Contrary to what some people might expect, neither I nor my erstwhile colleagues at OrganicLea have every aspired to self-sufficiency as an objective or philosophy. Ecology, and any sort of humanity, is so much about beneficial relationships. Many would like to grow more of their own food, but if that is at the expense of sharing and exchanging food with others, then the net sum of experiences may be impoverished, rather than enriched.
Which is why I’m happy as a potato in mud to be a community market gardener: happier to grow ten kilos of salad and send it off to our box scheme, in order to get back one bag of salad and the chance to appreciate the wonderful organic carrots and onions grown by our campaneros in East Anglia, in the vegebox. It seems to me that’s it’s neither consumerist dependency or self-sufficiency but self-reliance, that balance of autonomy and collectivity, that remains the hopeful path. And this does not deny the pleasure of sometimes doing it all yourself.
Early on in my horticultural journey, a member of the 1 in 12 Club’s Peasants Collective in Bradford explained away their disproportionate swathes of garlic as “something you can be self-sufficient in”. This crop remains a good tip for any gardener who wants to experience the uniques satisfaction of a year-round supply from their own patch of earth. Culinary herbs, such as sage and rosemary, need only a plant or two to fulfill that role. As we dug out the remaining potatoes from the field on Friday I reflected that our modest spud bed has comfortably yielded enough for the average annual requirements of three Brits, or ten people in China. (But only one month’s supply for the average Irish peasant in the nineteenth century!)
If, as we do, you have a bit of protection, then for that hit of self-sufficiency, it’s all about chillies. My favourite remains “Ring Of Fire”, a cultivar that guarantees reliability without compromise – these are HOT chillies, as was testified by the very sparingly excavated bowls of pepper paste left on the tables at our World Food Day Feast last week. These filled my doggy jar which, even accounting for the distinct possibility of a year of prodigious curry making, should keep me going until 2011’s thin fruits are ripe for the picking.
Most of their brethren are on the glasshouse staging, drying sizzlingly, or still ripening on the plants. The plan is to string these fully dried peppers into “edible decorations”,to add their joyful red glow and hearty warmth to the midwinter festivities of, hopefully, hundreds of average, and less average, British households. This , I think, will be sufficient.