Sunday, 9 November 2008


There's no better time than Autumn to reap the rich rewards of the year's efforts. Everything is gloriously abundant, with bountiful goodies to enjoy. Over the next few weeks you can enjoy picking and plucking, harvesting and hunting, foraging and feasting on all the best produce of Autumn. With the new schedules kicked in, you can experience such treats as Apparitions, Merlin, A Number, Wallander, Sunshine, Little Dorrit, My Zinc Bed, Survivors, Dead Set, The Devil's Whore, John Adams, Beehive and - last but not least - Britain's Got The X Factor and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice.

Then there's the old favourites - The Restaurant, Masterchef, Hairy Bikers, Jamie Oliver and my all-time favourite viewing, Hollyoaks. All of this abundance and more is available to you as a consolation prize for living in the UK. Meanwhile, great as it is to live here in Catalunya, the TV schedules are - as per most places in the world - dire. So thank God for the memory sticks that regularly arrive at my door courtesy of Royal Mail, Correos de España and my dad.

OK - so you thought I was talking about apples, beetroot, squash, guineafowl, mushrooms, mussels, sea bream and venison. Well that's what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was referring to when he wrote the opening lines of this post as an introduction to River Cottage Autumn. And it was while watching a newly-arrived episode the other evening that my attention was grabbed by a feature on the work of Abundance in Sheffield. Being slow to commit thoughts to keyboard at the best of times, this is not the first time that Sarah Cabral has beaten me to it by the time I've got round to posting. Still - Sarah only managed words, whereas I've uploaded the video clip.

Searching for Abundance Sheffield turned up Abundance Manchester. Further web research soon revealed that there's something very exciting going on - something that has started relatively quietly but is getting noisier by the day - all over Britain. And it's not just the UK. Unsurprisingly, our friends across the big pond are well ahead in this new phenomenon of urban farming.

The Diggers confront the New Model ArmyThe new movement encompasses a very broad political spectrum. At one extreme are the anarchist guerrilla gardeners, who plant fruit, vegetables and flowers with a disregard for private property that would have impressed Proudhon. One example of such a group is Greenjacker, which supports foraging, freeganism and guerrilla gardening as ways to change hearts and minds through non violent direct action. Some groups model themselves on The Diggers - early communists who fought on the side of Parliament in the Civil War only to find themselves crushed as trouble-makers by the victorious Oliver Cromwell. Not too different from the seizure of St George's Hill to sow the ground with parsnips, carrots and beans, guerrilla gardeners have been known to dig up car parks and pavements in order to "return the land to nature and the people."

Using the same title, but with rather more gentility and less militancy, are the guerrilla growers as represented by The Todmorden Two and their Incredible Edible Todmorden campaign. Pam Warhurst and Mary Clear set out to involve local businesses, schools, farmers and the community in growing fruit and vegetables across Todmorden. Public flower beds have been transformed into community herb gardens and vegetable patches and local farm produce can now be found in local shops and cafes.

The aim of this and other groups is to make a contribution towards preparing for climate change and for a future where we need to be more self sufficient in food. Pam and Mary began by planting illicitly at the most unlikely of locations - in municipal tubs by bus stops, on railway platforms, at local schools, in the cemetery and outside the doctors' surgery. Following the success of their initial efforts, Calderdale Council has now given permission to plant 500 fruit trees around the local playing fields and is actively looking for plots to turn into new allotments.Incredible Edible Todmorden in a local school

Landshare - click for more informationAs a result of contact with these and similar projects, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has recently established Landshare, a UK-wide initiative to make land more productive and fresh local produce more accessible to all. Initially hosted both on the River Cottage network and the Channel 4 website, Landshare aims to bring together landowners, people who can help identify unused land, wannabe fruit and vegetable growers and facilitators to help make the whole thing work. Currently the initiative is focused on building a database of prospective sources and users of land. During 2009, the intention is to develop the project - perhaps with its own TV series - to start matching landowners and land users to the benefit of both.

You might not associate multinationals such as Starbucks, Atlantic Records and The Home Depot with urban farming projects, but these are just 3 of 100 sponsors and partners signed up by probably the world's largest project of this type - Taja Sevelle's Urban Farming - a not-for-profit corporation based in Detroit and with offices in L.A., New York and St. Louis. With the ambitious aim of eradicating hunger, Urban Farming plants gardens on unused land and forges partnerships with business, government and community organisations to teach people about agriculture and alternative energy sources and to promote healthy eating.

These are just a few of the many initiatives springing up all over the world, aimed at making more rational use of resources to feed people and, more importantly, to help people feed themselves. There are several other organisations I came across in the course of my research that I'd like to mention. City Harvest was established in New York City over 25 years ago as a food rescue organisation dedicated to feeding the city's hungry. This year they will collect 11,500 tons of excess food from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers and farms and deliver it free of charge to more than 600 community food programs throughout New York City. Each week they help over 260,000 hungry New Yorkers find their next meal. The Middlesborough Urban Farming Project, featured in the Local Foods Research Project website raised widespread awareness locally and sparked interest in London, Glasgow and Portsmouth. The project was led by staff from Designs Of The Time 2007, a national initiative of the Design Council and One NorthEast.

The quote on their website: "When you eat an iceberg lettuce from the US, 127 calories of energy are used in its shipping and merchandising for every 1 calorie of nutrition that enters your mouth" really makes you think long and hard about carbon footprints.

Closer to home for a chef like me, I must pay my respects to Dave Flynn (left), restaurateur of The Allotment in Dover, who in an effort to achieve self-sufficiency and green practices is growing much of his restaurant produce, sourcing the rest locally and even bartering restaurant meals for surplus allotment produce.

Finally, in case anyone thinks all this is new, people have been practising urban farming in Cuba since the collapse of the Soviet Union. When food becomes scarce, as it was for the Cubans 17 years ago and probably will be for us all soon, urban farming won't just be a trendy idea. It will be a necessity.

P.S. What happens where there's no land, only skyscrapers? Vertical farming. But that's another story.


The Boston Foodie said...

The legend of Johnny Appleseed is alive and well here. Now if only I could get some of those TV shows! Are any of them available through download sites? All of the UK shows seem to be blocked outside the country.

Trig said...

William - If you look at my YouTube site, you'll find clips from several shows for which I've hosted complete unedited programmes. Select a video, click on More Info and you may find what you are looking for. I'll be uploading River Cottage Autumn in the next few days.

neal said...

The abundance Center includes thousands of thought-providing ideas, strategies, and creativity for life. Hollyoaks Village may look, to all intents, like a sleepy Chester suburb populated by beautiful young people with private accounts at the hairdresser.


smithsan said...

Abundance a spiritually renewing practice, much like meditation. You go very quickly from simply feeling good no, make that feeling great to having this awareness of the beauty of the world, and an immediate sense of the love that’s inherent in everything.

Trig said...

Neal, Smithsan - thanks for the thoughts, but I'm not into meditative sects. And I'm even less into those who try to secretly embed website links into my blog. So thanks but no thanks.

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