A Green and Pleasant Land
'Konnichiwa' New Flavours!
We have another beautiful and bursting with flavour recipe from Moto Priestman of Okan Brixton. Give her Pak Choi Ankake Donburi a go and welcome the simplicity of Japanese cooking into your kitchen. If you're keen to give your kitchen the night off and fancy supporting a local business, Okan is open for takeaway and delivery.
A Green and Pleasant Land
Many customers this week will get a taste of new season radishes, spring greens and chard in their bags. These lovely veggies began their lives in a field in Essex, a short 50 miles away from our arch. They were planted, nurtured and cultivated by a real person, a mother of two, and third-generation farmer tilling the land near Tillingham. Meet Sarah Green, a real farmer making a success of sustainable growing and who you support by supporting Local Greens.
Sarah grew up on her family’s farm on the Dengie Peninsula on the Essex coast. The flat marshes and big, open skies grounded Sarah to stay in the region and work on the farm herself. Her parents, however, weren't so sure their small operation could support another Green and provide enough income for all to thrive. While Sarah's parents helmed the farm, they grew solely cereals and main crop potatoes. Her mother was a greengrocer by trade, selling other's produce, but the family farm was not supplying crops year-round. Organic farming and veg box schemes were figments of an idealist imagination, not a reality that could take root in Essex.
Undeterred, Sarah enrolled in agricultural college. She realised no farms in East Essex were growing organic vegetables and there was a gap in the market. The Green's farm could take a plunge and be the first. To start, they converted a limited amount of their land for organic to test, with the idea to sell at the greengrocer shop. The success was immense, and over the course of seven years, 40 acres of land were converted for organic vegetables that now produce a year-round supply that feeds Essex restaurants, Sarah Green's own local box scheme and London outlets, including Local Greens.
The family farm may now bear her name, but Sarah Green Organics is truly a whole family affair. Mom and dad are very much in the picture; with dad mending and mucking in the field, and mom keeping the office running at speed. Along with her husband, Sarah now has two "apprentices" in her four and seven-year-old children who love to be out and about in the fields, getting their hands dirty.
Before March 2020, the hardest part of farming for Sarah was keeping up a continuous supply of vegetables. The farm harvests all year, and the vegetables are in the ground until the moment they are ready to pick for an order. That makes for the freshest quality for a customer, but becomes cold, hard work in the winter, and through the hungry gap growing season from which we are just emerging.
This year was set to be another standard chapter in the Green's family history of planting and growing, until the pandemic came to the UK. Lockdown orders coincided with the hungry gap season, the most challenging time in the farming calendar when stores of last year's crop are low and the new year's crop is barely in the dirt. Sarah candidly shared with Growing Communities how hard coronavirus has made operations. March 2020 were “the most challenging weeks of my farming life!” she said, “It's a terrible time of year in the hungry gap, plus, I had four staff self-isolating and basically had to reorganise the whole business in about 10 days.” Normally, Sarah's own veg scheme packs about 140 boxes a week. This increased to 260 boxes, "almost overnight.” She has previously championed box schemes for the direct sales and income it provides farmers over selling to supermarkets. "Setting up box schemes ensures everyone involved gets a fair price,” Sarah shared. However, the incredible customer surge meant logistics, customer deliveries and increased enquiries all had to be reworked at once. The family farm was just about ready to cope when the announcement came that schools would also close. Home schooling would push Sarah's capabilities as a working mother into another dimension. She admits, “It's been incredibly busy, exhausting and overwhelming at times.”
While the community response has been grateful and appreciative, Sarah takes her role as a farmer and key worker with gravity. “I equally felt a huge responsibility to get food to households. That's been quite hard,” she shares. Before the pandemic, Sarah saw farming as a joyful challenge, where there was always something to grumble about, but your biggest adversary was the weather. This is often reflected in the cheerful and descriptive 'Field Notes' Sarah has written over the years and Local Greens shares with customers. Now, however, the very structure of farming, supplying fresh food and the precarious nature of our food system is exposed. For Sarah Green, this comes as a wake-up call that, “key workers are the lower paid people and they're the ones everyone is relying on now. I hope this changes people's attitudes going forward.”
On this bank holiday weekend, while you're enjoying a radish, spring greens or bunch of chard, remember the hard work Sarah, her parents, and her grandparents before her, put into cultivating their piece of Essex land. As summer approaches, the Greens will look out with satisfaction over their lush fields, knowing that the family farm is safe in the hands of a third generation. With your continued support, the two "apprentices" of today may become the fourth generation to carry on the family business of tomorrow.