A happy New Year to all our wonderful customers. We hope you all had a restful, peaceful Christmas and New Year.
This always feels like a unique time, a suspended time a time when our normal markers are out of sync, a slumbering, still and quiet time when routine fades away. The garden rests, the soil has a break from its twice weekly trampling, harvesting routine, I rest and even forget what day of the week it is; impossible any other time of the year, even if I take a holiday my first thought on a Wednesday is ‘they will be packing boxes today’ on a Saturday ‘they will be setting up the stall’. Tuesday and Friday are harvest days. But during the magical time between Christmas and New Year nothing happens. It is, as ever, a time for reflection, plans and anticipation. Thoughts about the peculiar season we have had and about how its unusualness is becoming more and more normal. Whilst inevitably thinking about how the weather has affected me personally; markets on Saturday have been wet but warm, no frozen fingers or toes. No crops frozen solidly in the ground, so frozen, sometimes, we have had to chisel them out of the ground then bring them on a trailer into the shed in a solid lump and plug in as many heaters as possible in the hope that the ice would melt in time for us to pack them. The mud, of course, brings its own challenges. Ultimately though, having spent New Year in Cornwall in wellies and waterproofs, amongst swathes of December daffodils I think I know which I prefer. I was very interested in Olly Foxs’, my neighbour and keen recorder of birds’ migration and nature, observations and thought I would summarise the conversation in the hope that you will find it as pertinent as me.
‘It doesn’t sound a lot but spread out across the globe a 1°C rise in the average temperature is already modifying the weather systems we all experience. For every 1°C rise there is corresponding 6% increase in moisture in the atmosphere and this provides extra energy for the storm systems that have recently worked across the Atlantic and hit our shores. Together, global warming and a strong El Nino in the Pacific have produced record-breaking rainfall, devastating floods and the warmest December in the UK since records began.
Warm southerly, rain-laden winds have kept frosts away and looking around at the local countryside it seems as though Nature has skipped a season, with signs of spring all around us. Primroses, aconites and daffodils have emerged early and many are flowering already; pendulous hazel and willow catkins are opening up; bats and bumblebees fly between storms when they should be hibernating and conserving energy; and blackbirds, wrens and robins are joining mistle thrushes in unseasonable dawn choruses.
Some will benefit, of course. Those delicate species, such as goldcrests and long-tailed tits that can succumb to cold winters will survive in warm, wet winters if they can find food and weather the storms. But the ‘winter’ is not over yet. A return of the frost in January and February could prove to be disastrous for all the plants that have flowered early, birds that have been preoccupied with territories when they should have been feeding up and for moths and butterflies that have left the security of their hibernation or emerged from chrysalises to find there is no food or chance of breeding. We’ll have to wait and see what this means for the year ahead.’
It is clear we all need to do something and the government has finally accepted that this is a matter of urgency. Paying for plastic bags seems to have changed our reliance on them overnight. I know I am talking mostly to the converted – customers who return their boxes and often paper and plastic bags too, for reuse. Customers that don’t want vegetables that look like they were produced in a factory, instead they celebrate the quirky and individuality of these non-conformist vegetables. Customers who at Stroud farmers market carefully sift through the crates of carrots and parsnips looking for the ones with legs or arms wrapped around each other in a muddy cuddle. As I walk through the garden, at the start of the New Year, it gives me huge pleasure and satisfaction to see stumps standing after harvest knowing that every cabbage, cauliflower and romanesco has been sold. I know sometimes tolerance can be fully tested but my belief is that if you feel connected to the people who grow or produce your food and you have an understanding of what it takes to do their job then waste is not an option. I know I sometimes risk irritating some of you some of the time but I think it is a risk worth taking and I like to think that the relationship I have with all of you is so different to the relationship that supermarkets have with their customers, there is a dialogue and we can have the conversation.