FEBRUARY sun shafts & hail showers
Somehow, despite feeling distinctly chilly around my edges as I write, it does feel like spring is within reach. This weekend a bee was flying about the roof garden, although his visit was swiftly followed by a violent shower of hail that left me worried for his safety. The surprise hail polka dotted the rooftop with white spots and battered the petals of two crocuses, the fat buds of a hyacinth and some lengthening leaves of garlic. Green is returning to the aerial garden, but conditions up there aren’t completely clement yet.
We did have two days of glorious sunshine in London last week though, days that cheered the entire city up. I spent one of the fine mornings in Highgate Woods, which was hung heavy with dew and bathed in shafts of gold. Hot breath still formed steam clouds in the cool air, but the bright light was full of spring. I cycled home very fast down a very steep hill, with the sun in my eyes and the whole of London spread out before me – a sparkling mass of steel and glass – and felt heartened and happy.
I was swallowed whole by that steel and glass the next morning. I cycled through the rush hour carnival to Westminster for a public meeting deep within the Houses of Parliament (in a dark green wood panelled room with ink wells in the desks and grand old pictures on the walls). It was a discussion about the recently published Foresight Report on The Future of Food and Farming, which explores ‘challenges and choices for global sustainability’. It’s worth a look.
It was a challenging meeting. The Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor gave the main speech, with support from the Chair of the team behind the report. The ideas within it are both interesting and uncomfortable. At the moment a billion people go to bed hungry every night, while another billion go to bed technically overfed. With the population predicted to rise to 9 billion by 2050, developed nations are feeling the heat and looking for solutions for an impending food crisis. In developing nations the crisis has already begun, with food prices rocketing in the last few years.
The report focuses on the need to produce more food from the same amount of land, using strange and unnerving language like ‘bio-fortification and ‘agro-ecology’, rather than focussing on righting current inequities through better distribution of food and the eradication of greed. It talks of ‘sustainable intensification’ but seems to suggest globalised, oil dependent methods of mass producing food, rather than asking countries to be more self sufficient.
It’s an impressive and important document, one that’s being welcomed by politicians and NGOs alike, and so it should be. It’s starting a debate and pushing food up the political agenda. Some of the ideas just seemed a little worrying to me (a complete non-expert of course). The urgent approach being advocated by the developed nations seemed to be a top down one that imposed upon, and even patronised, the rest of the world.
It was great to be there and to be challenged to think about food production in such a different way. That committee room was a very long way from the community food growing projects I’ve fallen in love with of late. It’s easy to idealise and romanticise such efforts, but these projects ultimately won’t keep billions of people fed. They do teach the value of vegetables though, which is massively important.
And some projects are seeing food production as more than just a hobby. I visited Food from the Sky this weekend, which is a large aerial allotment on top of Budgens in Crouch End. It’s a valuable community project but it has commercial ambitions too. The food they grow is sold in the supermarket downstairs and they sell out of stock every week.
Even in early February they were harvesting enough salad leaves and cabbages to set out a respectable stall downstairs. All the food waste from the shop is composted and used to grow more crops. It’s an inspiring social enterprise. Imagine if all supermarkets had kitchen gardens on their rooftops. It would be beautiful and brilliant.
Talking of beautiful and brilliant, I’ve been thoroughly distracted by two things this month. One are the amazing wearable food creations of the Korean artist Yeonju Sung, who has made me see the humble aubergine in an entirely new light. And two are my pea shoots. I planted a couple of pots of sweet peas about a month ago and they’re getting really tall now. It’s a joy sharing my bedroom with them.
Finally, have I mentioned I’ve written a book? Quite possibly! Forgive me but it’s just gone to print and I now have a publication date – the summer solstice, 21st June. It’s called ‘My Garden, the City and Me: Rooftop Adventures in the Wilds of London’ and it’s about my aerial, edible gardening project and also about London wildlife. You may well enjoy it. Find out more here.
You can find me on Kitchen Garden’s website too.