Monday, 25 March 2013

Food on the Farm

Last Wednesday was one of those days when I really love my job. I had the chance to visit Wash Farm, the Riverford veg box company's headquarters here in Devon. The reason I was visiting was to do a talk about Devon's wildlife (with similarities to these previous blogs; Avery's Ark (part 1) and Avery's Ark (part 2) ) and lead a guided walk around the farm. This was an event I'd been looking forward to for months as I'd been hoping to visit the farm ever since I moved down to Devon.

I was pleased to find that there was a good turn out with several staff members from the farm tagging along too. I love doing talks because when I prepare for them I always get to find out new fascinating facts on whatever topic the talk is about. This time I discovered that Goldcrests make their nests out of moss and spider's webs; that some butterflies, like Painted Ladies, migrate at highs of up to 1km into the sky and that bee's save farmer's millions of pounds each year by pollinating our crops for free (probably a good reason to stop killing them with insecticides...).

The morning had started with sunshine (a promising sign on the first day of spring) but had quickly turned to showers during the talk. Thankfully by the time we headed outside for our walk the rain had stopped and we set off to look for wildlife on the farm. We weren't disappointed either. As we walked through the fields looking at bat boxes, bug hotels, seedheads left for birds to eat and fantastic hedges we saw lots of wildlife, mostly birds but one person saw a fox run across the top of the fields.

For the day, our bird list was:

  • Wood Pigeon 
  • Dunnock
  • Chaffinch
  • Robin
  • Blackbird
  • Blue Tit
  • Green Woodpecker
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • Buzzard
  • Long Tailed Tit
  • Bullfinch
  • House Sparrow
  • Mallard Duck
  • Moorhen
  • Coat Tit
  • Magpie
  • Carrion Crow
  • Raven 

Not bad considering the rain started up halfway round and we were out in a cropfield rather than on a nature reserve. The Buzzards (there was a pair) circled over a neighboring field giving us all a wonderful clear view, and the Green Woodpecker perched on a telegraph pole across the reservoir from us for about 5 minutes, long enough for everyone to have a good look through their binoculars.

Back in the warm we all settled down for lunch prepared by the fantastic staff at the Riverford Field Kitchen. The food was delicious! Silence descended as everyone tucked in. There was a starter of blue cheese, walnut and cauliflower salad, a main of roast beetroot and carrots, potato, mushroom and onion gratin, purple sprouting broccoli and spinach with roast chicken too. It wasn't until I took my first bite out of the roast beetroot that I realised how much I missed organic, local veg. Since moving down to Devon I haven't had a chance to set up a veg box order so we've been having supermarket veg but there's no comparison for flavour. All the food was so packed with colour and flavour that it really was an assault on the senses. Ordering our first Devon veg box is now top of my priorities (after writing this blog of course...).

The puddings were incredible too. A choice of chocolate Eton mess, treacle tart, chocolate tart, apple sponge or cheesecake. All looked delicious and made with local ingredients there were no pangs of guilt for food miles.

One of the best things for me during the day was seeing how passionate the staff at Riverford are when it comes to producing good quality, local food while protecting the environment and wildlife in their care. All the staff I talked to were confident talking about all aspects of the farm. They knew where the meat came from, how the sprouts were doing, which products were most often imported (by boat never by plane) and what the farm is doing for wildlife.

So overall, a fantastic day. Beautiful surroundings with great wildlife, some lovely people and interesting chats with the Riverford staff, delicious food and no guilt about it's environmental impact. I really do love my job.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Sitting Still

This week I found myself in Exeter with 30 minutes to spare. Lots of ideas sprung to mind about how I could spend my time; wander around the shops, buy a cup of tea, do some useful shopping, do some not-so-useful shopping...

But instead I chose sitting by the cathedral.

