Those Soil Marks on Your Food…

Those Soil Marks on Your Food…

Have you ever seen the real crop of Brussel sprouts? Do you know that many variants of apple actually come from one single ‘mother-plant’? Do you know that you should cover strawberry beds with—literally—straws?

I would probably never know about those facts if I didn’t join Green Lancaster activities. First time I heard about it, I thought it was kind of “environmentalist army” aimed at planting as many trees as possible in Lancaster campus area. Well, that isn’t completely wrong, but actually this project is focused more on food crops. Yeah, it tries to show you how you can produce your own food in the name of “food sustainability”.

During the action days in Eco-Hub every Wednesday and Friday, I got valuable hands-on experience on how to grow many varieties of fruits and vegetables. I joined some delightful volunteering activities like pumpkin carving in Halloween and selling vegetables in market stall. I also participated in Student Eats Conference by National Union of Students (NUS) with fellow students around UK. This year with Green Lancaster has been such an amazing experience for me 🙂

Green Lancaster farmer's market stall at Alexandra Square, Lancaster UniversityGreen Lancaster farmer’s market stall at Alexandra Square, Lancaster University

The Green Lancaster staff members have been doing incredible work in promoting food sustainability over campus. They arranged many promotional activities throughout the year in the hope of getting more students attention to Eco-Hub and Edible Campus project. But yes, campaign about food sustainability isn’t something easy to do.

Some questions arise, like, why do you need to grow your own food? Aren’t Tesco and Sainsbury’s more than enough to feed you? Why should you buy that so-called “sustainable food” with even more expensive price?

The reason seems crystal clear for people who have been ‘enlightened’ by environmental awareness. Sustainable food means that your food, in the process of production and delivery chain, do not harm overall environmental and societal well-being. The crops farming method should not spoil natural ecosystem. The famers should be paid with fair wages. The delivery should leave as little ‘carbon footprint’ as possible. Therefore, if you’re growing your own food, or buy food which is locally sourced, it means that you’re reducing the distance that the food has travelled to reach your plate, thus lessen the ‘carbon cost’ paid to environment.

However, for common people who have yet to hear about ‘food sustainability’, what is the incentive of painstakingly growing crops with your own hand? Or allocating significantly higher budget to buy local-organic food?

Growing your own food may take considerably more resources and energy (not with Green Lancaster though. They provide everything, you can just plant and harvest for free. That’s why you should join it! 😉 ) Buying local British food, strangely, can cost you more than imported ones in supermarket. These facts even lessen the incentive of starting sustainable diet.

Last week, I tried to buy sustainable food from Lancaster “The Food Assembly”. This scheme allows you to order food online from nearby food producers and then collect it every Wednesday evening in White Cross pub, where you can also directly meet the local farmers. The price was significantly more expensive, but it’s worth it. I ordered 500 g new potatoes (£1.60), 200 g spinach (£1.40), and 300 g kohlrabi (£1.00). The potatoes came in a plastic bag, covered with soil marks as if it was just harvested. The spinach was so fresh and tasted so good, as well as the kohlrabi. Overall I’m satisfied with the food quality; however, still I will not become a regular buyer there. I mean, for a student, the price difference compared to normal supermarket is considerably high. Looking from pragmatic glasses, people would rather buy 2 kg white potatoes in Spar with only £1 than 0,5 kg potatoes sourced from local farmers in Pilling which costs £1.60.

