Eco audit: buying fresh from farmers

Childhood is not complete without a little pick-your-own strawberry activity.  (And of course eating, while picking.)

I don’t know that my parents were choosing to do it for ‘support the farmers’ reasons.  I think we did it because it was fun, because the fruit was so fresh, and because it made a family outing out of the process of acquiring food.  It may also have made jam making cheaper.

I don’t remember childhood strawberry picking (though my parents will tell tales of me in a sunhat, managing to sit on the largest strawberry).  But I do remember it in my teens.  We were fortunate to live in a fertile part of central England, good for fruit-growing.

So pick we did.  Strawberries.  Raspberries.  Gooseberries, I suspect.  Being not far from the border with Herefordshire (home of apple orchards), some of the farms also sold their own cider.  You brought along a plastic container, and filled up.  It was pretty strong – but I was allowed to taste.  And take in the wonderfully fresh, appley aroma.

Thing with pick your own: you tend to need a car to get to the farms.  So that put it out of reach for quite some time, until we owned a car.  We went to one in the Scottish Borders a couple of summers ago – partly as a family outing.  And it was wonderful.

The pick your own practice has moved on a bit in the last couple of years.  It doesn’t seem to be the thing to bring your own boxes for collecting any more.  (Or maybe people do fruit picking more on the spur of the moment? I don’t know.)

There are cardboard baskets, as well as plastic punnets.  (The baskets now see use elsewhere – one holding boxes inside a kitchen cupboard, the other as part of the equally important toy kitchen set up.) The owner is a little less friendly than those in the past – but this is a specialist fruit farm, rather than one which diversifies and also does fruit.

The gooseberries are gigantic.  My small helper soon tires of the task of dodging the thorns, and is sent back to help in the strawberry area.  It is all on a bright, surprisingly hot summer’s day.  We take the strawberries to friends for lunch, take the leftovers back later for making summer pudding.

But what happens on the overcast days? The ones where the produce is not quite as tantalising? I have not really got that far.

Like I said before, we all seem to find areas of environment to adopt – and this is one I haven’t got to. So far. Other friends took to ordering boxes of veg much earlier on.  Or frequenting farm shops.  That was their area to support – and they did.

And this is the struggle.  Because we have got used to having choice, of a wider range of veg than is locally available.  This was something that was coming in in my teens, but has expanded to far greater numbers of fresh ingredients – and far wider areas of import.

In Asterix the Gaul, the druid character is making a potion, supposedly to make the Romans strong.  But he is toying with them.  He asks them to get strawberries, supposedly a missing ingredient – which are almost impossible to find.  Then he and Asterix eat them, comment on them – and ask for more for the potion. (Oh, the many ways of winding up the Romans.)

That sense of seasonality has stuck with me.  So I don’t buy strawberries out of season – because the proper thing tastes so good.  But I don’t always manage to stick to purely seasonal veg – much as I love root veg.

There is a whole interplay of factors here: food miles; supporting local producers and eco systems; supporting growers of organic produce; being prepared to cook your way through a box of fruit and veg that someone else has chosen for you.

This is an area where I am still contemplating what to do.  There are a couple of good farm shops I can drive to – but then it would make sense to do more of my shopping there, to make it worth the drive and the petrol.  I like to plan meals ahead of time – how do I balance that with the ‘what is fresh right now?’ aspect?

So I buy Scottish where I can; British where I can’t.  I buy some fruit and veg imports from Europe, but ones that I know could be transported by road or rail or boat, rather than flown over.  Where something is seasonal, plentiful, I may buy more and cook it up for future use (parsnip soup being a bit of a favourite in this household).

To go the further step – of also buying only (or almost only) what is produced closest to home – I’m not there yet either.  I know about the Fife Diet, and others that have followed on, where you really stick to buying what is produced within a fifty-mile radius, say.  But I guess I am thinking about it too.

Whatever I do adopt, in the end – I hope it will be also for reasons of taste, of pleasure, of respect for the land.  And that I will find ways to squeeze the food budget in other areas so that I can try this out, at least a bit.

And I would also like to commit to eating more strawberries.  Hand picked – by me.