Little Red Hen : Food Sovereignty Activist

One day, a little red hen was scratching around in a field near the farmyard, when she found some grains of wheat that had been missed by the farmer. Instead of eating them, she gathered them up, and took them back to the farmyard.

“who will help me plant these grains of wheat” she asked the other farm animals.

“Not me” said the pig “ I’m too comfortable lying in this lovely mud”

“Not me” said the cat “ can’t we use them to try and catch mice instead?”

“Not me” said the mouse “ I’m too busy just trying to stay alive”

“Not me” said the dog “ My master gives me all the food I need out of a tin”

“Ok then” Said the little red hen, “ I will do it myself.

So the little red hen planted the grains of wheat, and once they had germinated, went back every week to water them and every day to make sure they hadn’t been trampled on or eaten by pests. It was quite a lot of work, so she went back to the other farm animals to ask

“ Who will help me water my wheat?”

“Not me”, said the pig “ you planted them too far away”

“Not me” said the cat “It looks like it’s going to rain soon anyway”

“Not me” said the mouse “I might fall in the bucket and drown”

“Not me” said the dog “I’ve got this new chewbone toy I’m playing with”

“Ok then, said the little red hen” I will do it myself. And she did : she watered the wheat so it grew strong and ripened in the sun, and when it was ready she went back to the other farm animals to ask

“who will help me harvest the wheat?

“Not me” said the pig “ I’ve got no experience of this kind of thing so I’d be no use anyway”

“Not me” said the cat “You never say please when you ask”

“Not me” said the mouse “that knife you’ve got there looks a bit dangerous”

“Not me” said the dog “ I’m not allowed in the field without a lead”

“Fine” said the little red hen “ I’ll do it myself”

So the little red hen harvested her wheat by herself, and she found that her handful of grains had turned into a small bag of grain, enough to make one small loaf of bread.

She went to the farm yard to show the other animals :

“ Not again” Said the pig “ I was just about to have a nap”

“ Oooo you think you’re so clever” said the cat “why don’t you go and boast about your harvest somewhere else?”

“ Are you sure it’s clean?” said the mouse “usually it comes in a bag”

“That’s ok” said the dog “but wouldn’t it be easier to just buy it from the shop?”

The little red hen said nothing, and stopped asking them for help. She took her grains to the miller, who ground them into flour, then she took the flour to the baker, who made it into a lovely little loaf for the chicken to have for her tea. She carried it back to the farmyard.

“ what’s that smell?” said the pig “Is that for my dinner?”

“ it’s a bit small” said the cat “ but I don’t mind tasting it for you”

“ Ooh, fresh bread!” said the mouse “ that’s my favourite food!”

“Wow!” said the dog “ That looks as good as shop bought!”

“Well, would you like to help me eat it?” said the little red hen.

“Yes, please” said the pig.

“Yes please” said the cat

“Yes please” said the mouse

“Yes please” said the dog

“Tell you what” said the little red hen “I’ve only got a small loaf, and that was quite hard work, but here’s some grains of wheat for each of you : I’ll show you how to make your own loaf”

And that was how the little red hen started her own sustainable growing consultancy, making sure, after she’d eaten her loaf, that she pooed in the field where she grew the wheat to maintain the fertility of the soil.


Five Wheelbarrows

I’m sometimes amused at how  people’s view of me is manipulated by  how I describe my job : ‘ social enterprise CEO’, is dynamic and interesting, Landscape Architect, is creative and interesting, sustainability consultant sciencey and interesting, but if I want them to start  scanning the room for someone with more potential, I say ‘school gardener’.

Why is it that ‘hands dirty’ jobs are considered not only unclean, but worse than that, boring? One of my tasks this morning has been fixing wheelbarrow tyres : this has involved dismantling, diagnosing, fixing and reassembling : a problem solving job : mental and physical, and yes, my hands are absolutely filthy. The last time the barrow wheel needed fixing was on a community day, and I asked an estate agent, who was one of our lovely corporate helpers that day, to go down to the ironmongers to get a new inner tube for the wheel. When he returned, pleased as punch, with the still punctured inner tube still in the wheel, but carrying it in the whole new wheelbarrow he had bought, I didn’t have the heart to make him take it back.

