There’s nought Blue about Blueberries

One of the high spots of the year for me is the arrival of the first blueberries from Horsham.  The season may be short – eight weeks or so – but it is packed with six varieties of blueberries, each with their own special flavour and becoming sweeter as the summer progresses.

Our Horsham blueberries are grown on fertile clay soil in Lower Beeding by Bob Hewitt of Selehurst Gardens (better known to us as Blueberry Bob).  Over the years he has transformed a relatively small area into an extremely productive site and the weather this year has helped to improve this productivity.  Last year the long, early Summer temperatures took their toll on the blueberry plants and the season finished before August was out.

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I can recall my first tasting of a Blueberry Bob berry so vividly.  The sweet, flavoursome taste and amazing juiciness brought a huge grin to my face.  “This is heaven” I thought as I dived back into the punnet! Unsurprisingly, as we encourage people at our markets to taste the berries I have learnt that my reaction was not unique to me!  Collectively us “lovers of blueberries from Bob” could be deemed to be “people who know what they like”, but we think we fall into the category of having a “well-developed palette” as these blueberries are used by the Michelin 1 chef, Tom Kemble, at South Lodge in Lower Beeding.  I rest our case!

We have always been fascinated by these blueberries and why they can sell so well, at double the price, to those in London but are not generally appreciated in their home territory of Sussex. So we ran a taste test at Horsham Market a few years ago.  We bought some organic blueberries from Waitrose – variety Duke and from Poland. We had some Duke variety from Blueberry Bob on our stall at the same time.  The Waitrose blueberries were more expensive (a little aside, but important to us).  Customers and passers-by were invited to taste one of each and to provide a comparison. The facial expressions presented us with the best reactions.  The Polish blueberries were sharp and tasteless and usually generated a grimace. Blueberry Bob’s Duke blueberries mostly generated a satisfactory smile (and often a purchase – a double win!).

Whilst initially I was sold on these blueberries by their taste, I soon found out their health benefits – for young and old.  My grand-daughter was weaned on these blueberries and was declared the healthiest baby seen by the doctor for a long time at one of her early progress appointments.

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Blueberries are considered a superfood today but have been used for their medicinal properties for centuries.  American Indians used blueberry leaves as a tonic for colicky babies and in Europe the fruit itself was used to cure diarrhoea, dysentery and scurvy as well as circulatory problems and eye diseases. In particular, blueberries were used to treat diabetic retinopathy (an eye disease associated with diabetes) and some physicians still use it as part of treatments.

Top researchers, Béliveau and Gingras, were particularly interested in this traditional use of blueberries for diabetic retinopathies as the latter are caused by “uncontrolled angiogenesis” in blood vessels, a phenomenon which is instrumental in the growth of cancer tumours.  Their research suggests that molecules known as anthocyanidins (found abundantly in blueberries) can be responsible for the anti-angiogenic effects of these berries and slow the growth of tumours.  Angiogenesis is a process whereby the cancer tumours, which require food and oxygen to grow, trigger chemical signals to attract the cells of blood vessels located nearby.  These blood vessels react by clearing a path to the tumour by dissolving the surrounding tissue and forming a new blood vessel thus facilitating the flow of food and oxygen to the tumour.

Research has determined that benefits of blueberries include improvement of cognitive health (this has to be a subject of a future blog as it is quite technical, but associated with the antioxidant content acting as a “de-rusting agent”), prevents urinary tract infection occurring, helps anti-ageing and improves skin, heart and eyes through its mineral and vitamin content.

These guys are so under-estimated because we have them throughout the year.  But, the greatest benefit will be achieved from the farm fresh ones that are produced locally and are available on our website.

 

 

 

 

 

Bake With Jack: Another Exciting Recipe

We were lucky enough to get a recipe from Jack last year – and now Bake with Jack is back! Chef Jack Sturgess is passionate not only about baking – but about spreading the message that anyone can make their own bread from home. He runs workshops, demonstrations and classes across Surrey to prove that ANYONE can make their own, and that it’s not scary!

