Local Food… Localism… Local People… is where it’s at!

Hey there my lovely friends!

It has been a long time since I blogged here and I know I’ve missed it terribly. I shall convince myself that you’ve all missed it too… especially the kind readers who posted such nice comments after my last entry, thank you :).

Let me give you a quick run-down on what’s been keeping me busy, what’s been floating my boat, what’s been stopping me from blogging all about local food right here.  It’s quite a long story so I’ll condense as far as I can.

Took redundancy, June 2011 – convinced myself that working for HM Government was not for me and that being Mummy and in more control (?!) of our lives and what we eat, etc. would be for the best……. also coinciding with doing a big extension at home which turned our lives upside down, so a good job I was around to – ahem… – ‘oversee’ things (actually this is rubbish, I was useless but I did help maintain sanity whilst we lived in a caravan for a while)….. house renos meant no more growing veg in our garden, but we continue to adore the lovely Beryl and Matilda, our chooks……  Like most of us, money got tighter, work was non existent……… kids suddenly growing up sooo fast, now both at school (!)……… had a fab Jubilee street party, a celebration of localism if ever there was one……… hit my one-year-off-work milestone with lots of fantastic ideas for work, none of them as practical as Just Getting A Regular Job……. husband slightly despairing….. me doodling……. diversion of my time to concentrate on building my exciting new venture, whereby I get paid to do my fantastic drawing – and being creative – and facilitation (helping other people to have wonderful, creative projects)…. created my still-in-progress website, ooh – do take a look here……… summer 2012 came and went, with the amazing Olympics and Paralympics which our household LOVED……… husband and I were finally at the top of the list for a village allotment – Grow Your Own, hurrah – we’ve now got to get it ready for the 2013 growing season as our plot is a little unkempt….. and now we also hopefully have a new venture about to begin….. a little bit of a magic, exciting secret…… perhaps with some growing involved…! ..but definitely with local food involved…. more details to follow when there’s more to share & I can broadcast it wide and far……

So that’s it in a nutshell.

Eggs from our girlies, fantastic!

Matt and I at our Jubilee street party!

The building work…. a long project… & still not finished!

The lovely Beryl and Matilda

Learning to use my sewing machine, at last!

The whole family digging at the allotment.

No matter what we’ve been through and as the weeks, months and even years have been passing by, we are still always drawn to what’s happening LOCALLY.  Whether it’s producing and sharing food, joining forces with others in our community to create something or hold an event, or maybe just the simple act of being friendly and getting to know those around us, I am always amazed at the power of keeping things local.  Since starting this blog over two years ago now, it is fantastic to see that the local food movement has grown in leaps and bounds, with exciting new ventures starting up all over the place and people really seeing the benefit of ‘Going Local’.

I continue to use Twitter as my go-to source for information on local stuff.  The people I’ve met, the fantastic organisations I proudly retweet and the wonderful new acquaintances I’ve made have meant that, for me, Twitter has been the single most positive social media activity I’ve taken part in.  If you want to see the one place where I DO manage to keep posting info, you can follow me on Twitter here.

My recent tendency has been to spot local treasures and think great related blog posts, but to never actually share them on here. I am going to make a concerted effort to get those ideas written down here, to continue bringing these experiences to this blog and to hopefully encourage you to get out there and support your local food producers.

Our local food producers really do deserve our custom and they need it right now.

Claire x

Footnote: I should add that all of this enthusiasm has been brought about by a fantastic pub visit I made at the weekend, to one of our local pubs, the Parrot Inn in Forest Green, Surrey, where they rear their own meat and sell it in their pub and also in their new ‘food hall’, Butcher’s Hall.  Which is basically a great big barn shop full of excellent seasonal and local produce.  I am yet to visit the shop but it’s on my list…. hopefully I’ll share it with you soon.


You don’t often see these….

I’m feeling a bit itchy about blogging here again…. SO much blog-fodder, so little time. I saw these – and actually bought them – today and had to share:

Yes, I am British.
And they sell me in Tesco.

It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it phenomenon and I can hardly believe it, but quick, grab them, enjoy them, BUY them while they’re there, because you can bet they won’t be there for long. Support British farmers – for many reasons – but mostly for the common sense of them being grown down the road & being in season right now.


Veg boxes on the up…

There is an interesting piece in today’s Independent about veg (and other food) boxes. I’m not going to regurgitate it here (eww), merely point you in the right direction:

The growth industry: Veg boxes have gone from a niche product for worthies to a foodies’ essential

“What is it about veg boxes that they are positively prospering in the recession while supermarket sales of organic greengroceries have plunged? Is it loyalty to an ethical supplier, a determination to maintain green credentials as the planet heats relentlessly, or merely the surprise of not knowing whether a stick of black salsify or a handsome pale blue squash will turn up among the carrots, swedes and spuds to help brighten a winter supper?”

Read the article here.

