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Chew on this

  • Posted by howies
  • 6 November 2008


In these days of carbon counting, our focus is often guided toward what we believe to be the higher impact aspects of life – heating the house, flights and car journeys mostly. But what about the food we eat? The term ‘food miles’ is often banded around, but do we really know the entire story?  The truth is our shopping baskets are spewing out more greenhouse gases than we first thought. In fact, scientists now know that our love for food accounts for up to twice as many emissions as our love for driving. So, is the simple answer to shop local? When you look at the supermarket shelves and see grapes from New Zealand, tomatoes from Spain and apples from Africa, locally-grown produce sounds like a logical answer, doesn’t it?  Well, it does until you learn that the term ‘food miles’ is solely focused on the products’ CO2 emissions. But, when you throw other harmful gases like methane and nitrous oxide into the equation, then the food production process becomes a whole lot dirtier. Those two gases alone are known to be way more harmful to our atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Research shows that farm to fork transportation accounts for only 11% of food’s total carbon footprint, with up to 83% of the emissions coming from the food production process itself. The remaining 6% going into wholesale and retail, refrigeration and lighting.  The most emission-intensive foods are red meat and dairy. That’s down to the amount of fertiliser and food that farmers use to rear cows and the amount of CO2 and methane they expel (the cows, not the farmers). You might be surprised to know that the carbon footprint of a tasty steak is the equivalent to that of a 19-mile journey in a 4x4 and that a simple bowl of cereal creates the equivalent stink of driving 4.5 miles (the main culprit in your bowl being the milk rather than the cereal itself).  So, one way of reducing your carbon food-print could be to give meat the chop entirely. Switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet could cut your annual carbon footprint by the equivalent of 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per person. That might be a bit too much of a leap for some meatlovers, so perhaps another way could be to simply reduce the amount of red meat we eat. Maybe replacing it with a nice free-range chicken. Chickens eat less grain and fart out less methane, so, in turn, cause a lot less damage to our atmosphere.  I guess there’s no simple answer and we all have to make our own choices in the end.  Just some food for thought.

Facts: Fertilisers and manure release nitrous oxide, which is 296 times as good as CO2 at trapping heat and remains in the atmosphere for 114 years on average.
By 2050 meat consumption is expected to reach 465 million tonnes per annum

Bring back the hippies

  • Posted by howies
  • 6 November 2008


True organic farming requires learning and acquiring a deep and long-term understanding of a farm’s ecology and its crops. It is about a subtle management of the environment to grow our crops with the minimum interference and disturbance.

Spraying a field with a nerve poison to control aphids and thereby killing all other insects by accident is as violent and ignorant as a Nazi book burning; planting phasealia to attract adult hover flies and lacewings whose larvae will eat the aphids is a peaceful and truly knowing one. Annihilating all soil life with the fumigant mythyl bromide to kill a few weed seeds and pathogens when 99.99% of the soil’s population is beneficial is as dumb and intellectually lazy as expecting carpet-bombing Vietnam to lead to peace and freedom. Using the last of our fossil fuels to make nitrogen fertilizer which clover could provide for free and without contributing to global warming is the mark of a blinkered economic system incapable of seeing beyond a self-destructive worship of the free market and greed. How could we be so dumb? Organic farming is smarter in so many ways; it is more than just not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides; it is about our relationship with the planet we live on, including the seven billion people we share it with. At its best it is about humility, understanding and learning from nature rather than arrogance, domination and destruction. It is about peace and respect rather than violence.

I know this is wild stuff and I sound like a hippy but I don’t care. My early years as an organic grower taught me that if you go to war with nature without the back-up of an arsenal of fossil fuel based agro-chemicals you will loose. That made me angry initially but with loosing comes humility, re-evaluation, introspection and fundamental learning. Looking back over my early years as a grower it is hard to believe how personally I took it when things went wrong. It was all about ego and my fields were my empire. Perhaps the self-centered arrogance would have subsided with age anyway but I am convinced the vulnerability inherent in organic farming helped.  For most converting farmers there comes an epiphany when they realise they have got the relationship wrong; that organic farming is not about substituting ammonium nitrate with chicken shit, pyrethrum with soft soap or herbicides with flame throwers, that the conflict is unnecessary and ultimately self-defeating and that the key to organic farming is observation, empathy, humility and understanding rather than power.  