He says that he started Bake with Jack because:

Modern bread in the UK is awful (my personal opinion). It is laced with processing aids and artificial additives. In my opinion the structure and texture of it alone is enough to give us a dodgy tum!

Because bread making shouldn’t be a confusing, scary process. Let’s keep it simple because you can do it.

Homemade bread is delicious, and all the more delicious because the flavour is elevated by the pride you feel for having made it yourself! With your hands and your heart.

We wholeheartedly agree with this, and were intrigued to see whether we could collaborate with him in any way. So a couple of weeks ago we sent Jack one of our seasonal veg boxes to see what he could make of it. We’ve been lucky enough to get something back, and we’ll be hearing from him with yet another recipe over the next couple of weeks!

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Here’s the recipe – enjoy. And thank you to Jack for sharing this with us, we are really excited that you’ve come up with something so brill! I can’t wait to try this for lunch one day this week.

 

Grilled Asparagus Ciabatta with Lemon and Tarragon Pesto

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Serves 2

 For the Pesto:

 

20g          Greener Greens organic tarragon leaves

80g          Olive oil

10            Toasted pine nuts

20g          Finely grated pecorino

Pinch of Salt

 

12            Greener Green organic asparagus spears

1               Ciabatta

1               Clove of garlic

½               Lemon

4tbsp     Greek yoghurt

 

Olive oil

Black Pepper

Salt

 

 

 

First make your pesto. Put the olive oil, tarragon, pine nuts and a pinch of salt into a mini food processor and blend together. You can make it quite smooth if you like but I like mine to be coarse. Add the pecorino and pulse until it is just combined. Taste for seasoning and adjust if you need to.

 

Trim the woody ends off the asparagus spears, peel and halve the garlic clove, and cut two chunks of ciabatta. Rub the cut side of ciabatta with a little olive oil.

 

Heat a griddle pan over a high heat until it is just smoking. Grill your ciabatta for around 2-3 minutes until charred and when they are still warm rub the grilled side with the cut side of the garlic and season with a little salt. Put the ciabatta toasts on two plates.

 

Next get the asparagus onto the grill. I like to hold mine down with a potato masher to be sure they get charred evenly all the way up the stems. Grill for 2-3 minutes, then turn them over and grill the other side the same. No need for oil at this stage as it’ll just make your kitchen smoky! When they are ready they should be charred and blackened in lines with still some bite.

 

Place the hot asparagus into a large mixing bowl, add three tablespoons of your pesto and a good squeeze of lemon. If your pesto is well seasoned you shouldn’t need to add any salt at this point. Toss the asparagus to dress it nicely all over then arrange the spears on top of your toasts.

 

Finish with two tablespoons of Greek yoghurt on each one, a drizzle of the pesto that’s left in the bowl and a little black pepper. Serve!

 

TIP: Any leftover pesto will keep nicely in the fridge for two days.

 

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Trollburger – Organic & Ethical Fast Food

On a night out in Brighton, I recently stopped to get food at a hut under the station that sold burgers. Whilst waiting for my burger, (vegetarian – plenty of veggie options available) I noticed a few familiar friends on the shelves and quickly  realised that this wasn’t an ordinary late night burger bar –  the Biona ketchup and the bags of Cavolo Nero gave away the fact that this place belonged to someone who wasn’t just buying in cheap – this was an ORGANIC fast food place! So a few days later I went back and spoke to Paul Clark, the owner of Trollburger in Brighton.

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Paul is passionate about good, ethically grown food. All of his ingredients are organic or are locally grown and all of his produce is purchased from independent growers. He started out as street food stand in April 2012, serving burgers from a trailer in a car park as The Troll’s Pantry, before taking to a pub kitchen. In October 2016 he went back to his roots and created Trollburger. He says ‘I’m now done with pubs and feel the street is where I should have been all along.’ Part of the reason for this is that there is opportunity to engage with his customers which is an important part of what he does.   He feels (rightly) that there is a real problem with organic and ethical food – in that it is often seen as pretentious, and reserved for fine dining in expensive places.  A lot of people feel that eating responsibly is something that is not available to them, whether it’s unaffordable or just out of reach through location.