As a customer of Riverford AND Abel & Cole in the past – and a recent and big fan of our local veg box scheme via Bramley’s Apple, I have to say I am very much in favour of boxes instead of the oft-limp supermarket offerings.

Yay for the humble box of vegetables.

The Fife diet

Howdy.  I often read interesting articles and follow random web links and find all sorts of cool stuff, but so rarely actually note it down or write a quick blog post about it, so the info just sits in my head and then gradually gets overtaken by other stuff.  Shopping lists, nursery rhymes, things I have to do before I forget…. you know what it’s like.

Anyhow, I’m just stopping by quickly this evening to share a link to a wonderful initiative in Scotland that I really like.  It’s called the Fife Diet and it’s (unsurprisingly) in Fife.  It’s a very established and well regarded project nowadays and I am a virtual member, having signed up on the Fife Diet website.  I receive all sorts of great foodie info in their regular newsletter and there are always thought provoking and inspiring things happening up there.  If I had more time, I’d love to be involved with something similar around here…. elements of the Fife Diet are very in keeping with my views on local food systems – and of course very much the sort of thing that’s on everyone else’s radar too.


The latest newsletter talks about ‘Fife Diet UNPLUGGED’ – a chance to switch off the TV, get outside and enjoy some slow cooked food with those around you, away from the hubbub of modern life.  Or maybe a walk out in the fresh air.  It’s being held on Sat 28th August and I’m tempted to organise a little event myself, even down here in Surrey.  I often find myself buzzing around, being in a rush, never stopping to take a breath and enjoy nature.  You may now think I am totally nuts but I do often like to stop and look at the flowers – I’ve noticed so many wild flowers in the hedgerows by us lately – and it’s nice to have a short break from the daily treadmill of ‘normal’ life and to remember that there is a whole, beautiful world around us.  Ok, I am slightly nutty, but I like it that way.

So, how do you keep yourself grounded?  Do you have a no-TV evening?  Do you talk to your plants?  Watch the swifts divebomb in the sky? Identify the wild flowers on the walk to school?  Eat home made food with friends with your mobile switched OFF?  Go on, tell me… your secrets are safe here 🙂  And tell me – would you consider having an Unplugged event yourself?  I think it seems like a great idea.

Claire x

Keeping garden chickens: how much mess?

So you’re thinking of getting chickens?  You’ve seen lots of cute pictures of the fluffy, feathered beauties and you’re thinking of getting a couple of ‘garden’ chickens.  For the kids, you know.  And the eggs, obvs.

Well – what I *didn’t* know before our girls arrived was (a) how much mess they’d make and (b) what a chicken poo really looked like.  I know – a sheltered upbringing or what???  AND I had spent some time hen- and duck-sitting for our neighbour Rachael… but you may remember my ramblings on that and how I always assumed all of that poop was exclusively the fault of the ducks.  Hmmm.

Anyway, a week or so ago I did my third big clear-up-and-move of the Eglu Go and I thought I’d record it here for you all to share the joys.  This will be of absolutely no interest whatsoever to most of you, BUT if you happen to be thinking of getting chickens, or are just really nosy and like looking at poo, then you’re in luck. Read on…

*** IMPORTANT NOTE. This blog contains unadulterated pictures of chicken poo.  And it also comes to the conclusion that despite the mess, the chickens are still brilliant. ***

So, in no particular order, here’s the evidence….

Inside the run, before cleaning out... a whole heap of unwanted scraps and flattened chicken poo.

So this photo is taken after a few days of the chickens being kept inside the run.  It’s quite a small space and so the build up of chicken poo is inevitable.  Plus you can see the bits of veg scraps that they aren’t very keen on.  We have since made a larger run for them which means the Eglu run doesn’t get quite so dirty, but it has been a case of trial and error so far when it comes to keeping everything clean (and free of flies in the hot weather) – and we are still learning every day.

Expert chicken keepers will hopefully step in and give their comments on this, but I have found I tend to clean up after the chickens every evening, just so the grass doesn’t get too mucky.  In this weather, armed with a small rake, it’s actually quite easy to rake up the worst mess and simply pop it on the compost heap.  I am sure I’ll have to come up with something else once the weather is colder.

In the hot weather, I have noticed that the flies are very quickly attracted to the poo.  This has meant I’ve been quite happy to clear up as much as I can so that this doesn’t cause a problem with maggots etc… although no idea whether this is a reasonable approach.

Once the chicken run is moved, the grass actually picks up very quickly.  Here are some pictures of the grass, the mess and the lovely girls themselves.  Despite the mess, the smell (not as bad as you’d think) and the rigmarole of moving the run around the garden, I’m very happy to say that it is all worth it.  Beryl and Matilda are so funny and are now pretty much producing an egg each every day 🙂

So here's what the grass looks like immediately after moving the Eglu and run. It had been in this spot for 6 days.

