Category Archives: People & Products

The Growth of ‘GYO’ in the UK

I’ve recently completed my MSc Gastronomy dissertation in which I studied GYO bloggers in the UK and looked at their GYO and GYO blogging in terms of food activism – it was a really interesting study and my findings led to the conclusion that there is a groundswell in grow your own and that it is very clearly linked with motives aligned with those in regular food activism discourse – the environment, economics and health were found to be the key motivators .

Compost Direct have just compiled a report on the growth of GYO and the UK’s changing food trends and it makes for interesting reading (see below).

Although I believe an interest in healthier lifestyles is a factor for these changing trends (the conclusion from this report), I also believe, from my own study, that there is a greater understanding of our environmental impact and the response to this is a trend in more sustainable ways of producing, purchasing and consuming food. There’s also a greater understanding and genuine mistrust of the ££ multi-million corporations controlling our food chain, from the biotech giants controlling our seed to those exploiting others at every point of the food system to reap unprecedented profits. By shortening the food chain we can all do our bit to take back control of what we consume and it seems that we are.

The rise in organic food sales

In recent years, global interest in stocking cupboards with organic food has risen. The market is worth an outstanding £2.09million and experienced a growth of 7.1% throughout 2016. In fact, organic food and drink now represents a 1.5% share of the total UK market, according to the 2017 Organic Market Report. On a global scale, the UK’s organic market makes up 4% of the $81 billion worldwide organic sales.

The rise in organic purchases has been explained by the growing awareness of organic produce and its benefits. Overall, 80% of consumers said they had knowledge of organic food, with 39% buying it on a weekly basis.

Some argue that the focus on organic food has stemmed from an increased fitness culture in Britain. With the rise of social media, many consumers are exposed to toned (possibly edited) bodies and it is inspiring them to self-improve. Given that organic food is often fresher, containing fewer pesticides and no genetic modifications, it’s the route many people choose as part of living and eating better.

It appears that the foodservice market has reaped the greatest benefits following the trend. Sales of organic food within the UK’s foodservice market rose by 19.1% in 2016 and were estimated to be worth an astonishing £76.6million.

Restaurants, pubs and cafes have recognised the growing trends and are adapting their menus accordingly to their new health-conscious visitors. Many well-known restaurants have made the switch to organic, including Jamie’s Italian, McDonalds and Nando’s.

Of course, as customers eat differently and restaurants cook differently, the wholesalers must too adapt. Between 2015 and 2016, there were almost 25% more licensed organic wholesalers, responding to the growing demand for wholesome food.

In many public services, organic food has been implemented too as schools, universities, hospitals, and workplaces serve more organic food under the Food for Life Catering Mark. The requirement for organic doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

 

The love for home produce

Following the recession in 2007, many homeowners searched for ways to battle rising food costs. One tactic taken by many was growing their own produce. In 2012, for example, the BBC reported that almost a third of British adults grew their own food. A further 51% said in a survey that they would take to the vegetable patch if food prices were to rise further.

In a recent survey, YouGov investigated the new trend, too. They found that 77% of gardeners listed eating produce that they have grown in their own gardens as the main benefit of gardening. What’s more, 44% grow enough fruit and vegetable to share with their friends and family, while over 25% said that growing their own food was now their hobby.

 

An interest in recipe boxes

Alongside the new trend of enjoying fresh food, the old lifestyle habits remain — such as our need for any time-saving tips to complement our busy lives. From this, different companies have launched their own recipe boxes. Pioneered by the likes of Hello Fresh and Gousto, these boxes contain all of the ingredients you need to cook tasty meals, along with instructions on how to do it.

The boxes offer organic food at convenience and it comes with no surprise that they’ve been successful. In 2015, the recipe box industry achieved £702 million in worldwide sales. By 2025, predictions estimate that this will grow to £3.8 billion as the market goes from strength-to-strength and more companies emerge.

Recipe boxes also reduce waste as they only contain as much as you need for the meals that you will create for that week. When you look at the UK household wastage — £13 billion of edible food in 2017 — it’s no surprise a lot of people want to get involved. According to analytics by Cardlytics, spending on recipe boxes grew by 64.6% in the first half of 2016, with the volume of orders increasing by 47.6%.