One of Paul’s reasonings about burgers is that they cross class boundaries – everybody loves a burger! This takes any pretentiousness away, as they are being cooked and eaten in such a relaxed and fun environment that it’s impossible to argue that this organic and ethically sourced food is not for everybody. Being face to face with his customers also allows Paul to talk to them about his passion for food (which is infectious) and to encourage people to do their bit for the ethical food movement.  As he said to me, he ‘feels part of a movement that’s swept across Brighton’, and it’s really good to see street food take such a strong stance on sustainable food, championing local produce, animal welfare and zero food waste.

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The beef in Troll burgers is sourced from Sheffield Farms, and the home-made seasonal sauces, pickles and veggie patties are all topped with High Weald Dairy cheese and served in a Flint Owl bun. Trollburger is about creating affordable mouth watering dirty burgers, made using the finest local and seasonal ingredients. If you’re ever in Brighton, you should definitely take a stroll under the arches and go grab yourself one. And in the meantime, remember that ethically sourced food is not for someone else, it’s for everybody. Organic and locally sourced is the way that food should be, even if you’re drunk and stumbling home at three in the morning.

Our Growers: Tablehurst Farm

Chris has been volunteering and working with Tablehurst farm for twenty years. We’ve spoken to him about how the farm has developed since he first fell in love with it back in 1997.  If you’re ever near Forest Row in Sussex, be sure to stop by and visit their farm shop. (I KNOW that I shouldn’t tell you about it, but the farm is just so beautiful!)

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When did you get involved with Tablehurst Farm? What was your role then and how has that role developed?

In 1997 (approx.) I attended an open day at Tablehurst with my wife and two toddlers, and fell in love with the farm. What struck me was that this big event felt more like a gift to the community than an attempt to extract money (despite the fact that there was a cost to enter). It made it stand apart from other rural fairs and the like, and after that, I just stayed. I have been a member of the Co-op committee which owns the farm; chair of the Co-op committee for four years; a volunteer member of the Tablehurst management team for a couple of years; one of the organisers of a later open day, frequent participant in volunteer work days, walks, talks and a study group about biodynamic farming; newsletter editor for about ten years; and a customer throughout! I became a volunteer non-executive director of Tablehurst at the beginning of 2016, and then took a job at the farm in February of this year.

 

How would you describe Biodynamic in your own words, being around it all the time?

Tablehurst Farm strives to meet biodynamic standards in all of our farming and gardening. A biodynamic farm is viewed as a single, self-supporting organism. We seek to create and nurture a diverse farm ecosystem, to build long term soil fertility, to use our own manure and compost, to grow all our own animal feeds, and to minimise external inputs to the farm. Special preparations made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs are used to help restore and harmonize the vital life forces of the farm. In the long term, we hope to work towards self-sufficiency in energy supply as well.

Biodynamic farms recognise that a sustainable farm organism cannot be created and maintained without a strong focus on the social aspect as well as the agriculture. It is for this reason that biodynamic farms have been at the forefront of the community supported agriculture movement, which is of such central importance to both our farms. We aim to create healthy communities of workers on the farms, and to engage with the wider community of visitors, supporters, shareholders and customers who make a connection with the farms. For the same reason, we work hard to explain what we are doing, and why we are doing it, to as many people as possible.

 

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Do you see any evidence that customers and visitors’ attitudes have changed towards organic, locally grown food? 

Up to a point. Over the last five to ten years, we have seen huge growth in demand, but that has now levelled off, and in a way, we never meet anyone who isn’t committed to organic food, because they don’t come to Tablehurst! It is therefore quite hard for us to assess this.  My impression is that interest in organics has wandered up and down a bit – most people don’t actually know what it is anyway – but that interest in provenance and local supply is really strengthening.

 

I know that community is really important to you, what is the community at Tablehurst like?

We’ve been a community farm for over 20 years, so yes, quite important! The first community we attend to is the team who live and/orwork on the farm. We have several farming families living on site (and three now raising young children here) and we offer a free communal lunch to all staff every day to bring everyone together. We have three care home residents who live on site and work on the farm, in the garden and in our kitchens during the day. They are an integral part of Tablehurst. Connection with the wider community is a constant focus for us, and in fact it’s something I’m particularly focused on building in my new role. We had our Harvest Celebration last weekend which was focused on community engagement, and particularly in creating opportunities for people to connect with the farm by volunteering their time and/or by becoming shareholders in our Co-op. We also want to substantially extend our engagement with children and schools.