In that garden, we have two wheelbarrows we are using as planters, the one the estate agent took the wheel off, and two, including the new one, that we actually use as wheelbarrows.


My journey from ‘designer’ to ‘gardener’  has been from the purely hypothetical to the practical :  I ‘designed’ what a space would look like : without getting too involved with those who would use it or maintain it. The ‘end’ of these projects were the end of construction phase pictures : what happened after that was really not my concern.

I have been talking this week to a group of children planning to design a garden space in their playground : I gave each of them a survey task : notice all the living things / look at the surrounding structures / make a list of plants / measure the dimensions / find the hot and cool spots / and while trying to hold back their teacher, who is more gung-ho than any of them to get designing, and never mind what’s good about the site already, I have been thinking about where the line is, between who is a designer and who is not.

In terms of gardening, anyone who has in their hand a packet of seeds, is making design decisions : as Wikipedia defines design as

 a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints;

translated : I am going to plant a seed, here, that will grow and provide food/flowers/nectar/joy.


The Old Way of Shopping

I spend too much money in supermarkets : there, it’s out, I’ve admitted my guilty secret, my name is Rachel and I’m addicted to easy shopping.

I have tried and failed a few times to kick this one : The first year, I made a grand announcement of my intentions, then had to explain to people in March why I was still going to Sainsbury’s. Turns out its cheaper : who knew?

The second time, I didn’t say anything, so I wouldn’t get the pressure of other people’s expectations, then I forgot about it, and slipped back into my old routine of popping in to the shops on the way back, and somehow finding two panniers’ worth of groceries that I didn’t know I needed until I saw t on the shelf.

The problem, of course, is time : they are open and there from 8 in the morning to 10 o clock at night as a bare minimum, and so they have insinuated themselves into our lives, much as the devil himself might do, were he a chain of food shops. Every Little Helps, Good with Food, Try Something New Today ( like what? a farmers market? ) Why Pay More? : These glib little slogans, designed to slide into our consciousness, convincing us they are on our side, keen to help, are the earworms of an industry designed to hide the sound of the waterfall that we are drifting ever closer towards.

I do know how to shop : I learnt in the 1970’s with my mother : we’d get the string bag, which was the weird khaki of plasticine all squashed together, and take it to the high street in either Halesworth or Bungay. Halesworth was better because we parked in the market place, near the pet shop with the Mynah Bird that squawked ‘Allo. One by one, we’d visit the greengrocers, ( three onions and a pound of spuds) the bakers ( sliced wholemeal and a free lollipop), the butchers ( He’d ask if my name was curly, which is a difficult question to answer at any age, let alone three) and the International Stores for butter, milk, and biscuits. Technically a ‘super’ market, in reality it was anything but : two aisles and a fridge with a single checkout, and a strip of green shield stamps for your book.

Veg Box Wars : Episode 2

And the winner is….


nutella glass


Well, they say you never know at the start of a journey, where it will end, and so my blog about my search for a new veg box became more about packaging than veg. This is how come Nutella, a product whose first two ingredients are, not the cocoa and hazelnut their adverts would seek to imply, but good ol’ fat n sugar, is the winner of the veg box challenge, for its simple, desirable, USEFUL, reusable packaging.

My search started because at the start of the year Riverford, who have been my veg box supplier du choix for the last ten years, suddenly reduced the quantity of veg in the boxes. Unlike Quality Street, who when they do this, at least have the grace to change the box so we supposedly don’t notice, Riverford didn’t, so we were faced with a ‘Large’ veg box, which was a large box with a quite small quantity of veg at the bottom. Ouch!

So I have now conducted my research, in my local area, and can tell you that in terms of quality of veg, and range of produce, Abel and Cole were the winners. You can choose never to have things you find horrible : a disadvantage maybe, as it doesn’t encourage you to push your boundaries, vegetatively speaking, but also, they supply a whole load of storecupboard stuff that will help if you are aiming to starve the supermarkets (of Evil) from as much as possible of your weekly food budget.

