Let's get fresh
PUBLISHED: 14:34 19 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:09 20 February 2013
Alycia Smith-Howard goes in search of real Warwickshire vegetables.
A third of British teenagers think bacon comes from sheep. Sadly, this statistic reveals a growing disconnection between people and food. On a more hopeful note, the number of allotment owners in Britain has sky rocketed in recent years. Driven by a desire for organic food or just an organic engagement with nature, the nation has been spurred on to dig in by food advocates, like Jamie Oliver, and mass-marketed you-can-do-it-too how-to kits and grow bags. The message is undeniably clear: anyone with half a mind can grow their own, no matter how un-green their thumbs may be.
For those without the inclination to grow their own, but the desire for local foods, there are countless fresh food markets all over the county (e.g., Farmers Market in Leamington Spa on the fourth Saturday of every month, and in Warwick every third Friday).
But, alas, what of us, who for reasons of deadlines or just plain laziness rely upon supermarket chains to supply our fresh fruit and veg? A miserable lot to be sure, though woefully, I must count myself amongst their number. I find myself to-ing and fro-ing so much, the staff of Londons Marylebone station know me by name.
Of course, shopping at chain supermarkets does support the local economy. These outlets are prime sources of employment for local people. However, I began to wonder, what, if any, is the real connection between my local Sainsburys and local, Warwickshire food.
I did a bit of investigating, that led me nowhere. Then, just as I was on the brink of ditching the pursuit altogether, the answer, quite literally, fell into my hands. A bundle of asparagus from the refrigerator, with the magic words on its tag: Grown in Warwickshire.
Without hesitation, I donned my wellies and headed to the headquarters of Sandfields Farms, Salford Priors. There, I spent an insightful day in the company of Technical Assistant, Debbie OKane. Debbie, who is responsible for food safety and quality assurance, is a woman passionate about fresh food.
She gave me a tour of Sandfields Farms various growing areas within and around Warwickshire. She shared the companys green philosophy with me, as we sampled peas straight from the stem. Sandfields Farms are members of FWAG, LEAF, and RSPB; they do not use pesticides; and their non-cropped areas are maintained for wildlife. From the abundance of wildlife that I saw, it is apparent that Sandfields Farms strives to work in harmony with nature.
As I stood in the field where my Sainsburys asparagus is grown, I was entertained by a lively flock of red-legged partridges that all seemed quite at home amongst my asparagus ferns. At their legume site, Sandfields Farms encourages local beekeepers to bring their bees to live and work amid the bean flowers. This area was fantastically alive with the hum of bees.
My experience was both an illuminating (I learned that asparagus requires a 10 year, back-breaking commitment, which makes it a risky and costly crop) and a humbling one: I met various members of the Sandfields Farms team, all of whom play a part in growing, harvesting and packing the fresh produce that ends up on the shelf and on my table.
I shall remember those names and faces whenever I stumble, frazzled and blurry-eyed, through the vegetable section of Sainsburys, and take comfort in the fact that I am doing my bit to buy local.