the garlic with their own specific name, as they can claim the strain they have is specific to their farm, and because they are all wild strains, there are no plant breeder rights to have to be accounted for.

There are actually 11 basic types of garlic, Artichoke, Asiatic, Creole, Glazed Purple Stripe,Marbled, Purple Stripe, Middle Eastern, Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Rocambole, Silverskin and Turban.  They all have different growth habits, flavours, and uses.

Growing in the UK

Best grown in the UK, in my experience, are softneck types, they have no hard flower spike and do not usually flower, (the more you discover about garlic, the more you have to say-usually- as under different conditions it acts differently, one of it’s natural survival mechanisms)

Suited to the UK, I think, because they do not need the higher temperatures required by hardneck types. Many grown in the UK originate from French strains. Growers in the South of France have some excellent strains, all with their own flavours, strengths and weaknesses.  Examples of these varieties can be found here-

In the USA examples can be seen –

Interestingly in the UK the choices seem far more limited-

Fresh Garlic

This blog was prompted by Twitter discussion on what is fresh garlic.

The freshest most delicately sweetest flavoured garlic you can have is true green garlic.


Picked when about 10 mm across at ground level, the whole plant can be used. It can be eaten raw or cooked. In season in the UK from March through to July, using variety and planting date. Best from March to May.

Moving further into the season – Wet Garlic


Here the bulbs and cloves are defined, but no dry skins, ideal for roasting whole, or general cooking. Should be available in the UK from April to June, the season can be extended by using different varieties and planting dates.

Dried Garlic.

After the crop matures, harvest must be prompt. Garlic can be used from harvest but the outer skins are hard to be cleaned and removed until dry, so it tends not to be available until dried. This gap of about a month is covered by using early and late maturing varieties, thus overlapping the times when crop is being dried.

Once dried the storage capabilities of garlic are very much dependent on variety. Storage at cool ambient temperatures is sufficient for all varieties on a garden scale.

So the freshest dry garlic should be available from August or September in the UK. By using different varieties, you should be able to extend the storage season right through until the spring. Maturation of each specific variety will depend on how it stores. It really is similar to apples in this respect. There are short season apples such as Worcesters, that do not store, to Cox’s which are medium terms storage to Russets that will store well into the spring. Similarly their harvest seasons become later, with the longer storage time they have.

The unrealistic demands of modern supermarkets have resulted in a variety good for its part of the season, now being stored well past it’s ideal date. Also they use temperatures just below freezing to store, which will have an effect on the biochemistry of the bulb. This stops sprouting and reduces the moisture loss on the bulb, but does very little to improve overall eating quality.

An alternative method of stopping sprouting is by the application of Maleic Hydrazide to the crop in the field. This stops all sprouting, and also means the crop cannot be used for seed. See details –

Chinese Garlic

China is by far the biggest producer and exporter of garlic in the world, and its crops are now appearing more frequently in the UK and Europe. There are tariff barriers applied to garlic at EU borders, but I suspect the general downward pressure on fruit and vegetables from retailers, has pressured EU growers to reduce prices thus reducing the effect of the tariff. The easiest way to see if garlic is from China is to look at the base of the bulb. Chinese garlic is highly trimmed by hand, due to low labour costs. The root base has been totally cut clean. Garlic from any other source still has roots attached. (Note as with all garlic statements this is generally correct)garlic-from-china1


The garlic we eat in the UK, if from main retailers, is generally of average quality. There are a some producers of UK grown garlic, and they can offer a range of varieties, tastes and storage abilities. To obtain fresh garlic, we would have to rely on imported from south America for some of the season. But in reality we do not need to do this.  We should regard stored garlic in the same way we do apples or potatoes, where we rely on stored crops for 7- 8 months of the year. We should do far more to support UK grown garlic farmers, and if we did we would have far a far more vibrant and enjoyable experience with this most enigmatic of vegetables.


The Complete Book of Garlic  Ted Jordan Meredith  Timber Press 2008





Nation (Or World) of Shopkeepers?

images Arkwright

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.”  — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations  1776

We are supposedly a Nation of Shopkeepers, many may suggest it takes us to a golden age when Britain had sovereignty over it’s own affairs, back to the 18th and 19th Centuries when we traded with and had great influence across the world.
Just consider the picture of the classic corner shop, as idealaised in Open All Hours, the doughty Englishman, fighting against all comers, ploughing his own furrow, doing his deals, not listening to those outside his immediate sphere of contact. The analogies are so obvious, let us be clear and free of restraint, free of regulation, let us have laissez-faire economics. Using this model we can become stronger, more influential and can regain our self respect. The biggest barrier to this freedom is the restrictions imposed from an overarching European superstate, ruled by un-elected bureaucrats, the hidden hand controlling our lives, imposing rules, red tape and immigrants on a downtrodden population.
There have been many arguments in recent weeks across the referendum election platforms trying to prove the above and how we would be better off outside the EU.
So the good news is if we leave the EU, once again we will become a Nation of Shopkeepers or more likely and even better, the Nation will become part of the Shopkeepers of the World?

