Growing the community

The SAGE intern: worrying about clumpy soil

The SAGE garden is a riot of green and I found Leanne weeding. While I have been away swanning around Éire she has been hard it trying to balance helping with the milking at home and keeping on top of the garden. She’s worrying about the soil; it’s gone clumpy and there is a lack of worms. She thinks that it’s low in nitrogen. When we started following Leanne back in August she was preparing the soil by preparing and digging in green manure. She was worried then that the garden beds were tired. “Regenerative farming is clearly the way to go” she says, referring to the approach to food and farming systems that regenerates topsoil and increases biodiversity. She goes on: “But we also need to make a living so it’s all a balancing act.” This balance between what’s right for the biosphere and agri-economics of farming is the strategic challenge not only of market gardening but of our food system as a whole.

In a way this is why SAGE has its intern program; it’s a positive action, however small, that will help with the sustainability of our food system. Long distance flying (of which I have just done plenty) gives one the opportunity for lots of reading (which is about the only good thing about it). In the latest issue of GQ there’s an article entitled “It’s not too late to fix our food crisis. This is sobering reading: more people in the world are obese than are underfed. Our health depends largely on diet. Fresh food, locally grown, is the path to a good diet. In her small way Leanne is part of trying to change the way we eat to one that is based on a sustainable approach to the way we exploit our planet.

But not much of this is on Leanne’s mind as she talks about what she’s planted. She showed me rows of new seedlings. “There are broccoli, cauliflowers, leeks and red cabbages,” she says, “they’ll be ready in April.” Last week she was selling her beans and she remarked on the labour intensity of picking them. I picked a row with her and I can attest that the life of a SAGE intern is not an easy one. But I went home with a load of beans some of which we have eaten and some we have frozen. In the meantime, I am looking forward to those cauliflowers, leeks and red cabbages.

To freeze beans

  1. Top and tail the beans
  2. Blanche them by putting the into a pot of boiling water, bringing them back up to the boil and leaving them for 30 seconds (this heating process denatures the enzymes that cause decay: freezing alone does not do this)
  3. Plunge them into cold water … the icier the better
  4. When they are cool flash freeze them … lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet on grease proof paper and put then in the freezer (this stops the beans from freezing together in clumps)

When they’re frozen put them in bags (or even one big bag) and put them back in the freezer.