Archives for the month of: March, 2014


“We are selling off the Kumato Tomatoes AT COST because it has come to light that they are grown from patented seed. For ethical reasons we do not support patenting of seeds, therefore we will not be ordering Kumato Tomatoes again. If you are curious about this, put the words “kumato tomato syngenta” into a search engine or speak to [the managers].”


Today I saw this on my shift at Great Oak Foods in Llanidloes, in Powys, in Mid-Wales.  I am one of a community of people who give time working in the shop which we believe to be part of a local solution to many global-food conundrums.  The shop, as a community enterprise, aims:

1. To be a retail outlet for organic fresh foods and associated products to provide the opportunity for customers to make sustainable lifestyle choices.

2. To create opportunities for a local market for organically grown produce and to provide the means for sustainable employment in the community, ecologically and economically.

3. To support the local economy through a local purchasing policy and to make available a wider range of products in the area, and to reduce dependency on importing products, with associated food miles.

4. To encourage social investment in sustainable enterprise and to empower members of the community to become actively involved in issues surrounding local food and ecological sustainability.


My first feelings, reading the notice above about Kumato Tomatoes, were joy and pride to be living in community with people with similar commitments to social and ecological justice in the food system, and who act from a place of personal conscience .  And yet I wanted to investigate the issues involved to be sure that I wasn’t forming a knee-jerk opinion.  And to write about it on this blog as a document/ reflection of a kind of moment in time where local people (in this case, us) were asked by a situation to grapple with a wider social food issue, and how it might play out.

I spoke with the managers, and one shared with me his belief that patenting “discovery” was a different ethical issue to patenting an “invention”; he just couldn’t come to terms with the idea that something like a seed and varietal crossing could be patented– and he did note that this was not a case involving genetic modification, for which he could see a better case for patenting.  Which is not to say, obviously, that we support GM in any way.

One could make the case that Syngenta has developed a variety of tomato — through careful, old-fashioned, year-to-year testing and experimenting — that consumers want and desire for the special eating qualities it offers. And that Syngenta deserves to profit from its innovation and investment, and profit is the engine of technological and agricultural “progress.”  (Cringe.)

We learn from Wikipedia Kumato that “Syngenta maintains ownership of the variety throughout the entire value chain from breeding to marketing; selected growers must agree to follow specified cultivation protocols and pays fees for licenses per acre of greenhouse, costs of the seeds, and royalties based on the volume of tomatoes produced.”  Is the word for this vertical market integration?

This manager wrote an enquiring email to our wholesale supplier (which deals in organic foods, operates regionally, and is a much much smaller player than supermarket level), who responded with many perfectly justifiable points including: that Syngenta’s business strategy represents the  “club” approach which has gone on with the development of trees and shrubs and potatoes in a smaller business scale; this represents only a temporary market consolidation  because it’s so difficult to monitor and police; that customers want “good quality”;  growers need prolific and disease resistant varieties which can yield, for organic, a competitive price…

So what to believe?  Maybe we should just relent on this issue– even though, and this did niggle, the tomatoes somehow posture themselves on a shelf as if they are heirlooms or a local variety, seed carefully nutured by seed savers and cottage gardeners, and usurp the aesthetics the new food movement has created/ recreated.

I looked to my gut instinct.   We as a community around  “The Veg Shop” (as it’s affectionately called) share a vision of a food system gone wrong — in terms of the concentration of power in agribusiness and supermarkets, the overuse of pesticides unhealthy for people and biodiversity, the climate impacts of food miles and unseasonal eating.  We support organics, local food, local growers, the use of non-chemical pest management, small producers and fair-trade as a step towards justice for food workers far and wide.  We see agriculture within ecological and political contexts and support a horticultural scale we believe can be a part of building a new and better system.

Syngenta  is also a major player in pesticides, in a world in which bees and other insects are so perilously at risk and the Precautionary Principle is called for.  Syngenta also promotes GM crops, which represent health and ecological worry to many as well as a dangerous privatisation of seed stock and concentration of power in the big players.

There is also the on-going  battle in the EU to regulate seeds, plants and plant materials that can be sold; the big agriculture players punch hard, with their piles of money, and can pay the fees to register their own goods, while smaller breeders and gardeners are edged out.  The Wales-based Real Seed Company does great campaigning work on this issue— am looking forward to ordering some seeds from them.

We support the enfranchisement of the small players, for so many reasons: ecological, social, anti-hunger, food security, and more. The Seed Freedom folks often operate from the point of view that we need a paradigm shift; Jose Luis Vivero Pol argues really eloquently for “a re-commonification” of food—or, in other words, a transition where we work toward considering food as a commons as ..essential … in light of our broken global food system.”  Seeds are where food begin.

This article by Charles Eisenstein also delves into what’s wrong and how we can think about food differently in order to oppose hunger and food inequality and create a juster world, better ready for climate instability.