Supermarkets have recognised the threat of these boxes, and Tesco and Waitrose have launched a similar kit within their stores.

With organic food, growing our own and recipe boxes, it’s clear to see that the way we purchase and consume food is changing as we strive for healthier lifestyles.

Sources:

https://www.soilassociation.org/certification/trade-news/2017/uk-organic-market-tops-2-billion/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18094945

https://www.sundaypost.com/in10/home-and-garden/garden-people-growing-produce/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36057783

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/10/uk-throwing-away-13bn-of-food-each-year-latest-figures-show

http://uk.businessinsider.com/hellofresh-and-gousto-are-nibbling-away-at-supermarket-revenues-2016-11

Making For Home – A Tale of the Scottish Borders (Book Review)

I was recently sent a copy of Alan Tait’s new book – Making For Home – A Tale of the Scottish Borders to review. This is the story of Polmoodie, a decayed sheep farm house in the Moffat valley that was bought by the author in the 1970s and gradually brought back to life as a farm.

Living in the same part of the world and with dreams of one day having my own smallholding I was pretty sure this was a book that I would love. I wasn’t wrong, although not what I was expecting at all – it wasn’t the usual story of someone falling in love with a run down house in a remote area with ensuing tales of getting it in to shape and the locals. Instead, this is a journey from a bleak coastal village on the Solway Firth to the Scottish Borders in search of ‘THE’ house via a Glasgow tenement, all interwoven with a rich history of people, places, the landscape and agriculture through periods of great change.

This is a deeply insightful book that connects the reader to the landscape through its inhabitants over the years. It breathes life into forgotten and difficult times for sheep farmers and how economic and environmental forces beyond their control influenced the rural communities of today. The beautiful photography will transport the reader into Alan’s world as it bring’s it to life. It’ll make you want to grab your coat and head out to the hills, or, if it’s raining, online to search for old run down farmhouses for sale.

I’ve also been inspired to head back to our local auction after reading about the authors collection of paintings, furniture and masonry acquired from various places over the years as he weaves a new and eclectic history into the farm’s story.  I’ve now bought the author’s previous book, ‘A Garden in the Hills’ for some further reading.

Alan is an art historian with a particular interest in the history of landscape. For the last forty years he has lived in the Moffat Water valley in the Borders where he farms and gardens. He’s also the author of The Landscape Garden in Scotland 1735-1835  and A Garden in the Hills.

Making For Home is priced at £30 and is available here on Amazon

 

 

 

Seed Saving – this book has inspired me to give it a go!

I recently had to write an essay on Food Sovereignty and it was during this research I became totally fascinated with the Seed Sovereignty aspect of La Via Campesina’s movement – the right to breed and exchange diverse open source seeds which can be saved and which are not patented, genetically modified, owned or controlled. I had no real understanding of the devastating impact on our biodiversity due to a number of factors, not least, the agri-behemoths who control seeds around the world for farmers and home gardeners alike. 94% of our seed varieties have been lost (forever!) since the turn of the 20th century – that’s frightening!

But, there are people all around the world doing their bit to save our seeds and ensure we don’t lose our precious heirloom varieties and to keep our food heritage alive – Janisse Ray is one of them. A writer, naturalist and activist, Janisse is a seed saver, seed exchanger and seed banker and has been growing food for nearly 30 years!

The Seed Underground is a charming read – it’s a collection of stories about her past and people she has met along her way, characters who are striving to save open-pollinated varieties that will be lost if people don’t grow, save and swap their seeds. These are not activists in the militant sense, just ordinary people who are connected to their environment and the food that they produce and eat. If you’re interested in gardening and food then this book will be a light and happy read that’ll still make you think.

I’ve been massively inspired and as a result I’ve been experimenting with heritage varieties this year and will be trying to make my own contribution to the movement by saving and exchanging my seeds. I’ve bought another book – Back Garden Seed Saving from The Real Seed Catalogue (where I also bought some heirloom corn and carrots ) which I’m hoping will help teach me how to do this. I can’t wait to give the tomatoes a go as well as a few other things.