On a cold March day it wasn't as comfortable as being in the shops but the unexpected warmth of the sunshine was enough to tempt me to stay. Also, there's a strange satisfaction in spending half an hour doing nothing, spending nothing. Getting to the end of the thirty minutes, being surrounded by shops and having the same money as at the start seems quite exciting, like you've achieved something.

It really shouldn't be that impressive. But even a small time not spending money can be hard. I must really try to do more spend-nothing days.

While I was spending nothing I got to look at the cathedral and take in its awesome architecture. Hundreds of years of stone, history and artwork; it's amazing to think what those walls will have seen. I also saw my first bee of the year and heard lots of birds signing ready for the new season. Spending some time taking in the world around you, thinking about your day or just watching people can be great for getting things in perspective. That must-buy item in a shop, or that naughty chocolate bar, are less tempting after a little bit of quiet reflection.

So overall, I think those thirty minutes were much better spent outside than inside. I felt refreshed and with a stronger will against impulse shopping or grumpyness for the rest of the day, and I saved money that would probably have otherwise been spent on useful stuff.

So if you get the chance this week, spend a while just standing, or sitting, and admire the view, enjoy the birdsong or just the feeling of not doing or spending anything.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Signs of Spring

Even though it was trying to snow yesterday spring is definitely on the way. Compared to Lancashire all the signs are a little earlier down here in Devon too. 

Snowdrops were out at the start of the year and now there are daffodils, primroses, crocuses and even some early tulips, all in bloom. The flower colours are coming faster than new leaves but buds are everywhere and there are lots of catkins, soon the branches will be covered with green again. 

You can hear spring in the air too at the moment with lots of birdsong. It's my favourite time for dawn choruses because even though it might not sound as impressive as the later in the year I can hear it all without having to get up really, really early! As well as shouting from the tree tops the birds are busy preparing for the nesting season gathering twigs and grass, and looking for suitable locations. With all the movement and busyness of the new season winter seems to fade away. 

I escaped the cold last week with a visit to the Eden project. What a wonderful use for an old quarry. While the rainforest and mediterrean domes are fantastic (as well as being warm and dry) the highlight was seeing my first firecreast from about a foot away! Hoping around in a small conifer bush the tiny bird wasn't at all bothered by the noisy toddlers close by, it was much too busy finding enough food to get it through the cold of the night to come. Seeing this fantastic creature up close for about five minutes is probably the best wildlife experience I've had down in the South West but I'm sure the new season will bring more excitement. 

Closer to home, the mystery of the meal worms  continues. Once again the foods disappeared and still no sign of what's taking it. Maybe this week will bring answers...

Monday, 4 March 2013

Fairer Future

I can't believe it's Fairtrade Fortnight again. It's the time of year when we can celebrate those products which guarantee a fair price to farmers. I still find it hard to remember that lots of the products I buy might not be giving a fair price to the whole production chain. 

Trying to buy local produce seems to have limited my Fairtrade purchases recently. I haven't bought bananas in a while, and trying to eat more healthily means cutting back on chocolate, although if I do buy it I almost always buy Fairtrade. There are some foods which I always buy Fairtrade and others that I only just realised Fairtrade was an option. Hot chocolate, bananas and coffee will always be Fairtrade in my basket but today I saw my first Fairtrade lime. If I'm buying a product that can't be local then I'd much rather it was Fairtrade.

Tea I find trickier. We had some lovely Christmas presents this year from Whittard's but I'm always surprised how few posh tea's are Fairtrade. When I searched for "Fairtrade" on the Whittard website I found no results. I wonder why there seem to be lots of upmarket Fairtrade coffees but very few upmarket Fairtrade teas. My favourite Fairtrade tea is the Co-op's 99 which is definitely nice enough to be going on with.

So, if you love the little guy support Fairtrade fortnight this week however you can. You could join the mini march on the Fairtrade Foundation website, buy some Fairtrade chocolate or maybe find that elusive posh Fairtrade tea. Whatever you choose, be happy in the knowledge that everyone's getting a fair share of the price.