Not long ago, as winter was just beginning to grip, we were honoured to receive our first visit from Lizzie and Grahame Hughes, crucial pieces in the OrganicLea jigsaw. Intensively growing on one acre of East Anglia under glass, they were members and employees of Eostre Organics, an organic growers’ cooperative.
For around a decade, Eostre appeared to embody what a genuinely alternative food system might just look like: a member-owned business, pooling produce – including that of sister European co-ops – for marketing direct via market stalls or through community-based enterprises in London, their most significant local market.
Eostre were there in 2006, to help us respond to local demand for a regular, reliable supply of honest good food, by launching our weekly market stall. The stall goes from strength to strength, and now the box scheme, and whilst both have done wonders when it comes to stimulating food production from within the little Edens of East London, the operations rest on the span and volume of produce from the broad lands beyond.
Like so many small fishes is the murky financial pond, Eostre went under in 2008, but out of the ashes rose Hughes Organics, Grahame and Lizzie working with a core of ex-Eostre growers, ensuring that those London communities continued to access decent organic veg. Despite hard times and disappointments, the Hugheses stay true to the ideal of “calling into being” grassroots independents: small change rather than big chains. It is a pleasure to be part of a simple, mutually beneficial relationship that bridges the rural- urban chasm. And not just because it allowed me to hear Grahame’s thoughts on watercress cultivation.
Another recent visitor, to everywhere on this island, has been Jack Frost, rendering much produce unharvestable for the last couple of weeks. Fortunately, some of Hughes’ mates had the foresight to pull stuff out of the ground when it was soft and the veg hard, rather than vice versa, so our members still got great produce. With temperatures down to -6 minus six here, some of the salads have had the limits of their hardiness sorely, sorely tested. But with the thaw this week, the “Pentland Brig” kale looked as unbowed and finely textured as ever; as triumphant as I felt.
Through the freeze we continued to harvest salad, and especially rocket, from under the glass. The difference this bit of protection can make at this time of year is stark, and another reminder of what an incredible resource we have here at Hawkwood. With the ground fleeced in snow, there has been a lot of indoor work, moving staging around to expose more areas for tough concrete breaking, for the soft opening up to soil. Keep moving else you freeze hard.