And this one…

The Potting Shed at Broughton – Garden Visit

Yesterday I visited The Potting Shed in Broughton in the Scottish Borders with a couple of local gardening ladies. And, what a lovely visit we had…

It’s a beautiful one acre garden, begun from scratch in 2008, on an exposed and steep hillside at 900 feet and it’s open in June and July on Wednesdays as part of the Scotland’s Gardens scheme.

It’s in a beautiful location and the views are stunning.

Sometimes you find yourself somewhere that you just don’t want to leave, this was one of those places. I was immediately struck by the striking red Scottish Flame Flower (Tropaeolum speciosum) climbing all along the evergreen hedge at the entrance. One of the ladies had bought one on a previous visit and said it’s done really well in her garden running through a conifer hedge. I ended up bringing one home with me as they had them on sale along with a number of other plants (a bargain at £4.00).

I was very envious of the kitchen garden area, lemons, currants, potatoes, beans, raspberries, rhubarb etc all looking like the quintessential cottage garden. The smell of the sweet peas was simply divine, I had to have a ‘drink’ or two of them as I went by.

There’s a courtyard with a pond and all sorts of wonderful climbing roses and shrubs around the outside of the house. There’s a fascinating photograph album there showing the work from ground zero to it’s current state, it’s an impressive achievement.

We headed up into the hill garden – everywhere you look there’s something to delight and admire, and against the backdrop of the lush hills, I dare anyone not to be enchanted. We had a very pleasant rest up in the ‘Sitooterie’ before continuing around the rest of the gardens.

I’m so glad to have found this little slice of heaven. I’ve added a few new plants to my ‘list’ and am hoping that the flame flower works it’s magic in Nine Mile Burn. I’ll be going back for another couple if it does.

The view from the Sitooterie

It’s only open one more day this season so you’ll have to be quick, or, add it to your gardens to visit in 2018. I know I’ll be going back.

14 June – 19 July 11:00am – 5:00pm (Wednesdays only)

There’s a £4.00 entrance fee  (Macmillan Centre at Borders General Hospital receives 40%, the net remaining to Scottish Gardens Beneficiaries)

Parrot Pot Update

I recently posted about an internet connected plant pot that I was sent to review. You can read my original review here but I just wanted to show the difference to my plant since it’s been in the pot and receiving regular automatic watering.

It seems to have been the making of it, it’s grown quite a lot in the past month and is looking very pleased with itself. I can’t help wondering how the rest of our plants would benefit from more regular watering…

Before picture below.

Get Plants – A New Book from Kew (Review)

I was recently sent a review copy of ‘Get Plants – How to bring green into your life’ – the latest book from Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. I seem to have grown a fondness, bordering on obsession, with gardening-related books these days  so any chance of indulging this new habit is fine with me.

The book has been written by Katherine Price, a trained gardener who worked at Kew for 10 years specialising in alpine and woodland plants. She has also worked on four gold medal winning gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show. The introduction draws on research that suggest having plants around is not only imperative to our existence but also improves our mood, memory and positive energy as well as studies that show people who spend time with plants have better relationships – I think us plant lovers will largely agree that there are many beneficial effects of having greenery in our lives.

The book aims to give the back story to a large range of easy to acquire plants that are simple to grow and will fit in to the different areas of your home and outdoor spaces in pots and containers. Plants that will fit ‘your style’ and brighten your home and life and radiate more of that positive energy. It covers such a broad spectrum of plants that it should have much appeal as a generalist guide encouraging people to rethink their space and get that bit greener.

On initial flick through my first impression was ‘ooh, nice pictures’, it definitely has that coffee table look and appeal to it so I waited for a quiet night home alone so I could sneak upstairs early with a cup of tea and read it. There are a number of things I like about this book – the photography is lovely and as a keen, but very amateur, gardener I learnt a huge amount of things such as how to over-winter plants typically considered as annuals, how to take cuttings from a variety of plants as well as the origins of many plants. I had no idea until reading this book that it’s pelargoniums (and not geraniums) that you see all over the place in those iconic blue pots in Greece. It was also really interesting to read about NASA’s research with plants in preparation for our colonisation of the moon (still ongoing). They discovered that certain plants are particularly good at cleaning up our environments by removing toxins emitted by mass produced clothes, furniture and wall coverings. They also remove bioeffluents, mould spores and bacteria as well as refreshing our oxygen and raising indoor humidity which helps counter issues caused by dry air from central heating systems.

