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.
I recently tried rhubarb tea at a friend’s house – not sure where she’d got it from as I’d never seen it before but it was really tasty so I thought I’d have a go at making my own with the last of the rhubarb harvested from the garden this week.
I sliced the rhubarb into thin slices and blanched it briefly before dehydrating it – it took about 10 hours to fully dry it out. Then I blitzed the dried stalks in my food processor and stored it in a airtight tub ready for use.
It was pretty simple to make and resulted in a lovely lightly pink and refreshing homemade tea. I think next time I’ll try adding some ginger or possibly mixing it with some dehydrated apple to add some extra warmth and sweetness.
Looking forward to making more teas with the Autumnal harvests just around the corner.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.