We managed to plant a further 40 acres of winter wheat on Thursday. Strangely enough having had rather too much rain in previous days, the ground conditions were practically perfect in the first field we drilled. This field is called Bedlam which seems appropriate considering my first paragraph, perhaps this could have been the start of the trouble!
The weather men predicted a storm which fortunately did not equal that which caused so much havoc in 1987. We took precautions in case we awoke to find lanes blocked by fallen trees and power failures. Cars were parked at the farm and candles and lanterns ready for use. In 1987 we were without electricity for over three weeks by which time the novelty of living like Victorians had begun to wear thin.
However the storm which has caused flooding and disruption could not come at a worse time for many farmers. Calls to farming helplines and rural charities have already rocketed as debt amongst the farming community reaches unsustainable levels and families struggle to make ends meet.
The leading article in last week’s Farmers Guardian reported that many farmers were facing the effects of prolonged stress and ‘physical and mental exhaustion’, coupled with worries over bovine TB and Single Farm Payments.
It is concerning that farmers who have had to cope with a poor harvest in 2012 due to the very wet summer or the loss of sheep and cattle owing to the heavy snow last winter. Some have also faced poor crops again this year as a result of the late and very cold spring. There are also in increasing number of farmers and rural businesses which have faced huge loses and been driven to distraction by repeated thefts of diesel and farm machinery. This storm could well be the straw which breaks the camel’s back.
The figures released last week by Tesco showing total food waste were shocking. Nearly half their bread and bakery items are wasted, 68 per cent of bagged salad, 40 per cent of apples and a fifth of all bananas are all discarded. This amounted to 28,500 tonnes of food waste in just the first six months of the year by Tesco and its customers. It is estimated that a staggering 15 million tons of food waste is generated per year in the UK.
It is time to lower expectations and demands for the ‘perfect’ sized, shape and colour of fresh fruit and vegetables. Reports of farmers having to compost tons of carrots and other produce as supermarkets cancel contracts just because the crop is not the perfect, are quite frankly unacceptable
Just imagine how many hungry mouths could be fed with the 15 million tons of food wasted each year in the UK. Perhaps there should be more encouragement and support for entrepreneurs such as Jenny Dawson who came up with a unique way to deal with the fruit and veg she saw discarded in London.
Jenny has created a business by collecting unwanted fruit and vegetables from New Covent Garden Market which she turns into delicious chutney and jams under the label Rubies in the Rubble.
Not only did Jenny want to rescue discarded food but she also wanted to rescue individuals who she considered had a rough ride. Before quitting her comfortable hedge fund career, 27 year old Jenny had volunteered with several not-for-profit organisations, including the homeless charity Crisis and a couple of youth organisations. She realised that many of these people were capable, bright and able – but nobody believed in them.
So Jenny decided to recruit her Rubies in the Rubble workers via Crises, which offers a catering training programme for ex-offenders, ex-street sleepers, ‘people who were struggling to get back into work, and deserved to be treated like rubies themselves’.
Rubies in the Rubble has captured Jenny’s customers’ imagination. She began selling her chutneys at Borough Market, developing a range which is now not only available on her website (rubiesintherubble.com), but are now stocked at Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, and around 15 independent delis. More recently Waitrose has snapped up Rubies in the Red for eight of its stores.
If Jenny Dawson can create a small business out of wasted fruit and vegetables, some of which have been flown half way round the world, and find an open market, surely others could do the same.
Alternatively, food should be better managed through its journey from field to folk, including surplus food being diverted at an earlier stage to pig farms where it can be consumed and recycled instead of ending up in landfill as happens too often today.
As role models go, the business world needs more Jenny Dawsons. As she has said “You should not judge a cucumber by its odd shape, and society should not discard people just because they seem a bit wonky on the outside.”
Carola Godman Irvine