A visit to Spitalfields City Farm

We’ve written about all the urban farms in London, but we realised that we hadn’t visited enough of them! So we headed to east London, snuck behind Shoreditch High Street station, took a left, took a right and there we were! At Spitalfields City Farm…it sounds cliché, but it really is a little oasis in the middle of chaotic east London. If you fancy a coffee and cake, or you want to say hello to some chickens and donkeys, or you’d like to volunteer, go check it out! In the meantime, here’s a little video we made about our visit. Enjoy!

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The tragedy of food waste

10433265_10152472087051257_9114670192187825949_nHave you ever walked through your local supermarket and thought, “Gosh, look at this plentiful place full of produce!”? Have you ever realised that your local plentiful supermarket is only one such place, in one neighbourhood of one city in one country? In other words, there are millions of supermarkets on the planet brimming with animal products, by-products and cultivated produce…have you ever noticed how supermarkets are empty of food at closing time? No, me neither. And that’s because supermarkets don’t sell all their food at the end of each day and, due to domestic laws, produce which is perfectly edible but exceeds arbitrary sell-by dates will be thrown away.

According to a Guardian article from July 9, the EU wastes approximately 89 million tonnes (that’s 89,000,000,000 kilograms or almost 200,000,000,000 pounds) a year.

Those are staggering numbers, especially given the amount of people that cannot afford fresh food. Most of us take our access to fresh food for granted. An extremely fascinating study by UK-based think thank Overseas Development Institute sheds light on a case of negative feedback: “foods that become cheaper [processed foods] compared to others are likely to be consumed more” and in turn, this drives the prices of certain fresh foods (source).

Over the years, the EU has imposed strict guidelines for what fresh produce needs to look like. In order to make sure all farmers and producers sell similar produce and compete on a level playing field, there are certain standards of colour, weight and shape that fruits and vegetables need to maintain. Aesthetic features, in most cases, are not reflective of quality or nutritional value (unless something is visibly expired), meaning that tonnes of fruits and vegetables that do not meet the criteria can’t be sold.

Thankfully, these rules have been relaxed and only 10 fruits and vegetables are bound by such guidelines, which is that is a step forward.

Food is not only going to waste at the production level, but also at the retailer level. Supermarkets can and should be doing more to make sure food they no longer wish to sell is somehow passed on.

France at the forefront

Although the EU has recently adopted a resolution asking the European Commission to “encourage the creation of agreements” between supermarkets and food charities, this feels like a mere suggestion, not a requirement.
France, on the other hand, seems to be understanding the problem of food waste with a bit more gusto than its neighbours. Large food retailers can receive a fine of up to €75,000 (just over £50,000) for throwing away edible food.

Some supermarkets chains have shown to be very progressive in this matter. French giant Carrefour carries out an extensive programme of food donation and distribution, which, in 2013, was equivalent to 77 million meals. They have also donated over €630,000 (about £445,000) to food banks in four countries.

Not so easy

Unfortunately, the redistribution of food is not always a simple task. There are logistical issues – such as transport or finding recipients who have the facilities to store donated food – which are a hindrance to more action being taken by the supermarkets. More importantly, it’s cheaper for supermarkets to dispose of food than redistribute it.
Despite some difficulties, it can be done, as Carrefour has demonstrated. There are other ways to incentivise distribution: some European countries are helping the problem by offering tax rebates or even refunds to businesses that donate food.

Last but not least

Supermarkets here are, slowly, starting to take the problem seriously. ASDA has pledged £200,000 to pay for the transportation of edible food to FareShare, a charity that seeks to distribute food and works with many charities – but considering ASDA’s 2014 profits were over £700m, we think they could pledge more. There exist other initiatives, such as FoodCycle, a ‘social supermarket’ which aims to open hubs around the UK. They get their surplus from the leading supermarkets and sell it at around a third of the price.

But people do not think this is enough, as recent petitions (1, 2, and 3) have shown. Although the large supermarket chains (Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s Asda and the British Retail Consortium) have made the decision to tackle the issue of food waste in the UK, it does not yet feel that there are concrete strategies in place to reduce the amount of food they get rid of.

Still, the issue is being discussed and will hopefully become one of those things in years to come when we look back with embarrassment that we ever threw away any food at all. But it’s not the future yet, so we need to carry on pushing the supermarket chains for change and we also need to make every effort ourselves, as individuals, to waste as little food as possible.

And the photo?
I took that about a year ago at the Mark & Spencer’s by Cannon Street station in London. I could see staff putting ready meals, sushi and other comestible stuff in clear bin bags. I was a bit shocked and I hoped they were perhaps donating them. I asked a staff member what they were going to do with the food in the bags, “They’re going in the bin.”