“Hang on, though, Abel & Cole?”, I hear you ask, “weren’t they taken over by some corporate food manufacturing giant, based in Hell?”

“Ok, well, it’s Hull actually, but apart from that, yes”

I don’t write them off for this : most of their produce is British, ( but they may quietly airfreight, unlike Riverford, who won’t) they have good links with local farms, they have a good variety of produce, they deliver at 7.30 am.

I also tried Farmaround, whose veg arrived at the bottom of a huge sack, no milk and sometimes no eggs available, and once, of the two orders I made, they sent me no veg bag with no explanation, charged me for it, and offered me a credit for future orders as a refund. No, no, and again, no.

The Organic Delivery Company : two different colours of potato do not count as two different types of vegetable, even in a large box of veg. You’re Fired!

FarmDirect were the most seasonal, and are also local to me : they have a weekend shop in Islington, and their depot is in Tottenham . They have Tim’s yogurt, rather than Rachel’s or Yeo’s, which makes a nice change! You could say I am just moaning for the sake of it, but one of the veg weeks I had four different kinds of green leafy veg : chard, kale, perpetual spinach/leaf beet, and cabbage : the triumph of seasonality over sanity!

There is also, apparently, a new one called CyclingVeg, who deliver everything by bike, but I didn’t try them because they don’t do any extras like milk, (presumably because of the refrigeration costs) and by that time I was quite bored.


And not to put too fine a point on it, my house was full of boxes! Yes returnable, but only when you get their box next week. The worst offender in terms of packaging was Abel & Cole, who are unsurprisingly using their corporate resources to spray out boxes and bits of random cardboard like there’s no tomorrow, as well as too much printed guff, so although they won the quality and range categories, they lost out to….

the ultimate winner : as all of them provided some very nice veg



FarmDirect, the provider of the indestructible black crate you see at the bottom of the pile. The environmental impact of designing, producing, printing and recycling all these boxes and catalogues, and newsletters, is ultimately, a bit of an insult to the principle of sustainability that these companies are trading on.

Farm Direct : local, sustainable, high quality. One box. All I need now is a recipe that uses cabbage and Nutella.

The Vegans Have Landed

Recently, I went to a permaculture association camping weekend, attended by many of the vegan persuasion, and catered entirely with plant based foods : this community is keen to show that a righteous life is one where no being has to suffer to feed another. While I understand where they are coming from, I found it interesting but wasn’t in the end convinced away from my meat and dairy eating ways.

Now, I have some experience of being vegan : it was a long time ago, in a house share in Norwich, where everyone else was vegan, and indeed, quite often freegan, back in the day when bakeries and supermarkets didn’t even think of locking their bins. It was fun :  there’s nothing so boring as having unlimited availability and funds to cook with : the challenge of culinary creativity lies in making something good with whatever you’ve got, rather than having to get all the right ingredients. Its why I make pesto with easy to grow rocket and cheap sunflower seeds, rather than hothoused Basil and imported pine nuts. It’s why I like foraging and growing my own : supermarkets, with their infinite reach have taken the fun out of exotic ingredients from far flung places, so that local ingredients, especially ones that are free, are paradoxically the rarest and most valued.

Even now I still make the occasional vegan meal : Quorn Chili, pastas all’arabbiata, Chi Vruoccoli, and con Ceci, Pesto doesn’t really need cheese: salads with grains and hoummous.

But now we get to the But : vegan food should be animal free and proud of it : no apologies should be made for  the ‘lack’ of protein, flavour or anything else, and above all, no vegan food or ingredient should be a version or substitute of an animal one. So: as a vegan I learnt to make shoyu seeds as a delicious sprinkle to add to salads, and grain based dishes, to add protein, healthy fats, texture and flavour to dishes which won’t be getting any cheese on top.

Vegan cheese  and meat exist : these are made in Switzerland :

New customers special

but I am confused that the way these highly ethical foods are presented is like sausages and pate : highly processed and packaged and resembling artificially rendered meat, which is surely the worst food the world of meat can offer, rather than the best. What is it that vegans seem to be missing in their diet? Processed paste?

