Time was when I would look forward to a summer punctuated by a long cycling holiday: an aimless road trip over hills and dales; or carefree, car-free adventures in the Paradise region of France. Latterly, the demands and joys of the growing site have reduced such escapades to the odd day trip and TV coverage of the Tour de France. But this week I brought the garden and the cycling break together in doing our weekly delivery “into London town”.
Realising this year that we needed to look beyond our small beautiful box scheme and stall for homes for our urban market garden abundance, Clare, our intrepid Promotion and Distribution Worker, set out to find a few ideal partners. Idealists that we are, we weren’t interested in flogging veg to any Tom, Dick or Harrods. We wanted people who were independent (for political and practical reasons: chainstores tend to bully small producers); we wanted people who rivalled our passion , shared our vision, and were ready to enter a long-term relationship. Ideally, they’d also be solvent, GSOH, and have a liking for late ‘80s indie pop, but there’s only so much room in a lonely artichoke heart column.
Cutting to the happy ending, we found each other: Table 7 restaurant in Chingford, our lowest energy customer, courtesy of Ian’s feet; Pizza East in Shoreditch, whom Deli Station, our Slow Food neighbours in the Lea Valley, deliver to on their capital rounds; and a convenient cluster of Camden cafes: The Sandwich Barge on the Regents Canal; Friends’ Centre on the Euston Road; Nice Green Van at the English Folk Song & Dance Society; and finally Manna, the “oldest vegetarian restaurant in London”, purveyors of exquisite and ethical vegan cuisine.
For this “zero food miles” run, we focus on salad – a blend of leaves we’re proud of and which has the advantage of being quite light – plus enough seasonal items to fill the trailer. The trailer is a Christiania, fabricated in the autonomous community of that name in Copenhagen: another practolitical choice: theirs is a car-free zone, so they’ve developed human powered cargo carriers of utmost elegance and functionality.
Empty polystyrene boxes are even lighter than salad, so there’s a spring in my pedal as I leave Manna and journey east, retracing the historic cartwheels of so many growers and grocers. Squeezing through Islington traffic is not the same as spinning through fields and vineyards, it’s true: but back then, I’d pass delightful vegetable patches , and leave them behind. Now, I’m carrying them with me, at every turn.