London’s top sustainable restaurants

The Clerkenwell Kitchen

Up first is the winner of the 2008 Time Out “Best Sustainable Restaurant” award. The Clerkenwell Kitchen prides itself on its endeavour to serve locally-sourced produce. To this end, most of it’s produce comes from London-adjacent Buckinghamshire, and also Mill Hill. Although not completely organic, the Clerkenwell Kitchen does acquire its meat from traditional farms as opposed to those that employ intensive farming.

Based in – you guessed it – stylish Clerkenwell, this one is top of our list and well worth a stop by.


The Modern Pantry

Keeping it Clerkenwell, we skip down the road to another Urban Farmer favourite – The Modern Pantry! We can attest to this little gem’s beautiful Sunday Brunch, perfect for that weekend hangover that you need to shake.

The menu of this gorgeous little deli-cum-restaurant is forever changing. This keeps the style and feel of the place fresh, and also wonderfully in-season. The setting is just divine – slap bang in the middle of the historic St. John’s Square with the midday sun falling on the front step, so sunglasses for hangovers can be perfectly acceptable!


Franklins

Hopping over the river now, to Franklins. Another brunch hotspot favourite for us here at the Urban Farmer, Franklin upholds the ethos of locally-sourced produce. In fact, it’s about as “local” as it gets. Beers, local. Produce, local. Meat, local. Bread, homemade! So if you’re eco-conscious but fancy a lovely meal out, Franklins is your best bet!

Also, after you’ve eaten, pop across the road to the Franklin Farm Shop, where you can pick up something to tide you over later in the day!


The Vanbrugh

Our list’s top pub choice. The Vanbrugh is the place for those of you who want to eat ethically, while catching the latest game. The Greenwich-based Vanbrugh sources all its pub-style food locally, and the beer is too. This family-friendly bistro pub is an all-weather favourite, so bring the kids!


Damson & Co

Last but not least, a trip to sultry Soho is not complete without a late lunch at Damson & Co. This restaurant has a very British feel to it, and that comes through especially in its menu. All the produce is locally-sources, and the restaurant also encourages you to partake in one of its many varieties of English wine! Who’d have thought… English wine! Well we guarantee you won’t come away from this place left wanting – it really is a must!

3 Favourite Farm-to-Table Restaurants in London

In terms of trends, I think this is one of the best food trends out there- Farm-to-Table.  Originally taking off in California- this concept that has now turned into a movement.  Its basic concept is what it literally means- a farm’s most fresh and seasonal products that is closest to your ‘table’.  One word: LOCAL.

At its essence- it is a picture of community supported farming and also taking the restaurant experience to a new level. It has taken off in England in recent years with new restaurants popping up showcasing our local farmers as well as world-class culinary talents.

Some use the trendy term as a marketing tool while others just simply live it out.  Regardless – its one that we warmly welcome to our foodie city. Here are 3 of my personal favourites.

1- Daylesford Farms

Courtesy Homes and Property

Daylesford Farms in Gloucestershire now has 5 locations in London.  Their concept is a perfect example of what some people call Farm-to-Fork.  All of their food comes from their farm- even their creamery. They boast on being sustainable and an organic farm and have developed into a true success story.  The most recent store in Marylebone just opened!  Check it out or find the one closest to you.  And don’t forget to read our post on cooking up savoury organic Lamb Burgers from their Farm Shop!

2- The Shed

The Shed in Notting Hill Gate is owned and run by two brothers from Nutbourne, West Sussex.  One focuses on the farming side of things while the other runs the restaurant.  Their menu changes daily sourcing their own produce as well as neighbouring suppliers.  They’re menu is wildly diverse and also using creative methods to waste nothing in terms of meat… if you know what I mean!

3- The Grain Store

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I’ve been hearing about The Grain Store in King’s Cross by a foodie friend for months before I finally visited.  The space is buzzing and nearly impossible to get in during brunch on Sundays.  This restaurant is large and therefore sources their menu from local suppliers such as Daily Fish and Lake District Farms among many others.  They also have a few outside suppliers but in general the menu steers to local and fresh.  The cocktails are legendary in themselves.

Chronicles of the Chelsea Flower Show

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Last Saturday, we took a camera, an umbrella and a bit of luck to the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show.  Despite the usual London weather patterns, there was only one real challenge- no ticket and sold out.  Prepared for rejection at the gate, it still seemed a worthy effort to jump on the tube and give it a shot. Sure enough… after a little old fashion networking magic- a ticket was being ripped from the man’s roll of printed entry tokens.  Victory!

As a newcomer to this famous British flower tradition- I was blown away at the level of artistry, creativity, and the amount of flowers is still hard for me grasp.  Small gardens, big gardens, exotic gardens, artisan gardens– it was a feast for the eyes, nose and especially the soul.  There were reports of over 100,000 people expected to visit the show. If you didn’t get to go this year- BBC had beautiful coverage with all 15 episodes still available on BBC iPlayer.