We were proudly offered Soya Dream instead of custard, and ate beans and greens and beetroot as Chili and Curry with sticky brown unsalted rice.  Honestly, there’s just no need : nowadays you can get brown Basmati, which is nutritionally whole, but doesn’t stick together, and you can make curries with squash, coconut and nuts that are so delicious and fragrant no-one will care there’s no animal in it even if they notice. This is how you win people over, vegans : by giving them a Vegan Horse of food so delicious they can’t claim that giving up meat is a loss. Not death by beans.

Of course meat eaters are annoying as well : in the west we have become so used to our habits of wasteful abundance, that most of the food produced is thrown away before we even buy it.

People who love the anonymous pink, red or white slab and balk at eating anything that looks like an animal that was once alive : trotters, tongue, wings, tail and most internal organs, and anything with a face. In my veg box trials, I have been interested to note the variety of different meat on offer : my favourite so far has been Farm Direct, for offering whole wild rabbit, for a mere £5.50 a pop. It arrived de-skinned and without a head ( thank heavens, because although I believe that you should kill what you eat, and waste nothing, I am fairly near the beginning of this process, and generally go out of my way not to kill anything at all if I can possibly avoid it) for that £5.50, I made Rabbit goujons, rabbit stew, rabbit stock for risotto and gravy, and my cats ate the meat that went into the stock. I was going to eat the internal organs that were still there, but in the end, only managed the liver ( you have to take these things slowly) and the heart, lungs and kidney went into the stock.

The rabbit had lived a free life in Essex, eating greens and living a natural life until it was shot, which for my money, is worth so much more than even organic free range chicken, at more than twice the price. This is the food that our ancestors would have eaten : huge amounts of roots and greens, with a few seasonal morsels of meat and cheese every now and then. Very little processing, no food miles, humane and tasty. Given a choice between this and a tofu burger, made from imported processed soya, I feel that consciously chosen meat is the better choice.

Veg Box Wars Episode 1

How many different kinds of leafy green veg have you got in your fridge right now? If the answer is more than two, I am willing to bet that rather than picking them out individually from the farmers market or (not so super) supermarket, you have had them more or less forced on you as part of a regular veg box delivery. If so, then you are one of a growing minority of us in the UK, that are turning away from the food goliaths for sustenance, and turning to the giant killers : mostly small scale,frequently cooperative, often social enterprises, emphasising organic, seasonal, tasty, quality produce straight from the farmers.


As am I, and in my fridge today I have :Chard, Kale, Pak Choi, Chicory, Romanesco Cauli, and Savoy Cabbage : which more or less means that I am forced, on a daily basis, to chomp my way through more green stuff than I ever did,way back before I signed up to a veg box. Now, this is interesting ( I promise!) for at least two reasons : firstly because, have you noticed that whenever anyone recommends that you eat healthily, green leafy veg is always the top of the list, and secondly, if you have ever looked at a nutritional analysis of where to find all the vitamins and minerals that you need, green leafy veg has got half the alphabet ( A, C, E, B, K) and thirdly ( a bonus!) they are low in calories, and high in fibre so who cares if you wade through kilos of the stuff?

Having been a Riverford customer for almost ten years, I am currently conducting a review of the local market of North London / Stoke Newington Borders. I have available a plethora of providers :

Abel & Cole




Growing Communities

Organic Delivery Company


and this may not be all : so far I have tried Farmaround, Farm Direct & Abel & Cole, as well as Riverford. I have two local schemes, Growing Communities and Organiclea, both of which run Saturday morning markets, and veg box schemes for pick up, but don’t deliver. As the main advantage of the veg box for me is not having to lug round kilos of veg, this is a deal breaker, so I am not including these two in my survey : especially as not delivering allows them to sidestep the carbon footprint issue that comes along with bringing the veg.

I will evaluate them on value for money, quality of produce, customer service ( i.e getting the order right), food interest, packaging and extras such as dairy, meat etc. and at the end, I will be able to let you know which is the ultimate provider.



Wreck it Ralph!

