The Secret Life of Farmland

Last week, a report called The State of the World’s Birds was published by BirdLife International which comprises bird population data taken worldwide over the last five years. The results of this report are heartbreaking, but not entirely surprising. The report states that at least 40% of bird species worldwide are in decline and that one in eight species of birds is threatened with extinction. In total, 74% of 1,469 globally threatened birds are affected directly by the expansion and intensification of farming and agriculture.

This news coincides almost exactly with my finishing a book called The Running Hare: A Secret Life of Farmland by John Lewis-Stempel. In this book, the author describes (in words that are made of magic) the journey of a single field and the change in its  little ecosystem over a year as it is returned from an intensively farmed kale field to an organically nurtured wheat field.   Reading this book bought me to tears. Not just because of the joy I felt reading about how quickly this field welcomed back nature, but because of the reality that 93% of our farmland in the UK is intensively farmed using toxic chemicals and with no consideration for the wildlife that has lived on this land for generations. Since 2007 alone the Countryside Survey found that the species richness of the British field has declined by 8%. The landscapes of our farmland have gone from being sanctuaries for birds, mammals and wildflowers to stagnant, barren, quiet places that are so full of pesticides that they don’t really benefit us, and definitely do not benefit the wildlife that has been the pride of our country for generations. (The nineteen species of birds on the farmland bird index have decreased in number by 69% since 1970 due to drastic changes in farming practices – and the introduction of pesticides.)

Lewis-Stempel describes in his book watching a female pheasant leading her chicks through his wheat field into a neighbouring one which is intensively farmed using pesticides. She tries to lead her babies in to the wheat but – as it is grown so densely – she cannot.  Birds like pheasants and quails (a bird that is so rare now that it’s not even mentioned on the defra list) need the space between the stalks of corn for camouflage, food and nesting. If our intensively farmed cereal land is a hostile environment for these ground-living species of birds, then where can they go? No wonder they’re under threat.

Traditional farming methods that go back centuries allow for nature to thrive. Even now, non-intensive farming can enhance rather than harm the surrounding wildlife. I recently went on a walk in Sandwich with the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory Trust, where the introduction of asparagus fields has actually created a new nesting ground for the Lapwing (the channels and ridges that are required for growing asparagus make a perfect cover.) By returning to our roots – in particular farming in smaller quantities and with no pesticides – who’s to say that we can’t reintroduce the harmony between the nature and our farmers? If the farmers didn’t have to utilise every inch of their fields in order to make the land financially viable, they may be able to see their land once again as a part of nature as opposed to a financial asset. In order for this to happen though, supermarkets will need to start buying the crops at a reasonable price.  This is where the consumer comes in.  It may be difficult to visualise the impact of your buying choices, especially when in the clinical, hardened environment of your local supermarket, but the way that we as a community and a nation (the ones with the purchasing power) decide to buy our produce is now a key factor in changing the environment around us for the better.

To borrow the words of John Lewis-Stempel;  ‘Every time one buys the lie of cheap food a flower or a bird dies.’ This perfectly summarises our mission at Greener Greens – we’d love for people to care about where their food comes from. As Lewis-Stempel slightly changed the landscape with his one field, our little business has an ambitious – but important – mission. We want to raise the bar when it comes to the food that people buy and eat. We strive to provide fresh, organically grown produce at a price that everyone can afford because it’s better for their own health, the economy and the environment.  If you would like to read more about our growers and hear their stories, you can do so here.

If you can, pick up a copy of ‘The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland’. It’s a beautiful, funny and exciting read – a history of the field and the farmer.  It’s full of facts and stories about the wildlife that we are still lucky enough to have. For me, it’s been a bit of a wake up call to the condition of our farmland as well as one of my new favourite books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Growers: Michael Hall School

The 2 ½ acre walled garden at Michael Hall School unites many activities.  Within the garden, they grow about a hundred varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and top fruit, all to Demeter standards – the largest certification organisation for biodynamic agriculture. Compost is important to biodynamic gardening and Michael Hall maintain a variety of compost heaps around the garden.  They have two old fashioned wooden greenhouses, three polytunnels, and the original Victorian propagation houses.  They’ve also just recently installed a new flow form which is used to improve the irrigation water for the seedlings, and to make nettle, comfrey and compost teas.