Nature can provide what academics would call the “elegant” solutions that include balance and the subtle relationships between organisms that make chemical farming’s clumsy, energy consuming, often thoughtless abuses seem grotesque by comparison; it has so much to teach those who are receptive and organic farmers normally become more receptive than most. If Bush and Blair had spent their bonding time on an organic allotment with their hands in the soil rather than driving a golf cart around in bomber jackets they would have realised that they were not omnipotent and their countries might not be fighting their unwinnable wars.

Guy Watson founder of the Riverford Organic Veg Box Scheme and co-author of the Riverford Farm Cook Book.  www.riverford.co.uk

Aberteifi & Fish

  • Posted by howies
  • 6 November 2008


The river Teifi is 75.8 miles long and is one of the largest rivers in Wales. It is also one of the most pristine and least modified river catchments in lowland Britain.

Cardigan (Aberteifi in Welsh) used to be a thriving port for trading as well as ship building. But the development and activity of the slate quarry caused a build up of waste material in the river, making the river shallower in places, which in turn prevented access by larger boats. This was seen to be the cause of the end of the sea trading port.

The Teifi is renowned as one of the best rivers in Wales for salmon fishing. However, fish stocks have been under steady threat since the 1960s. This was due to the use of drift nets by Irish Sea trawlers. In 2006 drift nets were banned and since then salmon numbers in the Teifi have been on the rise.

Mostly sewin, salmon, brown trout and bass are found in the Teifi. A reasonable year’s run will contain around 20,000 fish. The average Teifi salmon weighs around 9lb, but they have been recorded up to as big as 30lb.

The Teifi is famous for its rich history of coracle net fishing. This used to be the only real source of income for many of the town’s folk. Now in Cardigan there is only one fishmonger and one lobster/crab seller.

Fishmongers have closed and been replaced by large supermarket chains. One man and his boat are fighting back, his name is Len, and you’ll see him come rain or shine out on the bay catching lobsters and crabs (and sometimes a cold). When he has something to sell you will see a sign outside his door (but only when he has caught something).

Hungry Bin

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


The eggs from Nikki's chickens don't come in boxes.

The scallops come in shells not plastic tubs.

The fish aren't packed in polystyrene boxes kept in fridges.

The beans don't come in tins. But if they do, then the tin gets used for something like keeping your pencils in.

The bottles become candle holders.

When it comes to putting out the rubbish, it's for the chickens.

Our bellies are full.

The bin just goes hungry.

Nikki's Honey

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


6 kg of Manuka honey.
From Manuka flowers.
Grown on Nikki's Manuka (Tea) trees.
Courtesy of bees.
Doesn't look too flash.
Until you hear that it's used in poultices by the Royal Free Hospital in London because it can heal wounds faster than anything else known on earth.
Nice on toast too.

Simple is good

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


I choose not to eat fast food.
I choose not to eat TV dinners.
I choose not to eat processed food.
I am not a fan of additives, e numbers, hydrogenated fat, colouring, trans fats, 
high fructose corn syrup, refined grains 
or preservatives. I don’t add them to the 
ingredients list when I cook at home. And I only use a pinch of salt not a handfull.

So don’t farm the fish.
Don’t clone the meat.
Don’t genetically modify the crops.
Expand organic production.

Don’t mess with my raw ingredients.
That’s my dinner you’re playing with.

The Fisherman

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


My day will start at 2am, on the boat at three. If it’s calm it’s the best time of the day, if it’s rough, it’s the worst.

I go out seven days a week, the only thing that prevents me is the weather. There was a day when the wheel house was ripped off by a wave just near Cardigan Island. I only fish Cardigan Bay. No more than 12 miles off shore – 6 miles to the East and 6 miles to the West. Mandy (my wife) and I are a team. She gets up at two as well to make my sandwiches and to see me off. She also dresses the crabs and sells fish.

My catch goes where I can sell it. We sell any mackerel and bass we get locally. The majority of the shellfish goes abroad though. Some goes to France, some to Spain and some to Portugal. There is a big demand for shellfish in Spain all year round. It gets transported in articulated lorries with saltwater tanks. They are then sold live in the markets. It’s only in this country that we buy shellfish already packaged up and not alive any more. There are three articulated lorry loads a week leaving Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion and at least five lorries in the summer.

I was getting £1.00 a kilo for spider crabs three weeks ago, now they are £1.80. Brown crab costs £1.00 a kilo all year round except for at Easter and Christmas, when the price trebles – traditionally they eat shelfish in Spain and Portugal around this time, it’s only here that we eat turkey. Prawns are the main catch in the winter though. The worse the weather, the sooner they arrive. The rougher the sea, the more we catch.