One of my favourite films of last year ( I laughed! I cried!) I read Wreck it Ralph as a lesson in family dynamics :  an explanation for children of why so many weddings, funerals and celebrations end in fights, that isn’t just alcohol.

The film is set in a video game arcade, in which all the characters from the games have self determining lives outside the confines of their games : the premise of Ralph’s game is that he climbs up a building breaking it, while Fix-it Felix, the player’s avatar, follows after him repairing the damage with a magic hammer, and avoids destruction by birds or falling debris. If ‘you’ win, the people in the block run to the top and throw a party for Felix, and give him a medal, and they throw Ralph off the building, where he goes to live in his dump of broken bricks.

The ‘arc’ of Ralph in the film is that he has to leave his game/family in search of the acceptance /medal that his role in the game excludes him from. In freudian terms, this is the necessary trajectory of the child growing up : the point at which the complexity of your needs outweighs the comforts of home is the point where you leave to find your own rewards, and create a new family structure that meets the emotional needs of the adult you become through that process.

The happy ending for Ralph is achieved  through his development of a parental relationship with a child character from a racing game, and the help he gives her in her own search for acceptance in her peer group, which mirrors his own desire for social acceptance from the somewhat two dimensional inhabitants of the flats his job is to destroy. When Vanelope Von Schweetz ultimately wins the race, and her game ( for which read ‘life’) becomes a constitutional democracy with herself as president, it is a metaphor for successful parenting : he proudly watches her win her races from his own altered reality, which now includes decent housing for all, and the inclusion of refugees from outdated games. At the end of the film, he has successfully managed to pull his family/ game out of their fixed view of him as ‘bad’, through becoming a father, and obviously, therefore adult. His last words : “Turns out I don’t need a medal to make me feel good, ‘cos if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?” is a touching reminder to parents of how much our own little ones mean to us. I did say I cried!

But that is, of course, Hollywood : and it hardly needs saying that the enduring success of an industry based on our desire for redemption, would hardly be so enduring, were the happy endings as reliable in real life as on-screen. Family life is the best thing we have so far evolved to get children safely through to continuing the species themselves, by which time, we need it to be as unbearable as possible to give us the motivation to get the hell out.

Ralph returns to his game/family, and is able to make changes there so that it meets his needs : they happily accept his changes as part of the joy of  having him in their lives. I am sure families like this exist, but perhaps, to reference Tolstoy’s view of happy families, the spectacle of a group of people lovingly nurturing each other through all of lives changes, without struggle or resistance, is so common and mundane that there is no need for it to appear  in dramatic form.

In real life, brothers Felix and Ralph, would have learnt in childhood to understand themselves and the world through their opposing roles : sometimes it seems like nature just loves the drama of matching a ‘fixit’ shy intellectual child with a ‘wreck it’ boisterous sports nut for a sibling, just for the hell of it. The answer is of course, nurture, not by the parents, but in the child’s evolution of its self, is the counterpoint of the ‘not-self’, which in the best case scenario, of a nurturing family, is helped by siblings, but in the worst case of a stressed, neglectful or abusive family becomes set in such unbreakable stone that conflict is the inevitable result of any attempt at progression by any family member.

If the sports nut grows up, and decides to become a university professor, in a nurturing family, the intellectual sibling should welcome the closeness of new areas of shared interest. Lack of nurturing in childhood is a threat to survival, and as such, activates the amygdala, the part of the brain that deals with emergency responses, and children who are brought up with this, will need to work very hard indeed to allow their cerebral cortex, which deals with reason, to override their emergency responses. Children whose ideas of themselves and their siblings have evolved in brains bathed in stress hormones are unable to develop into adults, and change these ideas without a huge amount of work and commitment from their analytical brain. Any suggested change in those ideas will be experienced as threatening to their sense of themselves, and will be fought straight from the amygdala : “Stop trying to be clever, you’re the pretty one, it’s not fair” was something I saw my own mother throw at her sister, when both were in their fifties.

Mostly, like Wreck it Ralph, people sensibly go off in search of a medal in a different game, and keep exposure to siblings stuck in childhood to a minimum : Weddings, Christmas, Ancestors day, Thanksgiving…..