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.

Summer 2018 Newsletter

I am fortunate enough to be in Portugal while writing this. FoodSmiles certainly has an international flavour about it. Do you know we have members originating from England, Wales, Ireland, France, Spain, China, South Africa, Algeria and Poland. Nine nationalities united in one task! 

FoodSmiles really does bring people together. No more so than at our first community Incredible Edible garden. Councillor Rosemary Farmer became St Albans Mayor in May. Her theme for the year is ‘Serving and caring for all in our community’ and she has said that she ‘will be encouraging people to reach out to anyone who appears to be isolated and help ensure they get any care and support they need’. How fitting it was that she officially opened our garden as part of the St Albans Festival celebrations. 


We are continuing to work with Look St Albans and were invited to speak after their AGM about how the Incredible Edible site came about and what is planned (now imminently) in Russell Avenue.

We had a busy Sustainable St Albans week back in April, being involved in three events: “Come and Grow!" at the community food garden, the Know How Festival and we combined a Big Working Party at Hammonds End with our participation in the Open Food Gardens scheme. Our resources were certainly stretched!

In June, Hammonds End Farm participated in the national Open Farm Sunday. This was a great opportunity to publicise FoodSmiles and we have never had so many visitors on site. This week, the Farm is hosting the Rennie Grove Hospice Farm Run and again our gate will be open!

We have also been getting some publicity in the Herts Ad as part of an article on our friends at Farr Brew, and Naomi was interviewed by Becky Alexander.

One Saturday, FoodSmiles members joined a packed hall to hear a talk by Charles Dowding organised by Sandridge Road Allotment Association.  Charles Dowding is an organic vegetable grower, author and broadcaster who uses the no-dig method, details of which can be found on his website (  He spoke with passion of the many benefits of no-dig and discussed the practicalities in detail. We came away informed and enthused.

At the Community Garden in Hixberry Lane we have been experimenting with the no-dig method since we took on the heavy clay land 18 months ago.  Waterlogged in winter and like concrete in summer with a very small window between the two, improving the soil has been the top priority. Any suitable organic matter that can be acquired is used to cover the grassland including cardboard, manure, compost and spent hops kindly donated by the Farr Brew.  The adoption of the no-dig method is really a necessity as the land can not be easily worked and we are completely sold on the idea as the crops coming from the no-dig beds are far better than those grown on more conventionally worked beds.

We had a very successful Summer Party.  Whilst there were not many member attendees, their invited families augmented the gathering and were all very enthusiastic about what we are doing. Delicious food, thanks to all members present, a barbecue and wheelbarrow racing…

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

Broad Bean, Feta & Mint Dip

200g Broad Beans
100g Feta
5g Mint
½ clove garlic
Pinch of Pepper

Boil the broad beans for just a couple of minutes until softened. Blanch with cold water and then remove the grey outer husks of the beans (you obviously don’t have to do this if you consider it too much of a faff, the husks are perfectly edible, just a little bitter). Put the beans in a blender with the feta, mint, garlic and pepper. You can add salt if you like but the feta is already very salty so you probably won’t need it. Blend until smooth. 

Uses: This dip can have a number of different applications but here are a few suggestions:
With some lovely Foodsmiles grown veg cut into strips and served as crudité. With toasted pitta bread as an alternative to hummus As a sauce for pasta As a filling for a tortilla wrap

Spring 2018 Newsletter

Welcome to our Spring 2018 Newsletter.

Once again, I am writing this as we are harvesting cauliflowers-the spring variety this time. Isn’t it great the light evenings are with us. It’s been a real pleasure to be able to take our time when working on our sites rather than having to pack it all into short days. What’s more we are on target! All our March jobs are done and this includes resowing beetroots after the mice visited poly tunnel 4. We are hoping the sonic devices we’ve now installed will work.

As you know, it’s not all growing at FoodSmiles. I’ve had a satisfying time organising the ‘workshop’. It’s amazing what useful things we have that had been forgotten about!

Ron’s been busy erecting supports over the Purple Sprouting.

And the solar panel is now in situ – it’s quite a structure and soon we are hoping to add another that was donated by Ayletts. Well done to all involved in this engineering feat!

Hot off the press - FoodSmiles were at the Mayor’s Pride Awards at the end of March and came away runners - up in the Environmental Champion category.

The highlight of this quarter was Howard Roberts’ (“the Farmer”) talk “Back to the Future with Organic Farming” at our Coffee morning at the Courtyard Café. When the family first took on Hammonds End Farm on in 1955, it had one member of staff looking after each of sheep, cows, pigs, horses, chickens, potatoes, brussels and gigantic cabbage for animal feed; it was a ‘typical’ Hertfordshire farm.

In 1960 the Government offered grants to encourage a switch to large scale cereal production and the use of agrochemicals to control pests, weeds and crop height. In 1985 Howard left banking and together with his wife Ginny, took over the running of the 260 acres farm.

It wasn’t until 1995 that they started to make changes such as letting out the livery yard and farm buildings and following another government push (reversal? in favour of the environment), took a ‘leap into the unknown’ and started to switch to an organic approach not dissimilar to that followed by Mr Roberts senior in 1955! Now, following some encouragement from Redbournbury Mill, the core business is growing organic cereals for mills using 13 fields and a 5-7 year growing rotation:

Years 1-2Clover and legumes providing silage for cattle and nitrogen for the soil
Year 3Wheat providing protein
Year 4Beans (but not for human consumption)
Year 5Wheat and Clover providing protein
Year 6Oats
Year 7Rye (to keep away weeds) and Spelt

With the change of distribution from 25 ton lorries to 25kg sacks and the help of social media, Hammonds End now supplies organic cereals all-round the UK and exports to Belgium and N. Ireland. With Stuart’s recent election to Vice President of the National Farmer’s Union, there is a lot to be proud of!

