It’s difficult to overstate the English capacity to not overstate things. When asked how we are, or what the weather’s been like, responses may range dramatically from “alright”, through “bearing up”, all the way to “can’t complain”. You could say it reflects a moderate, even fatalistic, streak which, like all cultural traits, can be charming at times, and at others infuriating: though we musn’t grumble, I suppose.
It’s this sweet moderation that has, on the one hand, put the damper on historical movements that brought us to within grasping reach of liberation; on the other, stemmed autocratic tyranny to a degree. Ultimately, like all traditions, at important moments it is there to be thrown out. Now is one such: this growing season has been neither “OK” nor “not too bad”; neither “quite good” nor “better than a slap in the face”: it has been gob-smackingly, jaw-droppingly EXCELLENT.
Except for the slow start, we couldn’t have asked for more: warm, good light levels, regular deep rainfall. Growth has been lush yet balanced, inside and out. No pest or disease has run rife, and the biggest problem we’ve faced is working out just what, apart from the obscene, to do with all those cucumbers and celery sticks. This is, as they say “a nice problem to have” (The solution for the latter item has been, bizarrely, to sell them to organic box scheme operators in Norfolk and Devon. This certainly wasn’t the objective when we set up a food growing project in London, though it might represent some sort of a landmark in the development of urban production here!)
The dreaded late summer Salad Gap barely appeared, the winter leaves just gushed forth to replace the tired spring sown ones, with time to spare. The job is now to discourage premature flowering. The tomatoes, odd spates of blossom end rot and splitting aside, have been truly madly deeply superb. The Old Kitchen Garden is awash with squash. And the Entrance Field tall stands, and clean: we are on top of the weeds as never before. Resting on laurels is never wise, especially not in the garden, but equally it’d be rude not to stand back and breathe the sweet, earthy smell of success, on behalf of all of those who have laboured to get the garden to this praiseworthy point.
With our horticultural training still in the holidays, and the crops mature and managed, the more intense energy on site at the moment – where the race is still being run – is around the harvesting. Joining the thick vegetable scoop are the fruits: raspberries and cape gooseberries; whilst our Scrumping Project once again welcomes would-be-wasted household apples and pears; meanwhile Marco and the vineyard team are putting the finishing touches to the winery just as the grapes get ready to glow.
The winery, our fairly obvious solution to the problem of just what to do with all the grapes, has already fermented into something a bit richer. Country wine is already on the menu, a surprising weight of free range bramble fruit being plucked from hitherto largely disregarded scrub and shrubs of our biodiversity areas. And we’ve launched the community wine making scheme. Through this, Londoners who have grapes growing in their garden, by happenstance or design, will merge their yields into one great mullti-varietal vintage (or rather, one red one white). More than celery to Devon, this marks the next small step for our alternative food system. All over the world, small producers come together to pool resources, be it in the form of grain mills, combine harvesters or marketing cooperatives: this tradition of mutual aid is a hallmark of peasant societies.
Time and again the experts of Right and Left have pronounced the death of the peasant mode of production. Yet it lives: it not only, as Patrick Mulvaney of UK Food Group points out, continues to feed the majority of the world’s people, it also re-emerges in late capitalist societies such as ours, in the form of community wine making schemes, allotments, urban market gardens. It keeps coming back, like the seasons. Like this gorgeous late summer sun, like the red of the raddichio, like that ripe hint at autumn.