The Market Year - February
Welcome to the January edition of the Market Year.
'February brings the rain,
Thaws the frozen lake again.'
Though it may not seem like it when we get more wet days than dry, the days are starting to lengthen and a trip to your local market is a great way to get out and about and shake off the winter gloom. Then it’s back home with all your goodies for some serious comfort eating, or maybe boost your immune system with plenty of locally grown produce and lean meat and fish. Serve your meat with the best of all the cabbages and brassicas that are around now. Savoy cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli all work perfectly in stir fries and curries, or serve them simply shredded and steamed tossed with a little seasoning, and a dash of cold pressed oil.
Collette Haynes of Ashurst Organics in Plumpton.
Photograph: Carlotta Luke
It's no surprise that Collette is so passionate about organic growing when you discover her background. After university she worked in Youth Theatre, wrote a play about green issues and found herself hooked into a life of playing in and protecting the environment. “I found my bliss,” she smiles. Later, when working for Charles Dowding [famous for his 'No Dig' growing methods] in Somerset, she met her future husband Peter who was managing the Dowding's dairy farm. Together, the couple started the search for their own land when through a friend, they came across Alec and Horace White's old dairy farm in Plumpton. The brothers had resisted the spread of agro chemicals in 1945 and were still hand milking the cows until 1993 so the soil was free from pollutants, very fertile and ideal for organic food growing.
Peter's great aunt Dorothea left him £20,000 which was enough for the initial purchase of the land but allowed no working capital. The Soil Association had granted them instant organic status but that meant they lost out on the conversion subsidy. However 1994 found them living in a caravan on site, working hard and being as resourceful as ever, begging and borrowing equipment and raw materials. Peter can make or fix anything so, with money from a variety of odd jobs locally, they started market gardening in a small way.
In June that year, Common Cause Co-operative commissioned the first Ashurst Vegetable boxes, only 12 in the first month but rising to an amazing 38 by the November. “We had masses of support from Common Cause”, says Collette, “they developed our customer base and even worked on the land.”
The nineties and early noughties were the big growth time for Vegetable Boxes - Ashurst's peak was in 2003 when they delivered 480 boxes each fortnight. Collette remembers it was lots of fun with fine weather, good camaraderie among the workers and that bench mark in the small business, paying tax! Thanks to an earlier investment, Collette and Peter were finally able to move their family out of the caravan into the house they built on site themselves.
Two years later, in 2005, they were in a very different situation; climate chaos was beginning to affect the crops and the great anti organic backlash when the agrochemical and food industries initiated a variety of strategies to try to discredit organics. The language was all about maximizing efficiency and growth and seeing the environment as yet another commodity. “It was shocking to feel outlawed by media soundbites”, says Collette, “working through the negativity was an enormous challenge.” Collette and Peter joined with colleagues to re-form the Organic Growers Alliance which gave much needed support and encouragement. The OGA along with the Soil Association then campaigned hard to overturn peoples perceptions of organic as a lifestyle choice, emphasizing the true benefits of organic production and consumption: hoping to encourage people to consider the question, 'How can I vote for a better farming system with my money?'
“With I.F.O.A.M., the Land Workers' Alliance and Via Campesina, we are still working to redress the balance,” says Collette, ”This is the organic principle - that the health of the soil, plants ,animals and man are one and indivisible. It's a radical perspective because it considers the Rights of the Planet as well as our own."
In Season Now
Red and white onions, leeks, red, white and green cabbages, Brussels sprouts, chard, kale, beetroot, carrots, squashes, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, swede and celeriac, jerusalem artichokes, salad leaves, apples. Turkey, goose, pork, pheasant, venison, sea bass, skate, brill, gurnard, lemon sole, Dover sole, Kent scallops, huss, dabs, pollock, monkfish, grey mullet, whiting, whelks, mussels and oysters.
Seasonal Recipes by Polly Senter
Lewes Food Market is run by Lewes Local Community Interest Company. It was founded to give the people of Lewes, and visitors, a unique opportunity to buy locally sourced fresh food products direct from the producers on a weekly basis.
Details of all the Lewes Food Market traders here...
See www.lovefoodhatewaste.com for help with wasting less food.
See www.makinglocalfoodwork.co.uk for exciting food news.
Buying local and eating food in season supports and encourages our local food producers, which in turn makes us less dependent on importing most of our food - an insecure business these days with rising fuel costs, climate change affecting crops, and regular international conflicts.
Lewes Food Market is run by Lewes Local Community Interest Company. The Market Year is funded and supported by the Lewes Pound www.thelewespound.org