Whilst we only had a few visitors to our 2 March Open Days, it’s quality, not quantity that counts. We’re hopeful 3 out of 4 will join us and bring our annual renewal membership up to 31. Our next Open Days are part of Sustainable St Albans week:

  • 22 April at the Civic Centre for “Come and Grow! help at the community food garden”
  • 28 April at Hammonds End for “Come and join us at our Big Working Party/Open Food Gardens afternoon”
  • 29 April at  Fleetville Junior School where Naomi is part of the Big Know How Festival

Our new banners will be there for all to see!

Once again, Ayletts have helped us out.  This time with some former Christmas trees which make a lovely springy path. Do go into the garden and have a look around.

The message is out there! As well as our own Russell Avenue site (for which we’ve just received the Licence from the Council), there is talk of a separate Incredible Edible garden at the Jubilee Centre and Look St Albans! are doing their best to influence new developments so they are sympathetic to the landscape and include green space. We may have a busy time ahead! In January, Janet joined the Look Chairman in presenting at a Workshop for students from Hatfield University.

Finally, a seasonal recipe from our friendly chef, Alex: Spinach, Leek, Halloumi and Cauliflower Cakes

For the Cakes
400g Potatoes
200g Leek
200g Cauliflower
200g Spinach
200g Halloumi
100g Parmesan
50g Butter
1 Veg Stock Cube
Salt & Pepper to Taste

For the Pané 
2 Eggs
50g Plain Flour
100g Breadcrumbs

For the Salsa
½ Red Pepper
½ Green Pepper
200g Tomatoes
¼ Red Onion
20g Maggi Chilli Sauce 

To make the cakes, peel the potatoes and cut into large chunks. Boil for 10 minutes or until soft. Drain and mash with the butter. Chop the veg up and slowly sweat in a pan with a little oil until soft. Grate the cheese into the bowl and then mix all the ingredients together. Let the mix cool in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. Make the mix into cakes (about 100g each).

To pané, put the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in 3 different bowls and put the cakes in the flour, then the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Fry off the cakes in a shallow frying pan with a little oil until golden on both sides. 

To make the salsa, fine dice the veg and mix all ingredients together. Serve with a rocket salad.

Winter 2017/2018 Newsletter

Welcome to our winter 2017/18 Newsletter. Our good intention is to issue these on a quarterly basis in order to keep you up to date with FoodSmiles St Albans’ activities and ensure you are part of our Community

As I take a break between festivities, I look back over the last 3 months’ at FoodSmiles with satisfaction. Peter kindly wished us all Happy Christmas and described us as a ‘can do’ team. I certainly endorse that view and enjoy our members’ positive approach to often mundane tasks. Some people like and choose to weed as a clear bed gives them satisfaction.  Anthony has been drowning bad weeds; he says “It is a very stinky job - I’ve been double gloving it (plastic disposable gloves under grippy gardening gloves) because the smell takes forever to get off my hands”.  Others like construction, tidying up or watering. Well, it takes all sorts!
Team work. Can you spot the Christmas pudding?
October saw our first ever cauliflower harvest and mighty fine specimens they were too

Our St Albans site in Hixberry Lane is the main development for 2017. Well done to Hilary and her team of regulars; many of whom are working over and above their contractual hours to make this expansion to our growing area a success. The Community Development Agriculture organisation presented us with a poly tunnel kit and a hope that we would construct it.  I have been amazed at the speed with which this has been erected over the last month or so. What else is there to do on the 23rd of December?
Construction of the polytunnel frame
Polytunnel with skin added but not yet tightened
Completed polytunnel with drum tight skin and moveable staging table
This time last year we were successful in gaining a Postcode Local Lottery grant to fund the purchase of a strimmer and the introduction of solar power to our Hammonds End site. Whilst the project was delayed, the last stages were completed over the Christmas period and we now hope to run a fridge, inside and outside lighting and charge up tools. Let’s hope it’s a sunny 2018!

Whilst because of the weather and the panto season, little is happening at our new Incredible Edible Civic Centre site until the 27th January working party, the site looks tended and has smart plant labels made from recycled spoons and the path marked out ready for some wood chippings (anyone know of any sources?). Do go and have a look.

Incredible Edible garden at the St Albans Arena
Jayne has been successful in her application for a £2000 grant from the Lottery. This will help fund raised beds and compost for this community site.
We had a great parsnip harvest with eight in each member’s Christmas box!
Alex has been working hard at No. 23 so we have relieved him of his recipes duties this time. Here is what I made with some of the parsnips. I used the nests for canapés and they formed a tasty crisp surround to beetroot, cranberry and goat’s cheese.


For 12 small nests using fairy cake tins or individual yorkshire pudding tins:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled and julienned
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Salt and Pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C/180˚C Fan/Gas 6.
  2. Heat oil in a frying pan.
  3. Add parsnips and s+p and fry for a few minutes until wilted down and slightly softened.
  4. Leave to cool completely, then mix with the egg.
  5. Grease the tin and heat in the oven.
  6. Strain parsnips and divide them between the cases, pressing down the centre and pushing up the sides to make nests.
  7. Bake for 20 mins, or until crisp and brown.

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year.