There are also ‘Kew Tips’ littered throughout the book and one I have to try suggests that the pots of growing herbs you buy from the supermarket can actually be split and propagated so that you can harvest them for months instead of days. There’s also an environmental awareness running throughout with information on peat-free compost and how to make your own, warnings on the provenance of plants, recycling and sharing of cuttings.

There were some things I found a bit frustrating – there are lovely quotes from Kew gardeners throughout the book, however, often there are no pictures of the plant that they are referencing on that page so I had to turn to google to look these plants up numerous times. The photographs aren’t labelled individually so you have to spend some time working out which is which from the notes and often they are quite generic descriptions such as ‘dahlias’ or ‘petunias’ without the specific type, which would have been nice to know. The real niggle for me was the language used in some of the chapter titles ‘Trashy’, ‘Romper Room’ and ‘Lurve’ which seemed discordant with the content and Kew Gardens. But maybe that’s just me with my overly-genteel sensibilities.

Despite my niggles, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Get Plants and it would make a nice gift, however, caveat emptor (buyer beware) this book will likely having you rushing out to your nearest nursery and spending a small fortune if you’re anything like me. I now ‘need’ an African Violet, Florist’s Cyclamen, Mother in Law’s Tongue, Hostas (all of them), Purple Aeonium, String of Beads, Blue Star Fern, Elephant’s Ear and a Hyacinth – told you! Not a bad shopping list from one book.

RRP £25 and it will be released on 1st July. Available here on Amazon

 

Food Beyond The Plate – Foraging and Foodie Events

 

One of my Gastronomy lecturers is working on a collaborative project between food educators, foragers, chefs, artists and producers in the Edinburgh area.

They are offering workshops and experiences from July 2017 which explore the world of food in its broadest sense in the beautiful Newton Walled Gardens at Millerhill just outside Edinburgh.

You can find out more about the project on their Facebook page here

Upcoming events include Wild Crafts: beautiful botanicals with forager and herbal medicine specialist Anna Canning , Killing Cooking, Writing – a workshop with Ethical Carnivore author Louise Gray and How and Why to Eat The Wild – explore the possibilities of using wild foods with Rupert Waites of Buck and Birch, wild-chef and co-creator of Aelder Elixir – all of which sound fantastic for those with a love of the great outdoors, food and cooking, self provisioning and home crafts.

You can find more details on their upcoming events here

Guess I may well see some of you at one of these!

Rocket Gardens – Organic Plantlings – Review

After last year’s disappointments  we’re hoping for a bumper crop of fruit and vegetables from our garden this year and have created a new raised bed and added some new and more unusual varieties to our growing list. Since starting my MSc in Gastronomy I’ve learnt a lot about soil science and food production and we’re putting some of these learnings into  practice – this year we’re all about biodiversity and organic methods.

So it was rather timely when I was asked if I would like to receive a box of organic vegetables and salads from Rocket Gardens – a Cornish-based company that allow you to pick and choose from a number of varieties and then deliver them to your door. Time has been a big issue for me with my studies so thought this would be a great way to get the gyo-ing going quickly.

All the goodies from my Family Favourites Vegetable selection

The ‘Family Favourites Veg Patch‘ duly arrived and I have to say, it was better than Christmas opening it up and unraveling all the layers. The plantlings had all been tucked up in a bed of straw for their travels. Not all the plants had labels on them but they were grouped together so it was easier for identification. So I spent a very pleasant hour laying them all out to see what was what.