The Return of Arkwright

If we leave the EU, we will be pleased to welcome the return of the Arkwrights again. Every street corner will have it’s little store, every town high street will have it’s independent shops, thriving as we freely buy and sell goods from across the world. Once again we will be able to make our own rules, remove any regulation that hinders trade and commerce, have our own little schemes to make us a quick penny. (Who can forget the great Jamaican Ginger Cake glut of ’73?)
In this great time of freedom, with our Shopkeepers of the World now pushing a newly confident Great Britain forward to a sunlit uplands of prosperity, the old orders will be swept away, cowering inside a declining and broken Europe.
Our newly resurgent economy with its huge population of 60 million will become the envy of the world and countries will beat a path to our door with their goods. Being the 5th richest country, our shopkeepers will be able to sell all they can supply, as with no restrictive regulations, their products can be made and supplied with lower production costs, making us the customer of choice. I can see the Chinese car manufacturers, for example, already polishing the Lifan 320 in readiness for it’s UK Launch.
grmo9cgas2yiiublgynq Lifan 320
Brilliant value at just over £4200, just think how well it will sell at that price, in towns as diverse as Oxford, Sunderland and Dagenham.
So our little independent shopkeepers are now strong in their knowledge they will have freely available the cheapest products from all over the world, supplying to a grateful nation.
“Just hold on there” some has just cried, “what about our current shopkeepers?”
“What about them?” you ask-they will get what they deserve, they are big multi-national conglomerates and have no respect to national boundaries, tradition or understanding of British values. They will not be able to compete with the little free trading British Shopkeepers of the World. They will have no influence of the new politics of a Britain free from Europe, they will not be able to affect the deregulation of our economy, they will have no say in the free market; indeed they will not be interested in maintaining shops in Bulldog Britain, when they have a world of 7.4 billion people to supply
So let us go forward Britain with our 60 million people, free to let our little Shopkeepers of the World unshackled from EU bureaucrats and embrace the products of China, India  and Brazil.
We will be able to consume with the knowledge that we are free at last from the pettifogging EU and its rules and regulations, after all who needs such outdated concepts as environmental and labour protection, when our little shopkeepers know what’s best for them.

“Real Food and Real Farming”

I am sat here with my brain still in conference overload mode!  The past two days I have been to two meetings, both highly stimulating and informative, and both causing some reflection on where we are now in our journey to more sustainable and healthy future. Tying in with these recent conferences is the the Oxford Real Farming Conference.

Zeitgeist is a favourite word of mine, maybe slightly out of date, but it is the best way I can describe the feeling I have when seeing how two different streams of actions and thoughts are converging as they are at the present time. I am sure it is not new, but similarities from the past are also starting to emerge.

My first conference was at York Universities Festival of Ideas range of sessions looking at the sustainability of healthy food production and how it food affects our health. The range of speakers was excellent and of high quality, from Tim Benton, UK Champion of Food Security, Caroline Drummond, of LEAF, Richard Swannell of WRAP, Ben Reynolds of Sustain, Bee Wilson, food writer, Professor Annie Anderson, University of Dundee,  Myles Bremner Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. With this mix of speakers I was expecting an interesting day.

The second conference I attended was the first conference of The Public Health Collaboration. This is a body formed by doctors, nutritionists, patients, researchers and interested members of the public. A cross section of people that may seem surprising given the detail and medical terminology that was flying around the room. Speakers at this conference included, Dr Rangan Chatterjee GP, Dr Zoe Harcombe, Dr’s David and Jen Unwin, GP (NHS Innovator of the Year) and Clinical Psychologist respectively,  Dr Aseem Malhotra Cardiologist and Geoff Whittington, inspiration for the film “Fixing Dad”. With this mix of speakers I did have an inspiring day!

Both meetings were looking at food, our relationship with it, how it affects our health and maybe more importantly how people are informed, what they are told and who tells them the message. Both events were also travelling a similar if slightly divergent path, reflecting some of the “struggles” around changing public policy and I will try to draw out the themes and the big dissonance between the two and how we should try and link it all under the sustainability of our food and health systems.

Similarities Between The Conferences

Public Enemy No 1…..


