By a curious quirk of nomenclative determinism, the first organic grower I ever knew was called Jack First. He ran a shop which stocked the whole range of wholefoods, but was basically a front organisation for flogging his veg: any intelligence would have spotted that his muscular frame behind the till was that of a farm labourer not a retail assistant. It was on farms, rather than through screen or print, that he had come to his conclusions about agro-ecology. As a result, when called to explain organics, in his shop or at some event, his approach was refreshingly un-text book. I remember him opening a talk once by asking his audience to look out for tree leaves in their groceries, as these indicated the produce was raised close to hedgerows, and thus an indicator of environmental quality.
I often think back to this at this time of year, the time when we have to prise out the crispy yellow-brown fallen bodies from our harvest of salad leaves. Like a slug in a salad bag, these may well be “nature’s own organic certification symbol”, yet they are considered unwelcome. Perhaps the moment will come when they won’t be: as surely as the age we are living in become more unreal, surreal and virtual-real, so the thirst for the authentic grows. I think it’s this that interests people in OrganicLea, among many other initiatives, as much as ecology, community or flavour.
In the garden, we are beginning to face up to a new reality, the dwindling of days. In the glasshouse, each week another screen of green is raised to the ground: the unpromising stubs of winter salad plugs laid low, where just before rested the feet of the mighty cucumber vines. This week we planted the first of the broad beans in the Entrance Field; the Winter Work Plan of maintenance, repair and development has been drawn up and circulated; the Produce Review is underway. Daniel the Salad Starter has begun the cloaking of the salad beds in ghostly horticultural fleece. There is no going back. The October Revolution.
The October Open Day will feature, as is traditional, the World of Chillies workshop. This year a quartet of hotheads: Giovanni, Sara, Rod and myself, will showcase our living library of now over sixty cultivars. It’ll be a great event, but I’m looking to it with some trepidation as, it has to be said, the pepper plants are looking as terrible as I’ve ever seen them – all wan leaves and sooty moulds. In fact, all of the crops that have been with us through the summer now resemble how we feel: wrung out and older. This is no ornamental display – if it was, we’d be out on our ears by now – but it’s great when its looking good.
Still, the chillies themselves, once picked from the dying limbs, are zinging bright and punchy. So in the Field, under the withering stems, the golden beetroot. Peel back the decaying leaves of chicory and there in your hands is a salmon sunset painted in salad. Even amongst all this rot, especially amongst it, here it is, burning bright: the real deal. Doubtless Jack would be the first to tell us that.