Friday, 27 November 2009

eating local

It's great to see a new butcher in Lewes as Martin Tebbutt of Boathouse Farm recently moved in to the Riverside. He sells almost exclusively local, organic meat, the best kind, really, for all sorts of common sense reasons. Recently, when I couldn't get to Boathouse's farm shop outside Lewes, I bought an organic chicken from Waitrose, and found it insipid and unsettling.

There's been an interesting debate about the future of meat in a low-carbon world recently, with Sir Nicholas Stern of the Stern Report suggested we become vegetarians. That's fine, if you're inclined to be one, but I do like to eat a small amount of local, organic, meat about once a week. In fact, I'm moving rather away from pulses, grown overseas and more towards local food, with high proportions of nutrition-packed local fruit and vegetables and small amounts of high-quality protein. Last weekend I got a small amount of stewing steak from Boathouse and stewed it in loads of gravy, long and slow with leeks, swede and carrots and topped the whole thing with a thick layer of sliced potatoes. The meat cost £2 for the four of us and the whole thing less than a quid a head. Yum yum!

Traditionally, that would have been a typical meal, with the Downs supporting sheep and the market gardens supplying our veg. Now, of course, the dozen or so market gardens of Lewes are all car parks and housing developments. An acre of land on North Street, now that it's no longer in the hands of Angel Properties, would grow a huge proportion of Lewes's food in raised beds, which is what they reverted the car parks to in Havana when Cuba ran short of oil recently. Growing on North St would also be a great source of training and employment, and a real, handy use for an area that was always a productive, working area and, let's face it, never really meant for a developer to grab for housing and take out of community use (come to this Saturday's hugely important Open Space if you want influence the future of the land).

All around the world, amazing urban food projects are springing up in vacant lots. In Chicago, where there are huge problems with urban blight, residential areas are being re-zoned and re-prioritised for food production over housing. And in Britain, Incredible Edible Todmorden, with the support of the council and businesses, is aiming to grow a significant amount of its food within the town.

According to Local Food, a Transition book, there is a myriad of ways to grow food locally. Transition Town Lewes's food group, for example, has run a successful Open Kitchen Gardens project, opening edible gardens for public inspiration; its Food up Front Lewes has run a year's pilot and is considering another year; Common Cause is running food-growing workshops on the community Lottie, and a few transitioners created, in an afternoon, Eat Lewes, a mini forest garden of perennial edibles in a tiny triangle of land outside my house. In this, its first year, the plot yielded rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, tayberries, horseradish, 10 different herbs and greens, and an impossible amount of Jerusalem artichokes.

I also notice an increasing number of Lewesians growing food on land out front of their houses, a celebration of resilience. You can grow loads of food on small urban patches, measured in food feet, and it's terrifically exciting to think of the delicious food we'll be growing all over Lewes in a decade's time.

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