The Dressing Room’s quinoa, broad beans, dill, saffron, pistachio & pomegranate salad. Quinoa, olives and various beans that are usually imported can now sourced in Britain. Photograph: Elliot Shepherd
Courtesy of The Guardian:
Early springs, rising temperatures and longer growing seasons mean we’re increasingly able to grow a wider variety of foods in the UK. It’s not just luxury products such as British Caviar or English wine, it’s everyday products too, such as tea and beans.
In a survey by Farming Futures, over a quarter of farmers reported that they are seeing the effects of climate change on their land now and 60% think they’ll experience it over the next 10 years.
While this presents massive problems both to the global food system and here in the UK, it may also mean that we can grow crops that thrive in warmer soils. So the British larder could soon be stocked with a whole new load of local and seasonal produce.
This year is set to be a bumper year for the British tea plantation at the 700-year old Tregothan Estate in Cornwall. Its English-grown tea is available in Waitrose as well as sold online and in independent grocers.
“Most people still haven’t got the foggiest idea that tea can be grown in the UK,” says Jonathan Jones, the managing director of Tregothan: “This year, however, is set to be a record harvest for us, with well over ten tonnes of tea.”
While it’s possible to cultivate tea bushes, even in colder parts of the UK and urban areas (people plant them in gardens) Tregothan is the only single-estate British tea that’s produced on a commercial basis. The estate’s particular micro-climate makes the tea plantation possible: the tea bushes benefit from the sea water levels deep in the soil, yet the area is far enough inland to avoid a salt breeze from the sea (which would damage the leaves). While the estate currently produces less than one per cent of the UK’s tea needs, this year is set to be a record.
“It would be tricky to grow tea elsewhere in Britain,” says Jones: “But over the next few years, it may well be that some of crops that are being grown now in places like Cornwall, will be able to be produced in other parts of the UK.”
Quinoa and beans
Quinoa, the ancient Andean superfood, is commonly grown in South America, but it can also be grown in the UK. Hodmedod’s, a company that sources and supplies British staples like peas and beans, says its British quinoa is a popular product.
Quinoa is a seed prized for its nutritional value. However, some consumers consider it ethically controversial. Western demand for quinoa has reportedly seen its price treble on the world food markets over the past six years – which according to some reports, meant that communities in Bolivia, where it’s grown were no longer able to afford to eat it.
“There was a strong reaction by consumers to those reports,” says Nick Saltmarsh, managing director of Hodmedod’s. “Many people who want to eat quinoa were feeling guilty if they bought the imported product, which is why they’re pleased to find it grown in Britain.”
The crop has been grown in the UK for years but not for human consumption.
However, this is the second year that Hodemedods has sold quinoa, grown by farmer Peter Fairs in Essex.
The company also sells British-grown fava beans, black badger beans and is currently trialling a red haricot bean.
Saltmarsh says: “Fava beans have been grown here since the Iron Age but we’ve forgotten to grow and eat them. We’re trying to bring back traditional beans as well as experiment with varieties of other crops to see what grows well here.”
British olives have a rich, fresher flavour and are often smaller than imported olives.
“The flavour is incredibly intense,” according to Neil Davy, who has an olive grove outdoors, on his farm in Kent: “One British olive is equivalent in flavour to four of the imported table olives.”
Davy is currently experimenting with varieties and crops, and has local chefs using the olives in nearby restaurants. He’s hoping to produce British olive oil in the future.
“I’m sending olives to laboratories this year, to test the quality of the oil,” he says: “No one in Britain has produced it yet but then, people didn’t use to think we could grow olives outdoors in this country, but we can.”
Sussex-based Stephen and Sarah Nunn say that their olive crop (which is grown indoors) is looking good this year. Last year, the couple harvested 250kg of olives. The olives sell at farmers’ markets, local shops and online, for around £3.50 for 100g. “They’re often bought as gifts as treats,” says Stephen Nunn: “The flavour is intense and people are surprised to find that olives can grow here.”
For fresh buffalo mozzarella, your best bet may be Hampshire, rather than Italy. Laverstoke Park Farm is 2,500 acres of organic lane, in Overton, near Basingstoke and home to over 1,000 water buffalos. It sells burgers, sausages, buffalo-milk ice-cream and mozzarella, at its farm shops in Basingstoke and Twickenham, at Planet Organic and online.
One of the plus sides to being able to produce more food in the UK, is that the food has a quicker route from farm to fork, which means we’re able to eat products while they’re fresher – and fresh mozzarella has a different taste and texture to the imported types sold in the UK.
Jody Scheckter, fomer Formula One champion, took on a very different career as a biodynamic farmer and founder of Laverstoke Park Farm. He says: “For example, with really fresh mozzarella, the milk oozes out and you eat it naturally, with your fingers. In Italy, they say that if you don’t have a mess on your face, you are not eating mozzarella. Only after four days is it eaten with basil and tomatoes and olive oil.”
This year is a bumper year for apricots – a fruit that’s now being produced on a commercial scale by farmers in the south of England.
“We’re still picking them,” says Sean Finlay, farm manager at Highfield Court Farm, near Canterbury in Kent. “We’re getting about 12 tons of apricots per hectare this year, partly because we had a mild winter.”
There are fewer than a dozen farms in the UK which grow apricots on a commercial scale but British apricots are sold in major supermarkets as well as at farm shops.
But while the warmer summers and mild winters mean that growing the soft fruit is possible, it’s still a crop with a question mark over it, according to Finlay.
He says: “The problem is that you only get a good crop one year in three so they’re expensive to grow over here for sale. People are willing to pay for British apricots but it’s hard to compete with the imported prices. Our pick your own apricots are £2.50 a kilo whereas the imported apricots are £1 a kilo.”