 

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We’re hearing a lot about how people should buy local to support their local farmers and farmland. Your local community must be really important to you – could you survive without their custom, and is it an equal relationship in that you both help each other?

We have customers who travel from London and the south coast to shop at Tablehurst, but our customer base is very predominantly local, and we couldn’t possibly survive without our local customers. We are constantly working to build community through mutually beneficial events and activities such as our lambing days, open days, farm walks and barn dances. We do have to charge for some events, but even then they aren’t particularly profit-focused, and quite a number of events at Tablehurst are free. We also offer open access to the farm at all times and encourage people to wander around and see what they can learn.

We recently set aside some land for community allotments, which are now all being actively cultivated. We have a kids club at Tablehurst where (mostly home-schooled) local children spend a regular day on the farm doing supervised practical work. We have also supported other local farmers and growers and have been instrumental in the birth of two other biodynamic farms in our local area.

 

How have the values of organic and animal welfare on Tablehurst farm developed over that time, and have their been any dramatic changes over the way your produce is grown over that time?  

Our farming is constantly changing and developing, but the biodynamic ideal has always been the central goal, so animal welfare was, and remains, a top priority. A particular challenge of biodynamic farming is the aim that the farm should be self-sustaining, with as few external inputs as possible. This means that we should, ideally, be growing all our own animal feed. We don’t manage this yet, but are right now involved in some important experiments to dramatically alter the balance. An even more important theme, because it is fundamental to all farming, is caring for the soil so as to create a living, balanced, healthy soil with high humus content. This is a very complex subject, but one that David, our farm director is (rightly) obsessed with. Soil humus sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, so increasing humus levels not only creates a healthy, fertile growing medium, it also combats climate change. Vegetable growing at Tablehurst has come and gone, then come again over the years, but now I think it is definitely with us to stay, and we hope to continue growing a wide range of vegetable for the foreseeable future.

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You can find out more about Tablehurst on their video below, or by visiting their website.

This week our produce from them includes beautiful Oakleaf lettuces, kale, Red Kuri squash (perfect for soup), spaghetti squash and a variety of gorgeous red peppers.

Why Organic, and Why Greener Greens?

Organic means working with nature, not against it. It means higher levels of animal welfare, lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers and more environmentally sustainable management of the land and natural environment – this means more wildlife!
We’ve broken down the reasons why we think that organic – and Greener Greens – is so important. Let us know what you think!

 

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You can find out about our growers, what we do and how you can change your lifestyle and support your local community through simply eating by visiting our website.

An Interview with Daniel of Orchard Eggs

Orchard Farm Biodynamic Eggs are laid by these beautiful free range & happy hens. This, along with their nutritional diet gleaned naturally from the biodynamically farmed orchard and added grains and the farmers that lovingly care for them,  is why you will never taste eggs as good as these anywhere else. They’re big, full of rich yolk, and taste amazing.

The eggs that we sell are biodynamic, organic and local to Sussex. The hens are all reared on Orchard Eggs Farm. Daniel and his family strongly believe this is the greatest way to grow healthy birds and ensure that the eggs are of exceptional quality.

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They rear Lohmann Browns hens as they have a friendly nature and produce excellent quality eggs. They keep them protected in a tunnel whilst they are young and once they are fully feathered and strong enough to withstand weather conditions (usually between 4 and 6 weeks) they are allowed to roam around the orchard. During the initial early growing stage, they develop a strong immune system adequate for our ecosystem that prevents them catching diseases and keeps them totally free from antibiotics.

The hen houses are moved to different plots within the farm as new flocks are introduced. This is prevents disease and helps new hens to develop their immune systems. It also keeps the ground suitable for growing the apples and pears as the hens aerate and fertilise the soil.

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We have asked Daniel a few questions about his farm and his hens. We think it’s important that our customers know where our food comes from.

