Spring 2019 Newsletter

‘Tis the season of new growth!
With spring in the air, and an incredibly sunny February, we have been making good progress on spending the grants.

At Hammonds End We have taken down and replaced one of the polytunnels which had come to the end of its life and added another 10 foot of covered growing space. We’ve had a great couple of Saturdays with lots of members on site helping out, it’s been a wonderful team effort.
We have also added guttering to another of the polytunnels and are soon to install a solar powered watering system which should reduce the amount of time spent watering in the summer months and reduce our water usage.
We have also sown the first of this season’s crops: 300 Broad Bean seeds which (fingers crossed!) we have managed to stop the mice stealing this year with a combination of solar powered ultrasonic deterrents and covering them securely with mesh.
In the next few weeks (including our spring planting day on Saturday 16th March) we will plant 20kg of potatoes, and sow 300 parsnips along with cabbage, lettuce, spinach and beetroot, it really does feel like spring is here! We have also sown 40 tomatoes, 30 aubergines and 30 peppers which members have at home to bring back to site once the last frost has gone.
Our polytunnels have provided (handsomely) for us over winter, and in recent weeks we have harvested winter lettuce, rocket, giant winter spinach and cabbage and from outside, kale, leeks, carrots, chard, cauliflower and beetroot. Hopefully we will have enough to keep us going through the UK “hunger gap” before our spring sown crops are ready. I’m especially looking forward to the purple sprouting broccoli.
At our Hixberry Lane site, we have been busy building new compost bins. Aylett Nurseries kindly donated pallets which have produced excellent bins.  The heavy clay soil at the site requires plenty of organic matter and we look forward to producing lots of compost.

We are still collecting spent hops from Farr Brew which we use as a mulch.  We are very grateful for this source of organic matter which is greatly improving the soil at the site.
We are delighted that our Incredible Edible gardens have just been named winner in the Environmental Champion category at the Mayor’s Pride Awards 2019! It was a fabulous evening filled with great stories of the positive things people are doing in our community, and we were honoured to be there.
In January we launched our new Incredible Edible Russell Avenue garden, with an amazing 24 volunteers helping out throughout the day to build our recycled plastic raised beds! Despite some difficulties with the product, everyone put in a great effort and the beds are now all up and filled with lovely fresh compost, ready for the growing season. In fact, we even have our first crops beginning to appear, as radish and rocket seedlings sown in late February start to raise their heads.

By the end of March, we hope to have planted a number of herb and fruit plants that Carpenter’s Nursery have generously promised us. We’re also grateful to Aylett Nurseries for doing us a great deal on compost and donating free woodchip for our paths, and the Hare and Hounds (Sopwell Lane) for a donation that really helped make this garden possible.
If you haven’t seen it yet, look out for our ‘Plant of the Week’ series on our social media feeds, where we feature a seasonal edible every week of the year and show what’s available to pick at our Incredible Edible gardens, as well as what’s being picked at our other sites. Thanks to the ‘permaculture plants’ we’ve used in the Civic Centre garden, there’s a surprising amount of fresh food available even in the winter and the ‘hungry gap’ of early spring, and if you visit the garden now you’ll find pink purslane and winter purslane in amazing abundance, as well as rhubarb, lambs lettuce, leaf celery, Swiss chard, parsley, and many others. Remember, it’s all free for the community – pick your own any time! It’s not just free; it’s plastic-free, it’s pesticide-free and it’s food-miles-free.
The gardens – particularly Russell Avenue – need more volunteers to help look after them and do all the planting that’s coming up in the next few months. Do think about joining us, and let your friends know what we’re doing too. Dates of all our sessions are available on the website.
Other News:
We are pleased to welcome new members to Foodsmiles and still have a few spaces so are advertising for new members – spring is the perfect time to join so if you know anyone who might be interested please get in contact.
Active Friends are more than welcome to come to work informally at the farm whenever they need some hearty exercise and company (and probably cake too)!  Our next Open Days at Hammonds End are on the afternoons of Wednesday 20th and Saturday 23rd March it would be great to see you so please come along and say hello
Other dates for the diary coming up include Saturday 13th April working party for sowing later summer crops, preparing the outside beds and planting out, and then on Saturday 11th May 1.30-4pm Sustainable St Albans HE Open Day.
Our AGM was on 12 February at the Reading Rooms in Wheathampstead (thanks Farr Brew for letting us have the room) and it was great to welcome some of our existing members to the committee. Janet stood down as Chair after 3 years having made a fantastic contribution to Foodsmiles and will be missed. The Foodsmiles Chair position is currently vacant and if you would be interested in the role please speak to one of the committee. No growing experience required!
Finally, a seasonal recipe from Jayne, for those who want to try something different with Kale:

Kale Crisps
Preheat an oven to hot, I use gas 8 so hot.
Chop kale (any variety) and toss in 1 tsp of oil (such as sunflower)
Bake until brown and crispy for about 15 mins.
I add chilli and salt and curry powder after 5 mins but this is optional.

Drizzle with olive oil, leave for 30 minutes, top with nuts/seeds and eat raw, or of course you could just steam for 5-10 minutes.

Join us!

Memberships are now available for the coming 2019 growing season! If you'd like to join us, growing vegetables together and sharing the harvest, please come to one of our open days if you can (20th March or 23rd March 1.30-4.00pm, at the address below), or email our membership secretary: membership@foodsmilesstalbans.org.uk. More info here.

Winter 2018 Newsletter

‘Tis the season of awards, (monetary and merit) and of wrapping up (the site!) 

After a long wait, all Jayne and Naomi’s perseverance has paid off. We have now received two grants, from Tesco and Affinity Water totalling £3,700 and the official go-ahead for the second St Albans Incredible Edible Community garden (the lease is signed!).
The first working party for the latter, in Russell Avenue will be at 10am on 19 January and all are welcome - members, Friends, locals. This site is larger than the Civic Centre garden and accessible for the less-mobile. This garden will include more familiar vegetables, a wildlife area and a flower border for pollinators. Much of it is shaded by trees, giving us the opportunity to create an edible forest garden which will include wild and shade-tolerant veggies and many perennials. Please come and help us build our brand new recycled plastic raised beds and do try and encourage interest from the local community.

The following weekend, members will be at Hammonds End doing what we do best, building a polytunnel! This time we are replacing and extending one of the original structures; later in the year we intend reskinning ‘poly tunnel 3’ - the shady one that is part workshop but still produces crops for us. As far as possible, we will be incorporating water collection too!

Groundwork UK recently held their Community Awards at the House of Commons with a special tour and dinner for 180+ guests including 30 finalists. They received 600 applications for 10 different categories. Against some pretty stiff competition and inspiring projects within the category the CDA won the Community Cohesion award for the Community Garden in Hixberry Lane to which FoodSmiles is a major contributor.  

Indeed, we now have some more land to cultivate at Hixberry. For once, it has already been dug over. With this and the access we have to the poly tunnel (in which we have now built some staging), our growing space there has grown some 20%. 

‘The Farmer’, Howard Roberts, has now retired as a partner at Hammonds End Farm albeit, he will be carrying out a range of predominantly administrative duties for the business over the coming months. Stuart continues not only with the Farm but also as Vice President of the National Farmers Union. Howard is moving to Aylesbury to grow his own vegetables, attend an archaeological course and brush up on his French ready to visit the Pouilly Fume wine area.