I’m not a Luddite really, nor particularly anti-innovation, and willing to keep an open mind towards different aspects of biotechnology– but I do have a different vision for the food system that needs to be developed to correct this one.  This to me is the basis of why I support the managers at Great Oak Foods– it’s not whom we’re against, so much as  it’s what we are for…





Spring feels kind of possible even if the winter wasn’t quite winter with its climate-weirding mildness and perpetual rain. Looking at the raised beds –an accomplishment of last summer and purchased as affordable flat-pack type kits from Cwm Harry in Newtown–  I  noticed, on this seasonal cusp,  all that Perpetual Spinach I sowed last spring.   These leaves had somehow never happened last year but had arisen, however scraggly and slug-eaten, and constituted before my eyes a Bed Of Chard.   (That’s what “perpetual spinach” really is, she says with disappointment).

Chard is my least favourite green, I admit.  I just don’t have enthusiasm for it, though Rainbow Chard is so prismatically beautiful and the smaller leaves in the raised bed will be nice in a salad.  And yet, chard is something I’ve managed, as a lazy gardener, to grow prolifically.

I did remember, maybe a decade ago, making a traditional tart from the south of France, recipe for which I found in Jane Sigal’s wonderful book Backroad Bistros: Farmhouse Fare: A French Country Cookbook from 1994.  This is a book that maybe somehow has gotten lost among a fray of great books, but I love it, and could cook and bake my way through relaxed French food with it– wonderful stories, impeccable recipes — a classic in its way.  I recommend it.  And would put it beside the also wonderful When French Women Cook by Madeleine Kamman in a library of my favourite cookery books.

(Backroad Bistros also has a few really enchanting pages on snail farming in Burgundy — this inspired me years back to giving a go to growing snails as a kind of Permaculture operation, since there in Oxford where we lived there were so many, a pestilence really.   I wouldn’t say I succeeded, though was a comical episode– maybe more on this another time.  But if this is something you are interested in, there’s lots of information one could usefully cull from this small chapter.)

I’ve also set myself the challenge to explore the use of vegetables in sweet situations, as I wrote about here in Three Sisters last autumn.  Since then I’ve discovered a wonderful and inspiring blog Veggie Desserts full of creative and beautiful recipes to enjoy.

Here is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls recipe for Tourte de Blettes.  It’s not dissimilar from the one Jane Sigal collected from a market woman in Provence, though it includes lemon zest and has slightly different proportions– and Sigal’s recipe encouraged me to fold the excess dough of the bottom layer up over the top layer, so I got to have something that looked different from my usual style, which I liked.


And forgive below what is an unappealing photo (food photography is hard!!!!) of a very nice Apple Pie with a layer of chard, removed behind my back by my children off their plates, but hey-ho!  In a few weeks time, they’ll be questioning the nettle tops  and goosegrass I am going to be picking all around the Waysides of Spring and putting in all sorts of imaginings– including, I say, a pastry like this one.

Oh– I saved the apple peelings and cores, added honey and water, and have a new, small batch of wild apple vinegar on the go!



Above, that was some rice and steamed carrots and a version of creamed (gorgeous fresh local new-spring) spinach leftover from last night, when we all finally after so long sat down together for a nice meal. Those leftovers became Brunch, and an occasion for me to talk on this blog about the wonderful possibilities of the Frittata:


If I were Chief Home Economics Teacher, with my Pro-Concept, Anti-Recipe Ideology, this is a dish I would definitely share as infinitely forgiving, tasty, nutritious and achievable without specific quantities or ingredients on hand (except eggs).  For people who strive to avoid food waste, frittatas are also great catch-alls,  tasty hot or cold, fun for picnics, and, when cut into small wedges, great finger food for kids.

Say there’d been potatoes in any form, most vegetables, most scraps of anything (maybe not lettuce????) — it would be fine. Anything goes.

The basic thing is, a hot heavy bottomed pan (though I’ve done it in a cake tin and baked very slowly), nicely oiled or buttered, then
some eggs beaten and added to…
whatever leftovers there are…
probably some cheese (in this case some ricotta that needed doing and a grating of Parmesan on the top, but could be anything, or nothing)…
salt and pepper, and of course any herbs or spices you desire…
(of course for an Asian twist why not some ginger or even… kim chee!)
(balance as you would any flavours)
and a slow cook on a slow heat, and if the heat doesn’t rise to the top as fast as you’d like, finish under the grill/ broiler.
That’s it.
Can be eggy, eggier, or less eggy.  Cheesy, cheesier, or less cheesy. Vegetarian or not. Large chunks or small chunks.  
You are free.  
What you cook is an offering, to yourself and your loved ones.

As usual the Wikipedia entry is pretty good, discussing how a frittata may differ from omelettes and other egg-based creations.   I think there might be an idea that it’s something fancy– it’s really not!  And anyone who presents it in a recipe as something of sophistication– tut tut to him or her.  Frittatas belongs to the people.  Our common heritage. And whatever you can harvest, wild from the fields and edges and urban sidewalks (nettles, dandelion leaves), or from the bowels of your fridge or the remains from last night’s supper, belongs.

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