30% of children and 25% of adults are obese in the UK, as many people are overweight as are under weight in the world, both suffer from malnutrition, it is causing and will continue to cause huge costs in environmental, financial and physical terms to both the planet and to us both personally and collectively as we fund the negative health implications.  The cause of obesity, which has been rocketing upwards in the last forty years is still the matter of discussion, much of it muddied and befuddled by vested interests from food and agricultural businesses, Doctors, scientists politicians and campaigners. Some of this vagary is due to knowledge and learning moving forward, and much is to do with what Ludwig Fleck called the “Thought Collective” effect.

sugar sugar sugar…….

What is clear is sugar is greatly over used and over available in our diets, a fact that has been known (and suppressed) for many years, in the name of profit of business, aided and abetted by some researchers and scientists. We know it is everywhere pushed and sold at every turn, from fast food outlets, newsagents, petrol stations and in much processed food. It cannot be denied it is basically empty calories, not needed by our bodies in the quantities we consume. Policy makers and NGO’s are working hard to try and bring the monster under control, but face an uphill battle.

Differences Between the Conferences

fat fat fat…..well oh…not really…..

At the York conference Tim Benton, Andy Challinor,  Jason Halford and Myles Bremner all had interesting things to say, although sadly, none were given much of a chance to suggest solutions in any depth.

The talks of health and obesity were prefixed many times by many of the speakers saying something like -We should be promoting/eating/legislating for “low sugar low fat; low sugar low fat; low sugar low fat”  with no stopping for breath, almost as if it was some sacred mantra repeated in an unthinking almost brainwashed way.  All those who have befuddled and muddied the waters will be cheering from the rafters.

Moving to the Public Health Collaboration (PHC) conference, it is a newly formed organisation, partly crowdfunded, with no backing from big sponsors, big pharma, ag, or food. It was founded by individuals who collectively have recognised their is something wrong with much of our health advise and management of the resultant diseases of over consumption and the causes including heart disease, strokes, joint and muscle pain and diabetes. Most remarkable, was the range of members, delegates and speakers, from top Doctors, GP’s and interested people. This was a meeting across the spectrum, with specialists realising their has been something broken in the way we treat chronic and acute disease and recognising they do not have all the answers, that patients, enterprising GP’s and others working at the coal face of obesity and health do have solutions.

But not only do they have solutions but they have questions, many questions, about how treatments that have been promulgated by industry, clinicians and nutritionists for many years are actually not correct.

The core of the meeting was “Eat Real Food” unprocessed food, with no added sugar, but with real fat and olive oil. Eat meat and protein from pasture fed stock, eat vegetables and fruit, eat smaller amounts of unrefined carbohydrates, eat dairy, cheese and full fat milk. How refreshing is that? Some will be screaming “it’s not refreshing – it’s revolution!!”

But the problem for the nay-sayers to eating real food is these people are not “tin foil hat”wearing types, but leaders and experienced doctors, who, shockingly to me were admitting they were scared… yes scared to before starting to speak out and start promoting these “heretical” ideas. What does it say that highly educated, intelligent professional practitioners are in fear of being able to speak of their research and findings in public. Even during the presentations, the Doctors were frequently correcting themselves saying    “xxxxxxx”… then saying… “no I can’t say that…” and replacing it with milder less emphatic words. Again it was clear this was not for effect, but for fear of the retribution. In my opinion a sad indictment of the medical system, litigation and trial by social media, that is holding back some real progress in the health system.

I am not intending to revisit the arguments and conclusions from the speakers, but have included links to enable readers to see them for yourself. My aim is to try and draw out the themes that link the two events and the movements behind them

My aims for food are that it:

should be wholesome healthy and nutritious-we should not have far too much, or far too little, but enough.

should be distributed fairly and equitably across all people,

should be locally produced whenever possible,

should not be to highly processed, either by industry or by ourselves,

be diverse and be culturally, socially and spiritually fulfilling,

not be destructive to the planet.

All speakers were looking at some part of the above and it was interesting when talking to delegates at the PHC they were surprised when I said my interest was sustainability of farming systems. Few I suspect, had even thought about the connectivity of the two.

Here is the zeitgeist ( I said it was a favourite word!) Doctors, nutritionists and patients have seen the effects of “Real Food” without really considering the the production of it, whilst those of us working in the sustainable food system have maybe felt judged by suggesting we should just eat “Real Food” produced by Real Farming, organic and ecological, with due concern for all aspects the supply chain, from farm to fork.

It is a coming together of two disparate strands that should now be looking at jointly working together to help promote the best food and diet for the future. Is this a new development, well no it is not, as I alluded to at the beginning, it happened when Sir Robert McCarrison, Physician and Nutritionist,  along with Sir Albert Howard, Biologist and Lady Eve Balfour, farmer, founded the Soil Association and the ideas of organic farming. With the diet proposed by PHC, we should be in a position to provide food that is what it should be, healthy for the planet and for Us.