At our November coffee morning, restaurateur Andrei Lussmann gave a very interesting, open honest talk on “Running an ethical brand whilst being financially sustainable”. His restaurants have been awarded the 2018 Sunday Times 100 best places to eat and were also 2018 Winner – Source fish responsibly, Food Made Good Awards. Having worked in hospitality for large companies for 20 years, Andrei set up a small coffee shop near Ladbroke Grove with his sister. This was a mixed area and they got held up 3 times, were treated poorly by the rich locals to whom they delivered food on bikes and made no money!  In 2005, Andrei heard about an available restaurant in Hertford, visited it and still has it in his portfolio today!  Progress towards running an ethical business had to be gradual as it was important to get the fundamental business aspects right such as consistency, nice food and staff, availability of set menus and with the exception of Mother’s Day, no special (expensive) menus. Now there are 5 Lussmanns restaurants and 110 staff to support with Andrei’s main jobs being to deal with broken staff, customers and equipment!

Sustainability is an extra layer of administration and as far as Andrei is concerned covers 200 disciplines from chemical use, fish sources, long life free range chicken, air freight, to LED lights and recycling (which they have just got to 100% but at a cost!). One of his challenges is how to communicate it to customers and maintain their interest! However, after 16 years of gradually becoming more ethical, Andrei believes he is nearly there and confirmed that it is possible to run his business ethically despite the additional costs and tighter margins and make a profit.   He is now concentrating on becoming the best employer in town!

At our recent committee meeting, we recognised that although we have 36 paid members, we only have 27 active members.  So many of our members lives are changing due to family illnesses and time pressures! As a result, we will need to advertise hard for more members in the spring and explain to all that if they need more flexible arrangements to continue as an Active Member we will be happy to accommodate them or they can be an Active Friend and come to work informally at the farm whenever they need some hearty exercise and company (and probably cake too)!  Our next Open Days at Hammonds End are on the afternoons of 20 and 23 March.
Our AGM on 12 February will be at 7.30 at the Farr Brew’s Reading Rooms in Wheathampstead. The formalities are expected to take half an hour and will be followed by cheese and biscuits and cake; these will be provided but we ask attendees to please purchase coffee or a drink.

Finally, a seasonal recipe from our friendly chef, Alex (now working at the Lower Red Lion):

Veg Samosas with A Mint Chutney


For the Samosas:
150g plain flour
35ml veg oil
3g salt
Enough water to bind
200g boiled mashed potatoes
150g leeks
100g cauliflower
100g spinach leaves
100g chard
½ red pepper
1 green chilli
2 tsp fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh coriander
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp dry mango powder (or a splash of white wine vinegar)
Pinch of salt

For the Chutney:
1 bunch mint leaves
1 bunch coriander leaves
1 green chilli
1 lime, zest and juice
1 garlic clove
1 knob of fresh ginger
1 tbsp caster sugar
Pinch of salt

To make the pastry heat the oil in a pan until smoking hot, pour over the flour and salt and mix in with a spoon. Add enough water to make a workable dough. Once combined, leave to rest under a damp cloth for 15 mins.

Break the cauliflower down to small pieces, none bigger than a centimetre. Boil for two minutes until soft. Drain and leave to cool. Chop the other veg and sweat off in a pan with a little oil, starting with the chard and leeks then adding the pepper, then the spinach. Finally add in the garlic, ginger and spices and heat through. Put the mix in a mixing bowl with the mashed potato, cauliflower and coriander. Stir together.

Roll out the pastry into dining plate size circles. Cut the discs into quarters. Fold the pastry quarters into samosa pockets using a paste of flour and water to stick the sides down (check out a YouTube video for ‘How to Make Samosas’ if you are unsure of how to do this). Fill the samosas with the filling and seal down the lid with more flour paste. Deep fry the samosas in veg oil until golden on the outside. Drain on kitchen paper.

For the chutney put all the ingredients in a blender with a little water and whizz up. Serve.

Autumn 2018 Newsletter

What better way to start this edition than with...

Our summer boxes have been quite impressive so all the members’ hard work watering this year has paid off. Our main and best-positioned polytunnel has enabled us to grow tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and sweet potatoes.

