soil association conference

Perhaps you heard, read or saw some mention of the Soil Association's annual conference last weekend. I hope so because it was held in London to court a wider influence in the world. It is staggering the number of politicians (including a very convincing David Cameron), journalists, consultants and advisers looking to the Soil Association for answers on a whole range of issues. When it comes to the originality and intelligent eloquence of its supporters, few organisations can beat the Soil Association. As always, it was a very inspiring event and we all left recharged with enthusiasm and determination to change the world. Sadly, despite subsidised spaces, there were very few farmers there. As one disgruntled questioner pointed out "we are the Soil Association not the fancy food association" and we better remember our roots.

Where does our fruit & veg come from?

Historically, over a full year, the contents of the boxes have been made up of 30% Riverford, 40% other members of our local co-op, 15% other UK growers and 15% imports. We have previously listed the percentage that is UK grown each week as percentage by weight and then, more recently, by number of items. I have always argued that weight is the best measure, since this gives the best indication of the environmental cost, but it has been suggested that this is misleading. From now on we will indicate, by each item, whether it is grown in the UK.

Last time I totted it up over a year it came to 85% UK grown by weight (including fruit). We now sell much more fruit, which is inevitably largely imported, so I think it will have slipped. We use most imports from January to May when the range from our farms is limited. Things are particularly bad at the moment as a result of some damaging frosts, which have left us short of purple sprouting broccoli, greens and cauliflower within our co-op. Since there is very little surplus produce in the UK we are having to import to keep the boxes from being too rooty.

We have now finished our own onions, which, due to our damp climate, never store well. For the next couple of months they are coming from Kees Timmers, who worked here for two years in the nineties helping to set up our co-op, before returning to his farm in Holland. As with so many things horticultural, the Dutch are irritatingly good at growing onions but it would seem only in Holland, as the year he advised us on our onions, they all went off in store and I have been unable to persuade a co-op member to take up the challenge since.

Most of the other imported produce is coming from growers in Morocco (citrus and sometimes tomatoes from just south of Agadir), Andalucia (avocadoes, tomatoes, fennel, aubergine) and Southern France(lettuce). Our bananas come from a group of growers in the Dominican Republic.

Guy Watson