Someone said to me today that when you grow things and cook them, you learn about the unconditional giving of the soil. You sow some seeds in some fine soil say, then water them, watch them grow a little and when they are strong enough, big enough, you put them out into rougher soil, water them and watch them grow again. And when they are big enough, you can pick them or dig them up and cook them.
There are bits in between of course – weeding, protecting them against pests and against cold and heat perhaps. But basically that’s what growing is about.
I’m not saying it’s easy. At Coleshill Organics, between the Spring & Summer Equinoxes (this year that’s from March 20th to September 23rd) it’s a 50 hour week for Matt the grower and his helpers. Just harvesting for the box scheme and the market and the shop takes 2 days.
And then there’s preparing the soil for the next crop… We are talking here about green manure
Don’t go to sleep, ask the question: What’s green manure?
OK, what’s green manure then?
It’s a mix of seeds, typically red clover, vetch, mustard, chicory, trefoil, field beans, pea, rye, buckwheat and other quite fasting growing plants which you sow between crops which adds nutrients to the soil, improves its structure, fixes nitrogen, suppresses weeds, prevents wash-out, attracts pollinators (to the flowers) and looks pretty.
Oh. That’s very interesting
Because even the unconditionally giving soil needs nourishing, re-vitalising. Though, of course 87% of conventionally grown produce doesn’t bother with green manure. Chemical fertilisers are easier and more efficient. Plus your glyphosate of course. That keeps the weeds down. And the butterflies - but who cares about them not me -
Don’t start, please
Just saying. If I were soil I’d rather have red clover, vetch, mustard, chicory, trefoil, field beans, pea, rye and buckwheat than your
Ok, yes, I agree
White pellets of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium and
Absolutely. Indeed. So you’ve made your point. Where’s this leading?
Well, that three weeks ago wherever you looked the grass had become brown and parched and the soil had great cracks in it and everything looked dead and now, after just a few days of rain, the green has come back. Imagine that.
What’s that got to do with green manure?
I’m not talking about green manure now, just thought I would mention it. Isn’t nature amazing? Anyway it’s almost Autumn and I’m now back at work. I wanted to say something about Brexit too – you know, how you couldn’t make it up etc, but let’s leave that for now.
Here’s the point. I have just spent five weeks living in a shepherds hut writing and I have also been watching a garden and cooking things from it. I have learnt a little more about the soil and how things grow. And here I am back at Square Food thinking about the term ahead and all the different groups we will be teaching during any given week and how we might bring some of this soil connection thing into our classes. The How To Be A Chef programme starts next week for instance. And there’s a BTEC qualification in Home Cooking for children with dyslexia. And we will beginning a whole new project with St Mungos. And of course there’s back in The Kitchen, the Monday morning class for adults over 55, in which the chopping and stirring are well seasoned with ironic banter. And suddenly that small piece of land (7 acres. YES: just 7 acres) and what happens on it every hour of every day and night seems a million miles away.
Yes. I want to know how we can bring the value of the soil into what we do with our learners, young, teenage, middle, old, dyslexic, street workers, homeless, Downs Syndrome, unemployed, team building groups, people from Clifton –
People from Clifton, yes. The ones who come to a class about bread or Indian Cooking.
Yes, so to all those groups and – what we make together whether it’s pasta or stew or cake. And why it matters. You know, for the soul and stuff as well. The whole person. Community. The next generation. It’s a global thing. Making the connections, talking about it. Grow, cook, eat. But not impose our middle class values and standards. One man’s agnolotti is another man’s pork pie.
I’m not following you…
Or, indeed the food of Barcelona […]. The thing is, it absolutely has to be exciting and fun and delicious. Otherwise we might as well just eat energy bars. Even if it’s just something on toast.
Ok, well. I notice you haven’t included any recipes for the things on toast.
What? Can’t you just imagine? Look at the pictures. It can’t be that difficult
Yes, but some people might want a
Oh God, I think I need a little lie down
Next week I’ll be talking about hierarchies of change
No thank you