We experimented with fennel for the first time and were awarded 3rd prize at the Redbourn Horticultural show for it! Fortunately, our aim was to participate and get our name known rather than to win!

We have had some fantastic sweetcorn but we probably lost 50% to predators. Early on we saw magpies going for them and so we covered them with netting. 

As we did for other crops, we also installed a solar powered sonic rodent deterrent as we suspected rats, mice or squirrels. 

In early September, Farr Brew requested that the hop cones be harvested and delivered to the brewery. The harvest was not great with only two of the ten plants really flourishing and only one other producing any cones at all. We guess this was down to the unusually hot and dry weather.

Farr continue to support us, this time with a donation of beer for our Harvest Festival. It was good to see site manager Ian doing something other than working!

Harvest Festival
Once again, we welcomed members and Friends to Hammonds End.  It’s always a good excuse to tidy up the site (as if we didn’t have enough to do just with picking at this time of year!). The quiches, barbecue and all the food supplied by our members went down well.

Naomi organised a cryptic treasure hunt which was a great way for everyone to take time to look at the site and exercise our brains as well as our jaws. Music from the folk trio Said the Maiden (who in 2017 won Folking Awards ‘Rising Star’ prize, and an NMG Award nomination for best Acoustic, Country & Folk Act) added to  the party atmosphere. A very enjoyable afternoon was had by all ages and might even result in a new member - David Heritage, Mayor of Harpenden said “I feel really inspired and would like to join myself”. We actually had a pair of mayors in attendance as Cllr Rosemary Farmer, the Mayor of the City and District of St Albans, came too.

One of our Incredible Edible volunteers came for the first time and said "I am so, so impressed by what you've all achieved at Hammonds End Lane - you should all be very proud of yourselves!” So, after 4 and a half years’ work, well done to all our members.

In the last few months I have ‘enjoyed’ appearing on Radio Verulam’s ‘Bubble and Squeak’ show with Andrei Lussman and Ruby Raut of the Foodwaste Ninjas, being interviewed at the Food & Drink Festival’s Cookery Theatre and presenting at a Soroptimist International St Albans meeting. We are now producing some slides and a script to help other members get involved in publicising FoodSmiles. 

A number of us did enjoy making a scarecrow for Ayletts' Scarecrow Trail as part of their Autumn Festival. A lot of effort went into knitting and crocheting vegetables and we quite thought we would win a prize. Sadly, the voting public thought otherwise. What do you think?

Save the dates
Our next Coffee Morning at the Courtyard Café will be on 21st November, and our AGM on 12th February. More information will follow.

Finally, a seasonal recipe from our friendly chef, Alex (now working at the Lower Red Lion):

Green Lentil Moussaka

For the filling:
400g tinned green lentils
500g potato
500g aubergine
200g onion
200g courgette
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
100g celery
4 cloves garlic
200ml red wine
100g tomato puree
20ml balsamic vinegar
20g muscovado sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
5g fresh oregano/1 tsp dried
salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:
750ml Greek yogurt
150g grated parmesan (or vegetarian-friendly alternative)
1 egg
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper

Slice the aubergines to 1 cm thick, sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander to drain for 20 mins. Get on with other stuff whilst waiting.

Dice the onion and slice the celery. Fry off with a little oil. Dice the peppers and cut the courgette into wedges. Add to the pan. Squish the garlic and add. Next add the lentils, the tomato puree, the red wine and the flavourings. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 mins.

Slice the potatoes to ½ cm thick and boil them for 2-3 mins. Drain and leave aside.

Grate all the cheese and put half in a bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients for the topping to the bowl. Mix together.

Wash the salt off the aubergine and fry in a pan with a little oil until soft.

You are now ready to assemble. Lentil stew goes into the base of your roasting dish, next a layer of potatoes, then the aubergine, then the yogurt and finally, finish with the remaining grated cheese. Bake in the over for 30 mins at 180°C or until the cheese is a dark gold.