And just In case you missed tracking us live on twitter – here are a few of favourite images I took with my DSLR. You can check out more from our live feed via Twitter – @urbanfarmerLDN.  We do have one tip for next year- take your best totes with you for the mass exodus of flowers on the last day.  The exhibits sell off or even GIVE AWAY FLOWERS.  My arms are still sore from the tube ride home with hands full of very LARGE red tulips.

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Looking at London: Public Open Space

Map of London Greenspace Open space
Image rights granted by Maria Longley at Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL)

The Urban Farmer took a look at some stats collected by Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL Source) to assess just how much of our beautiful capital is open space with public access. Generally, the picture looks quite good!

Total Area

However, not everyone is benefitting from this huge amount of public open space. As you can imagine the great majority of this open space lies to the outskirts of the city. And as this dataset takes outlying boroughs into account, much of the space is to be found in Hillingdon, Richmond, Bromley and the like.

A better measure would be to look at how individuals can access this green space. The image is much graver. Measuring people’s access to all four categories of open space, only 16.6% of Londoners have access.

Access

There are some stars however. When we reduce the figures to just the 10 central London boroughs, Tower Hamlets comes out on top with almost 6 million square metres of open public space.

Islington doesn’t fare so well, and has the smallest amount of open space of any London borough by a long long way! Just 2 million square metres!

Havering is London’s open space star, with 67 million square metres! That’s 20% more than the London average!

Inds

Buy Locally?

Now it’s all well and good singing the praises of buying local produce, and supporting local farms – but how feasible is this? You may have seen in our previous post where we interviewed a local pub manager, that sometimes buying local produce just isn’t practical or cost-effective. But what about individuals? Is the picture any different?

We we asked you guys to find out! We asked you about your food purchasing habits, and the results have been interesting… Let’s take a look!

Groceries

We started with the basics – groceries. Where do you get yours? Of our 62 respondents from the community, a massive 92% said they bought theirs from a supermarket. Arguably, this is no surprise. Supermarkets have become massive in the past few decades, and much to the detriment of small businesses. But it’s nice to see at least 5 of you still supporting local business.

Meat

Now meat is a different picture. While we may have opted for convenience when it comes to buying groceries, we still – fortunately – very much have a butcher’s culture in the UK. This is supported by our survey results. Despite an overwhelming majority still going to supermarkets to buy their meat, eight of our respondents are prepared to seek out quality over price buy purchasing from their local butcher’s.

Why?

But why are people leaving behind local business in favour of the quick-fix supermarkets? Convenience. That was the option that came out on top when we asked why. It would seem that “convenience stores” (as they’re called Stateside) are really living up to their name – 80% of people chose that as the reason they shopped there. Cost was also a big one for most people – and the simple truth is, supermarkets are a lot cheaper! And finally, Quality – a sad truth is that a lot of people seem to believe that supermarkets can be better trusted than independents. They see the clean packaging and good branding as an indicator of quality.

We asked you guys what might induce you to buy more locally – here are some of the responses:

  • “[If] it matches the cost of the supermarkets there or there about. I buy fruit and veg from local market stalls but the produce isn’t local but it’s cheap. Budget is my main constraint.”
  • “More availability. Where I live, I have 3 supermarkets within a mile. Don’t even know if there is a market, butchers or grocers in town.”
  • “Better Quality and Price”
  • “Cheaper Produce”
  • “Better advertisement showing locally produce products and where they are available.”
  • “All the butchers round me are halal and I don’t like halal slaughter”
  • I try, but in London it just isn’t convenient, affordable or easily accessible”
  • “Nuffink”

Interview with The Peasant’s Joel

We were curious at the Urban Farmer. Curious about just how restaurants in the middle of an urban metropolis get fresh produce everyday, and where it comes from! To this end, we took a stroll to one of London’s favourite pubs, just down the road – The Peasant! While there, we spoke to pub manager Joel about just how an inner-city pub can provide great food, every day.

Thomas: Hello Joel, can you introduce yourself?

Joel: Sure – I’m Joel and I am the manager here at the Peasant.

Thomas: What kind of customers come to the Peasant?

Joel: Well we have a lot of offices in the area, so it’s generally a lot of people coming on their lunchbreaks. Oh, and at the end of the day – especially Fridays. This place can really fill up. But I suppose when we get to the weekend, it’s much more of a destination pub rather than somewhere you might fall into. We’re pretty well known for our Sunday Roast, so I think people often come down just for that.

Thomas: Oh lovely – what Sunday roast do you do?

Joel: Meat with the usual trimmings. Pork belly, beef, chicken, and a veggie option. And of course, giant Yorkshires.

Thomas: Do you get those meats locally?