The fish count is probably still the same as what it has always been, it is just the number of fishermen that has increased. Spider crab has increased and the brown crab has declined. Over the last five years our main brown crab fishery has become extinct and has now been taken over by spider crab fishery. Ten years ago they developed ‘super crabbers’ (boats). In bad weather the small boats can’t go out and fish, but nothing stops the super crabbers, I think they have driven the market down.

If Cardigan Bay was a cake it would be split into 15 slices (one for each fishing boat), if there are less boats your slice is big – it’s as simple as that. At the moment there are 15 boats fishing out of Cardigan, really speaking, there is a good living for about four. It’s not a cheap business either. I have 500 lobster pots that cost £50 each, they last about five years.

I love the fishing. It started out as a hobby with a line and rod on the river and it was a natural progression to the sea. Once I caught my first lobster I was hooked (his pun not ours).

You can learn a lot from a bike chain

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


Each link depends on the next link to form the chain.

No link is more important than another.

In nature, there is a similar kind of chain: they call it an eco-system.

Each species is dependent on one and another for survival.

Indeed, the greater the bio-diversity, the more chance an eco-system can survive whatever man will throw at it in the future.

So instead of focusing on protecting a single species (as in the quotas system) we need to change tact.
We need to look after the whole eco-system that supports that species.

Or to put it another way, we have been managing one link and not the whole chain.

In the future we will need to manage pollution, habitat disturbance (sand and gravel extraction) as well as over-fishing.

Currently, we do not consider environmental issues, only the numbers of fish we can catch.
Yet the number of fish that we can catch is, of course, directly related to environmental issues.

Dumb, huh.
Take cod for example. It is on our plates because of a large number of other flora and fauna that together provide a clean, safe environment with enough food and habitat to support a viable population.

It’s the eco-system that keeps the oceans healthy and maintains stocks of fish. So that is what we need to protect. The whole. But we are still ruled by a quotas system that is well intended but shallow in its outlook. So they carry on planning for today by ignoring tomorrow.

As a result there are more than 200 marine dead zones around the world.
Two years ago, there were only 150 dead zones. They range in size from a few square miles to one in the Baltic of over 70,000 square miles. (That’s about half the size of the UK.)

Even when you stop fishing in these areas, the fish stocks don’t return. Sadly, this is what happens when eco-systems are destroyed.

Yet in the UK only around two square miles of our sea is protected marine reserve (or no take zone as they are known). That’s just 0.002% of our waters.

Scientists are pushing for at least 20–30% to be protected.

Write to your local MP and tell him you think it’s a good idea to protect our marine reserves.

Tell him a bike chain inspired you.

For more info:

Dear First Minster

  • Posted by howies
  • 23 October 2008


I am a dreamer.

There will be many people to tell you that this idea is crazy, daft and impossible.

The idea is to make all food produced in Wales organic. That’s right, convert the whole country. (Wales is one of only three countries in the world with sustainability written into its constitution).

Yes, it will cost a lot of money. It will take time and, yes, there will be people who are firmly against it.

But the upsides will be worth it.

Wales will be the first country in the world to go entirely organic. The stamp of ‘Made in Wales’ will also say that important word when it comes to food: trust.

And when it comes to food, no one will be more trusted than Wales.

The demand for food that is ‘Made in Wales’ will simply go through the roof.

Of course, the farmers will benefit in lots of ways. But so will tourism. Rivers will be cleaner and so will our seas. Tourists like that kind of thing.

Our businesses will see more people visit Wales and ultimately spend more money here. Businesses like that kind of thing.

The prices of housing will rise
as more people would like to live in a country that looks after its environment.
Homeowners like that kind of thing.

Oh, and let’s not forget that we will all eat healthier food as a result. We all like 
to do that.

As more food scares come to the surface, and as we find out about the side-effects of genetically modified food, Wales will be the only country in the world that will have said no to any of that.

And who will customers turn to for food that they can trust? That’s right, they will look to this little but progressive country of ours to buy from.

The only country that invested in its entire food chain in order to make food we can trust.

This is a big idea.

This is the stuff that changes things. This is history making stuff. What a legacy to leave behind.

We may be a small country but we need to think big.

Fancy a cuppa?


a search engine used to find your locally produced food.

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