Because Michael Hall School, as well as supplying us with some of our wonderful produce, is also a Steiner school, part of the garden is entirely set aside for gardening teaching. There is a gardening classroom, the children’s propagation house, a bread baking oven, and tools for garden and woodland crafts.   Children have their garden beds there and it is where their gardening lessons take place.  In winter, they roam beyond the garden into the rest of the Michael Hall estate to learn about woodland management. What a fabulous way of learning!

The aim of Michael Hall School is to combine beauty in the garden with growing an abundance of good biodynamic vegetables for the school canteen, the garden shop and the local community.

We’d like to thank Laurie, the gardner responsible for providing us with beautiful produce that we can then pass on to you. At the moment, we have perpetual spinach, rainbow chard and lettuces from them. You can buy them online and have them delivered to you for free here.

 

WE SEA KALE

I’ve been walking on a lot of beaches recently – and one thing that I’ve found that I think is really fascinating is sea kale.  Here’s one – just sprouting through with its little purple leaves:

This is how it starts to grow – sprouting from incredibly sturdy looking stalks.

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Sea kale is a native perennial, which favours shingle beaches and those with coarser sands.  It’s incredibly rare in Sussex and across the UK, although it is often abundant where it is found. It’s actually protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) and must not be picked without permission from the landowner. Its rarity has not been helped by the fact that the Victorians developed a pretty bad habit of digging it up and sticking it in their ornamental gardens.  It also hasn’t been helped by the introduction of sea defences along our coastlines or being crushed underfoot by people wandering along the seafront.

This kale was once quite a delicacy. It’s actually edible at every stage of its life – from its purple shoots through to the tiny blossoms (much like purple sprouting broccoli). It then becomes more ‘cabbagey’ when the leaves turn green, and finally, when the  little green fruits appear.  Don’t pick it though – as mentioned earlier, it’s illegal.

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You can purchase seeds though –  I would imagine that sea kale would be a great thing to try to grow yourself – they’re pictured above.  Once the leaves have died off, the dried pods then replant elsewhere. Clever little things! In the meantime, watch where your feet go next time you’re walking along a shingle beach, you might stand on a sea kale’s head.

Oh, and if this post has made you fancy a bit of kale, why don’t you take a look at ours?

 

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Our New Website & Online Ordering are Here!

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

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We’ve just launched our new website – complete with online ordering! It’s never been easier to get organic, fresh produce grown by local independent farmers delivered directly to your door!  With this in mind, it’s time to talk about your overall health and wellbeing….

It can sometimes feel quite overwhelming to really invest in your own health and adopt positive life changes, especially when it comes to changing your eating habits. It’s an investment well worth taking though – what you eat directly impacts how you feel, both in your body and in your mind. You wouldn’t fill a car with dirty petrol, so why fuel your own body with anything other than the cleanest and most natural of foods? Up until the beginning of the 20th century, good diet and physical well-being was the foundation of all medical treatment. Unfortunately, overtime, this basic knowledge that our ancestors had acquired about the importance of the nutritional benefits in the foods that were available to them.

We at Greener Greens think that it’s about time that we rediscover what our ancestors once knew and reconnected with our food. Our seasonal boxes contain the fresh produce that your body needs to maintain its health and vitality and is free from chemicals. Trust in nature! It knows best when it comes to growing our food. According to the changing seasons, our bodies need different nutrients to maintain great health. Nature has provided a range of produce that contains exactly what we need to ensure that we’re at our best all year round – both in our bodies and our minds.

Greener Greens offers a quality organic range of fruit and vegetables, grown by certified organic, independent growers, delivered to your door every week. Your first steps towards being healthy and making a positive lifestyle choice starts here!

Visit our website and make your first order today!