How to Get the Best Fruit and Vegetables

I seem to spend a lot of time and effort trying to bring peoples attention to the wrongs of supermarkets, the ploys they use to confuse customers and how they reduce the value to growers of their  hard won produce. Given some of the questions that have been posed over the last month or so, I seems a good point to try and be somewhat more positive and using my “insider knowledge” as someone put it recently, to give a guide to how to get the best fruit and vegetables without being lead up the garden path.

Actually “up the garden path” is where we should start! The best fruit and vegetables anyone can obtain are those grown by you in your garden. This comment would not go down well with the industry, but the best,freshest and most nutritious produce is just that. Most of us have access to gardens and there are lots of sources of advice, from TV’s- Gardeners World, online advice, gardening clubs and horticultural magazines.  You should not be frightened, just have a go! Start with simple easy win growing, with radishes on your kitchen window, ready in 6 weeks. Once you have the the growing bug, the skies the limit.  Once you have tasted fresh picked carrots pulled from the ground, or sweetest of sweetcorn,  from the plant, you will never look back. By using cold frames, or greenhouses you can extend the seasons.

However only a few of use are able to stretch the seasons beyond late summer and autumn harvests and have to rely on buying from other sources. Where ever you can try and keep to seasonally grown produce, although this is now far more difficult due to the way the supply chain works now.

Growing your own is, to the relief of the vegetable industry, currently only producing a small amount of the nations fresh produce. Most of us end up buying from supermarkets, around 80% of volumes sold. Greengrocers or home deliveries making up the rest.

The next best way of getting your 5-a-day is too buy from local farmers and growers, from farm shops, farmers or local markets, such as The South Oxford Farmers and Community Market, held weekly, with members from within a 30 mile radius. These type of markets are springing up around the country. Farmers markets in many areas are not selling the fresh produce, as they tend to have become monthly “artisan” sellers with preserves, sausages and handmade soaps predominating.

Fruit and vegetable box schemes, mainly organic, are also good ways of getting the freshest vegetables, from local suppliers. Some box schemes only use own grown, while many do grow as much as they can and buy in when local is not possible and also supply imported produce. It has to be remembered that many of the staples that we expect to have available today are unable to be grown in the UK. So if you want oranges, bananas, kiwi fruit, sweet potato, blueberries, at any time; broccoli, tomatoes and cucumbers in the winter; then we have to rely on imports. This is a complex issue and one that should be explored in the future.

If you don’t like box schemes, which can be more expensive, though it is delivered to your door, supporting your local green grocer, rare though they are becoming, would seem a good option. Unfortunately most green grocers use the same or similar supply chains as supermarkets so products are very rarely local or seasonal. There are exceptions and it could be argued supporting our local high street is a very good reason to shop with them. You will get friendly and expert personal service, which is also a reason to use them.

Finally if you still want the choice and cheapness, most of the time, we have the choice of the supermarket. In my opinion, you do in many ways get what you pay for. Shopping at Waitrose (in the North West – Booths) will give you some very good quality from often smaller suppliers, that are receiving a fair price for their hard work. They tend to have high standards of visual expectation, so are not good when it comes to waste produce, but quality, taste, ripeness will all be nearer to farm fresh. They do try and work with local suppliers, often because they are not as big, so can have suppliers that are not huge businesses.

The big four, Tesco Morrisons, Sainsburys and ASDA offer unrivaled convenience for our weekly shop and this is why so many customers use them. They have a range of food and non foods that only the biggest online retailers are able to beat. With the expansion of Lidl and Aldi the big four have stiff competition. In general their ranges are smaller, with fewer frills with the in store experience. The fresh produce they offer is also of reduced range and often is the size that is unwanted buy the big four. This can offer better value, for example conference pears in Lidl are the the larger fraction of the crop. But because of their business model the discounter can offer them are lower rate than the “big four” can sell the smaller fruits.

The final growth area are the two big online retailers, Ocado and Amazon. Ocado partner with Waitrose, Morrisons and in some area trade under their own name.They have been building their business for many years now. They again use the same supply chain principles of the multiples, so have the same issues with freshness, local supplies and lack of seasonality.

The most interesting development this month is Amazon starting  the delivery service in limited areas of fresh produce, to Prime members. It is rumored  to be aiming to deliver fresh products within 60  minutes of any order being placed. I would assume the supply lines will be similar to the other multiples.It will be seen in the future if they can only achieve cost effective 60 minute deliveries in urban areas, creating further food deserts in rural areas.

Reduction of the levels of waste produce, a common theme in my blogs, are only attained in one of two ways:

Firstly multiple retailers must put more produce that is not quite perfect into the main packs and carryout a re education of customers away from perfect produce.

Secondly we must remember – customers is king. We should use information available to us and our latent instincts to purchase from the best source we can and that is as near to or from the grower.

In this way we can have the direct relationship with the real people who care for our food.