Food miles……..going the distance.

By Farm Member Michelle Worn

I said I would look into food miles for the Spring edition of Bennison’s newsletter, specifically the
journey of a green bean, but alas all is not as it may first appear.

Having read various articles I can conclude the picture is hazy and that food miles cannot be interpreted without the consideration of other vital factors such as farm practices (non-organic vs organic), employment, processing, packaging, storage and transport! Looking at food miles in isolation gives a false impression.

For instance, unsurprisingly, reports show that it is less environmentally friendly to grow out of season tomatoes in Britain under glass than it is to import tomatoes from Spain. The energy needed to heat glasshouses in Britain during the colder months to ripen tomatoes uses significantly more energy than transporting them from Spain where the warmer climate does the job.

So, eating seasonally is directly tied into food miles too. Interestingly, British apples harvested in September and October are then cold stored which, for a while, still outweighs carbon emissions from flown in apples, but by August, the lines cross. The amount of energy required to keep them fresh will then overtake the carbon cost of shipping apples in from New Zealand. Therefore, in July and August it is argued that is better to buy apples from New Zealand.

It is, like most things, a balancing act and very much personal choice and circumstance driven but regardless, it is no doubt beneficial to take stock.

As a family of 3, writing this article has again made me consider how we do things versus how I want
to do things. My grandad had an allotment in his back garden – I still have his book of plot notes –
and the idea of growing what you need, in sync with your local seasonality and hence reducing all
unnecessary outputs sits the most comfortably. However, I do appreciate that space, health, time
and ‘the rest of life’ makes this harder to become a reality.

This is where supporting local, organic veg schemes such as Bennison Farm really helps address these issues. The farm supports the lives of local people and the vegetables are grown and sown organically, processed by hand, stored in an old truck body, packaged (only where necessary and then mainly in recyclable materials), and finally driven no more than 8 miles from the farm for collection. Wondering about the mileage of that green bean? Most coming from Kenya, it’s 4237 miles!

Articles I used and / or found interesting:

Farm News – March 2022

Winter can be a challenging time when it comes to supplying seasonal veg in the UK. Our short growing season means that once you get to the autumn there is no chance to plant again if things go wrong.

We plant a wide range of crops so that we have things to fall back on if something doesn’t do as well as expected. If everything went well we’d probably have surplus but in general it all balances out. This Winter went pretty smoothly all things considered. Although not everything was perfect, there was little anxiety about filling the veg bags each week. As always we’re glad of the polytunnels in the colder months and we’ve had some fantastic salads and leafy greens since the turn of the year.

In March things get going and crops come out of dormancy and start to grow again. We have an abundance of spinach and chard in the polytunnels and some nice spring greens. In the field the leeks are doing us proud and we’re eagerly awaiting spring cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli. This mixed with the last of the winter roots and onions will see us through to May when it gets a little trickier.

May is our ‘hungry gap’ when the last season’s produce is finished but much of the new season’s crops aren’t ready. There is only so long you can keep stored crops at ambient temperatures before they go soft or start to grow. In the field crops will ‘bolt’ – putting up their flowering stems ready to make seed. Of course we do our best to ameliorate this situation, very much helped by the use of polytunnels and fleece covers in the field to give the plants their own more favourable micro climate. Inevitably veg share’s become much lighter and leafier at this time – leaves being the first thing to grow before roots, shoots and fruits develop. It’s another challenging point in the calendar. but we make it through each year, if by the skin of our teeth and biting our nails! Somehow it always just about works out.

Our minds are very much on some exciting new developments that are happening this year. We’re awaiting the installation of a borehole which will give us our own free supply of water. We currently get our water from the mains but this can be pricey especially in a dry summer. The borehole should easily pay for itself in a few years. In order to run the borehole pump we needed power and so we’ve taken the plunge and invested in a mains power connection. This has the added benefit of supplying our new lorry container packing shed with power and lights taking us into the 20th century at last! It will be great to be able to run power tools without firing a generator, and having a kettle and radio in the packing shed won’t go amiss. We also have plans to erect a new polytunnel complete with heated benches for propagating seedlings in the early season and maybe even an automatic watering system.

Everything is on hold at the moment as UK power networks have been repairing storm damage and so unable to connect our power, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed things will start moving again soon.
In the meantime we are gearing up for the new growing season. Our newly adopted no dig system in our polytunnels is working well, with the soil being thickly mulched with a layer of compost, meaning the weed seeds are buried in the soil so there is much less weeding to do. There are also great benefits to the soil fauna and micro-organisms, being left to work their magic, recycling nutrients and making them available to the crops.

We’ve planted spinach, lettuce, Pak choi, fennel and mizuna in the polytunnels and sown carrots and peas. In the field we’re nearly ready to plant out the eagerly awaited delivery of our onion sets which will be the first thing to go in the ground. We’re glad of some dry weather which has allowed us to get the soil ready to plant on time. We’ll also be glad of some rain once we’ve planted!