What inspired you to begin farming?

My dad taught me how beautiful nature is, and how complex the systems work together, I wanted to work with these systems and create quality food.

 

What makes the land that you farm so special?

It’s treated with respect, we feed the soil, and in return, it can feed all that’s growing.

 

What is so important about Biodynamic Farming for you?

For me Biodynamic farming means that the farm becomes a sustainable “organism” where all the processes on the farm work together and are in balance.

 

What makes your eggs stand out from others?

Maybe our customers can answer this question better. But we think it’s their quality, flavour, natural deep yellow/orange colour of the yolk and freshness.

 

How do your hens differ from those in industrial egg farms?

Guided by the cockerels, our hens roam freely 24/7. This encourages them to express their natural behaviour and source their food whenever, wherever! They are really relaxed, fully beaked, not treated with antibiotics and not vaccinated. They are happy birds, part of the farm, where they keep control of pests, keep the grass short, and fertilise the soil.

 

Your hen houses are moveable, why is this?

Our houses are movable, so we can give our birds a fresh run, and manure is evenly spread through the orchard, and parasites are better controlled.

 

Do you have any particularly favourite hens? Charlie, (Jill – the owner of Greener Greens’ daughter)  is a shepherdess and has 15 sheep, but her favourite, Pixie, lives in the house with her!)

All our hens our brown, but a few summers ago, one hen created a nest in the orchard, this resulted in a white hen. It does live in the orchard by itself, and always comes up to us when we are working.

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Orchard Farm eggs are yours to add to your box order or bespoke order from £2.32 for a box of 6. Large are £2.72 for six. Try them, they’re just gorgeous!

Update on the EU Seed Legislation

As many of you already know several organisations have been running campaigns to highlight the impact of a draconian revision to EU Seed Legislation which was being voted on today, Monday May 6th.  Several of you will have signed the petitions and indeed may have effected your own lobbying. Those that did will probably know the outcome, but for those that didn’t the campaigns did make a difference, although issues still exist and moreover the giant agribusinesses will continue to lobby as the law goes through the EU, and then is translated into UK laws.

The following summary is taken from the Real Seed Catalogue:

The “Plant Reproductive Material Law” regulates all plants. It contains immediate restrictions on vegetables and woodland trees, while creating powers to restrict all other plants of any other species at a later date.

Under the new law, it will immediately be illegal to grow, reproduce or trade any vegetable seed or tree that has not been tested and approved by a new “EU Plant Variety Agency, who will make a list of approved plants. Moreover, an annual fee must also be paid to the Agency and if not paid, they cannot be grown.

Following a huge outcry and intense lobbying from consumer groups, small-scale farmers, gene-banks, and even some member-state governments, a few last-minute alterations were made, which while not perfect, have reduced the impact quite a lot.

The key last minute concessions that were made – and this really was only due to public pressure are as follows:

  • Home gardeners are now permitted to save and swap unapproved seed without breaking the law.
  • Individuals & small organisations can grow and supply/sell unapproved vegetable seed – as long as they have less than 10 employees.
  • Seedbanks can grow unapproved seed without breaking the law.
  • There could be easier (in an unspecified way) rules for large producers of seeds suitable for organic agriculture etc, in some (unspecified) future legislation – maybe.

But the rest of the law is still overly restrictive, and in the long run will make it much harder for people to get hold of good seeds they want to grow at home. There are also clauses that mean the above concessions could be removed in the future without coming back to the Parliament for a vote.

The main registration system is no good for home gardeners -varieties suitable for home use don’t meet the strict criteria of the Plant Variety Agency, which is only concerned about approving the sort of seed used by industrial farmers.

Because of this, seed companies used to be able to register and sell ‘Amateur’ varieties that didn’t pass the tests, for home growers. Under the new system, they are now called ‘Niche’ varieties and there is no testing or registration at all, but there is a big catch: any company with more than 10 employees is now banned from producing them.So new varieties for home growers can only be developed by tiny organisations, and they may not have the resources to do it well. There will be very little professional development of varieties for home gardeners or small-scale sustainable agriculture. “