Our box contained two different lettuces (Buttercrunch and Red Salad Bowl), yellow courgettes, rainbow chard, carrots, wild rocket, Beetroot (Detroit), Cucumber (Marketmore), Green Sprouting Calabrese, Cavalo nero (Nero di Toscana), peas (Kelvedon Wonder), Giant Winter Leeks, two types of tomato (Tigerella and Golden Sunrise), runner beans (Enorma), dwarf french beans (Tender Green) and seed potatoes (Electra).

Sadly we had some issues with a soil delivery so I wasn’t able to put them straight into the garden so popped them all into pots until we were ready. But they don’t seem to be any the worse for spending, what turned out to be quite a while, in waiting. They all seem to be growing away quite nicely now – I had wondered how they might cope with our altitude and colder climate compared to the South West.

All growing away nicely and happily acclimatised to our hills

We already had four lots of potatoes and four lots of tomatoes on the go so I gave those to neighbours but you can select a mixture of the plants that you want if you don’t choose a selection box. At £34.99 for 125 plants I think this is an absolute bargain – the price is comparable for what we’ve paid in Homebase or such like, and those had no organic credentials. This is definitely a service I would use again, they also do gift vouchers which would make a brilliant present for some of my green fingered friends.

A sneaky courgette in with the cukes

My only slight issue is that I now appear to have a courgette growing in amongst my cucumbers, they were very similar looking plants and not all of them are labelled, still it adds some extra interest to that pot.

 

Parrot Pot – A Connected Plant Care Device (Product Review)

I was very excited when I received an email about the new Parrot Pot – a plant pot with an inbuilt self-watering and regulating system that you connect to through a mobile app. I love new technology and seeing how the internet can help with everyday functions.

I was kindly sent one to review, here’s how I got on…

Just planted, but I’d forgotten to add the base!

It arrived nicely packaged but was quite a bit bigger than I’d been expected – the pot itself is about 32cm high when stood in its base but I suppose it needs to be that tall to house its 2.2-litre water reservoir.

The instructions were all pretty simple to follow and I soon had my plant potted and downloaded the app. Again, it was all nice and simple – I was guided through the set-up, I actually didn’t know the type of plant so I wasn’t able to make use of the installed directory – I believe that if matched with one of those it provides plant-specific care based on the data it has. The pot connected to the app without any issues.

After the first few days of set-up, it was great to see how the plant was being watered regularly and how the soil moisture was changing – the plant I’d used was quite a bushy headed one which meant it was difficult to water from above – part of the reason I’d chosen it for the pot, I’d clearly been under-watering it as it quite quickly used up the first 2 litres from the reservoir.

Plant is noticeably thriving

I’ve had it set up about a week now and I have to say that my plant is looking better than ever, it’s started spreading and growing down over the sides of the pot – it’s clearly very happy. It’s been super interesting monitoring progress through the app. There are graphs of watering, sunshine and temperature if you really want to geek out. I’ve had a couple of instances when the app has told me system maintenance was required and the app simply tests the water jets and then asked me to tamp down the soil and then it was all back to normal, not sure if this is because the plant is overhanging and partially covering the sensor. This morning I noticed some leakage on the window sill – the base which catches run-off from watering was full, not sure if this is a design flaw or because the plant has been over-watered, maybe because we don’t know what type of plant it is so that it can adjust to the plant’s specific requirements.

Getting geeky with graphs

So what do I think? I like it, I really love the technology and can see this having a place in the modern home. My only concern would be the price – it’s retailing at £129.99, although it’s currently on offer at £79.99. I have a LOT of plants indoors and most of them weren’t expensive purchases, just a few ££ each, so to pay that kind of money for enough pots to look after my plants would be seriously prohibitive. I’m sure because this is new technology, like all things, ways will be found to bring down the manufacture costs and once that’s been achieved (it’d need to be by quite some amount for me to purchase one, unfortunately), then I can see it as a much more viable product for the home. I guess if you had really rare or exotic plants then this could be a good investment. The pots have been built to be used indoors or outdoors so it could be worthwhile for more expensive outdoor plants that might benefit from regular watering and monitoring.

PS if anyone knows what type of plant this is please do let me know and I can update the app!

I’m really excited to see how this kind of technology develops.

You can find out more about Parrot Pot here on their website.