Here are two patches of the lawn post-Eglu move. It certainly greens the grass up!

Here's the mess inside the chicken house. Actually, since taking this, I've realised this is quite clean...

I use newspaper to line the base of the chicken house, so it's easy to pull the whole lot off and straight into the compost bin.

..and after emptying, it's super easy to give everything a blast with the hose and a dry off in the sun.

And here you go, in all its glory. For those who didn't know what one looked like. Chicken poo.

Apologies, I cannot believe I have just written a blog post about chicken poo….. do come back and visit again soon 😉

The way we eat now. A great article.

I wouldn’t normally dedicate a blog post to one article, but I liked this one from the Independent on Saturday so much that I thought I’d share.  Marina O’Loughlin has got it spot on.  Here’s a short extract…

The way we eat now: What will future food historians make of our curious eating habits?

“…So we’re photographing our food, tweeting and blogging it, trying to find out where it lived and what its name was before it was slaughtered, and yet the ready-meals market sector is blooming like fungus. We’re obsessed with healthy eating and we’re fatter than ever. We’re wafting through rooms that allow you to inhale gin and tonic mist while buying fish fingers that retail at 6p each. We’re espousing the Slow Food movement while eating more fast food than ever – and trying to cut our cooking times down to less than it would take to prepare a Pot Noodle.

Our snacks of choice are organic seeds and nuts – have you seen those ludicrous Graze boxes? – or Gregg’s pasties. The government watches what we eat via bodies funded by Coca Cola and Cadbury’s, who are then helpfully allowed to be self-regulating. We’re continue to waft around supermarkets, checking our smartphones for info from sites like wheresyoursfrom.com which tells you where the eggs were laid, or fish sustainability iPhone apps. And yet the sugary kormas still find their way into our trolleys.”

Read the whole article here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/a2297788.html.

Very interesting. What do you think?

A tale of two chooks.

Wow, what a busy few weeks it has been…. needless to say, taking redundancy does not equate to oodles of spare time and a relaxed lifestyle, no sir-eee!  After much dilly dallying and general putting-it-off, we finally took the jump and ordered our new chicken set up from the lovely people at Omlet.  We chose a bright yellow Eglu ‘Go’ – and we were very impressed with the excellent service which included everything we needed… including chickens… to get us up and running.

The man from Omlet making himself comfy.

The chickens arrived on 6 June to a flurry of excitement.  I’m very pleased to introduce you to the newest members of the household – Beryl (one of Omlet’s hybrid ‘Miss Pepperpot’ breed) and Matilda (a ‘Gingernut Ranger’, the lighter brown of the two).  Both immediately settled into their new little run, although I was very sad and impatient about their enforced five settling-in days, during which they had to be kept in their run – to ensure they realise that their home is actually home 🙂

The girlies are very cheerful and clucky girlies.  Beryl is most definitely top dog… er… chicken.  She tried a sneaky escape on Day One… practically pushed her way past me and I had to do a mad grab before she shot through the gap to freedom beyond.  She’s a feisty one, that’s for sure.  As for Matilda, it took longer for her to settle in but she’s now coming out of her shell, so to speak, and seems just fine.

It’s lovely to have some pets for the kids and some company in the garden.  I’m looking forward to sharing our progress as complete novice garden chicken keepers.  For now, here are a couple of mini-extracts from my notebook…

Day One

We woke today, on day one, to find a strange egg in the Eglu.  We had been warned it might be several weeks before any eggs came along.  It was quite small – the size of a ping pong ball – and the shell hadn’t been formed properly.  Sort of squishy, like a slightly shell-like membrane.  I wondered which of the girlies had started laying already?  And I also wondered how on earth we’d find out which one.  The nice people on the Omlet forum call this sort of egg a ‘softee’.  Hmm.

Egg no. 1: Mister Softee.

As you’ll know if you’ve read my blog before – the one thing I want to do is to eat more locally produced food.  I have to say that I am really looking forward to having our own eggs to go with the bread I make and some local bacon.  That would be the ultimate ‘I’m Going Local’ bacon and egg butty!

Day Four

We had our first two proper eggs on days two and three and so had to whip up some delectable feast to really make the best of them. What king of meals could be better than a big fat plate of sausage, egg and chips?!  The potatoes for the chips were the first lot from our garden – soooo tasty.  Definitely one of the top meals I’ve had in months and because the ingredients were so special to us, we really enjoyed every bite.  Absolutely delicious.

I look forward to uploading some more pics and telling you more chook tales as the girls settle in… for now, here’s a fab pic of yesterday’s (Day 12) unexpectedly LARGE egg…. with double yolk. Well done, Matilda!

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Why is it so convenient to shop without a care for the world? Where does my food come from? Is it really such a pain to use my local independent shops? Is the stuff they sell any better than Tesco's? I'm trying to find out answers to all of these questions and more. Join me!

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