Joel: Unfortunately not. Our meat tends to be from Yorkshire and Suffolk. It’s hard to get local meat.

Thomas: How about all the other produce?

Joel: Well all our fruit and veg is seasonal and we try to source that as locally as possible.

Thomas: Is that difficult?

Joel: Yes. It really is quite difficult to buy locally. It’s a cost issue really. As a pub, we served pretty reasonably-priced food. We’re well-priced in comparison to other places in the area. Some restaurants might chose to source their produce and meat locally and often organically, but for us to maintain our prices, that’s not so easy. Don’t get me wrong, we try to buy as close to us as possible, but sometimes it’s just not practical.

Thomas: Are there many markets nearby for you to even do that?

Joel: A couple. And it depends on the daily market prices, we might add something new to our menu. If something is affordable, we’ll get it.

Thomas: How about your beer, is that local?

Joel: We try to buy all our draught beer from within the M25. Definitely. I’d say we have at least 80% local beers.

Thomas: And finally – do you think the Peasant would benefit from more green space nearby?

Joel: I suppose, but I don’t know where they would go. It’s a shame we can’t have more green spaces in London, but the fact of the matter is, there’s no room. We could cultivate the spaces we already have, but beyond that there’s literally no room without knocking a few buildings down…

Thomas: Thanks Joel!

Joel: No problem.

Guest Blog from CSA Flower Farmer, Katy Phillips

After our trip down to Columbia Road Flower Market, I asked Katy if she would be interested in writing for Urban Farmer London- of course once settled back in the United States! Her visit to England was full of many trips to flower farms, visiting growers that have inspired her from across the ocean.  Working with local farmers and now having her own flower growing business, she had much to say on the subject we love most here- Farms and City living.  She explains more about this and her CSA membership in her post below as well as her travels here. 

Follow this link to read more about CSA Farmers like Katy here in the UK:  Community Supported Agriculture, UK

Meet Katy Phillips- Flower Farmer, US

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Courtesy Katy Phillips

It is a real pleasure to be a guest blogger on The Urban Farmer London. I recently spent 10 fabulous days getting to know a small piece of England – including the yellow- flowering and rolling countryside, the enchanting coastline and the incredible city of London. It was well worth the effort of leaving my flower farm for these fabulous and rejuvenating days particularly for the chance to see a variety of beautiful gardens, including one of the leaders in the seasonal flower movement in the U.K, Green and Gorgeous.

 I am a novice flower farmer here in North Carolina. I live on some old tobacco land now farmed for pick-your-own strawberries. ¼ of an acre, a small and intimate piece of land behind my house has now become the fertile grounds through which I grow a variety of cut flowers for the farm stand and a 25 member CSA, which I have named Poesy. The farm is conveniently situated between 2 affluent university towns where there is an urban center, ideal for a flower pick up location and the occasional passerby looking for a beautiful, or sentimental gift! With one successful year under my wings, I am really looking forward to developing my existing relationships and learning as much as I can from other passionate flower growers.

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Courtesy Katy Phillips

This is why my spirit leaped at the chance to visit a flower farm while visiting England! My visit did not disappoint! In fact, I was delighted to discover that Rachel Siegfried and her partner Ashley Pearson and their farm Green and Gorgeous are leading the way for flower growers across England. Their farm is located in Little Stoke, Wallingford close to the university town of Oxford. It is an enchanting little piece of paradise and their hospitality to two jet-lagged Americans was a welcome reprieve. We walked around their cottage beds, took a peek in their hoop house full of ranunculus, and explored their newly planted acreage. It was such a treat! Even their cat followed our footsteps as though giving us the tour himself.

Courtesy Katy Phillips
Hoop house with Ranunculus @ Green and Gorgeous Farm, Courtesy Katy Phillips

Green and Gorgeous grows quintessential English flowers, but also host on-farm flower farming, photography and flower design workshops as part of their farmer-florist operation in Oxfordshire. Additionally, they host ‘Farm Gate Sales’, which are a bit like a ‘pop up’ shop, or my farm stand back in the States. They are held on the farm every Saturday next to their flower fields. The adorable little packing shed is filled with buckets of beauty and customers have the pleasure of walking through their gardens and picking bouquets of choice.

Courtesy Katy Phillips
Packing Shed @ Green and Gorgeous, Courtesy Katy Phillips

There has definitely been a huge change in people’s awareness of local flowers and the number of growers around the country of England and the US is increasing. Close proximity to urban centers helps growers’ continue to boost the local flower movement and raise customer awareness to the importance of supporting a more sustainable market. I look forward to taking some of the ideas gleaned from my visit to Oxfordshire back to my own small burgeoning flower farm!

Katy

CSA Shares from Poesy Farm, Courtesy Katy Phillips
CSA Shares from Poesy Farm, Courtesy Katy Phillips