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.