Sustainable vegetables from The Food AssemblySustainable vegetables from The Food Assembly

The funny thing is, I guess it is easier to apply ‘sustainable food’ concept back home in Indonesia rather than in UK. First, the local food is considerably cheaper than imported food in supermarket. It has no fancy packaging, sometimes with marks of soil, locally grown, fresh and cheap. While food in supermarket, it might be imported from some faraway places, comes with fancy packaging, perfectly clean without soil marks, and expensive. Seems like the less soil marks it has (like the one in potatoes or carrots), the more expensive the vegetables would be. On the contrary, here in UK, the more soil marks it has, the more expensive it would be (as in my case of potatoes from Pilling farmers). Seems that soil marks represent two different things; in Indonesia it shows dirtiness and lack of quality improvement, while in UK it represents freshness and sustainability 🙂

However, I think nothing beats the joy of eating food that comes from familiar land (like your own backyard) and familiar hands (like your own). It assures your peace of mind and the sense of ‘work with your own hand’. Every time I harvested some veggies from Eco-Hub, then directly cook it at home, I feel like I’ve eaten something really pure, healthy, given by mother nature, with my personal touch in it (well, that’s a bit exaggerating but I can’t help this feeling :’))

In the end, of course not everyone was born to be a (good) farmer. However, Green Lancaster’s Eco-Hub and its Edible Campus project, I think, provides great opportunity for students to have their own backyard and grow some valuable things out of it. Get your hands dirty to purify your food!

p.s. kohlrabi is a German turnip-cabbage and it’s one of the best veggies I’ve ever tasted 😉

UK-Europe and the Job Market

UK-Europe and the Job Market

It’s a common mistaken perception that graduates in developed countries are easier to get job. No, not at all. Finding a (proper) job has always been a struggle for majority of people, wherever we are. In developed countries, the case is probably even worse. Most of the industrial manufacturing plants have off-shored to far away countries as a result of globalised trade–which means less on-site jobs available. Plus, (quite) recent financial crisis still leave its impact on the economy.In France, an ex co-worker told me, it is considered amazing if you’re (still) 25 and have secured a permanent job. So, refer to my previous story, it’s understandable why an ex-client questioned my decision to leave a permanent job for studying again. In fact, during my study in UK, I observed that most of postgraduate students are international students (non UK/EU)–which means that it’s seemingly quite rare for UK/EU students to pursue Master Degree, unless they plan to build an academic career.

Anyway, I just read an interesting story in LUSU (Lancaster University Student Union) newspaper.

LUSU article

As we can see from the title, the writer complained about how it’s getting more difficult to secure full time entry-level job, as most of the companies turn it into apprenticeship program. Even worse, a significant number of these apprenticeships were taken by over-25s people, reducing the chance of fresh graduates to get a job. The excuse for apprenticeship (instead of full-time employment) was, that company need to shape their employee’s skill before fully employing them.

But of course that wasn’t the real case. Once an Indonesian senior, who has stayed in UK for 15 years, told me that difficult economy has forced many companies to avoid paying standard wage for graduates. A standard annual salary for bachelor degree holder is £24,000. However, in apprenticeship, this decent salary can be pressed down up to minimum wage rate, which is £6.50 per hour. If a graduate works for 40 hours a week, then you can imagine how much saving the company makes? However, seems that the graduates have no other options though, since finding a permanent job is getting harder.

In this situation of diminishing job market, the chance for overseas students like me to secure a job in UK is even impossible. It makes sense that government and corporations will of course prioritise their own citizen to get employment. Most of Indonesian LU graduates that I know, ended up go back to Indonesia after some UK job application trials. Freelance jobs are still available, of course, but again, with minimum wage rate to feed highly expensive UK living cost, it’s a lot better to work at home with higher salary value and much lower living cost.

Life is hard, comrades.

Plunge into Job Market Again

Plunge into Job Market Again

As I’m getting closer to the end of Summer Term, and definitely to the deadline of my dissertation’s submission, I feel like another worry start to catch me. Now I wonder where would I be in the next couple of months? Would I go back home and find a dream job? Would I stay here with casual job spending my visa time while thinking about the next step to do? Would I start building my own business and serve the community?

It’s funny that after all this time, somehow I have no clear clue about what’s going on next. These days I feel like I’m going back to the time of 3 years ago, when I was waiting for bachelor graduation, wandering around the library and writing a blog post like this. It’s pathetically funny that I haven’t moved forward from those younger days.

During my time of working in Surabaya, I found that the routines killed my brain. After 2 years drowning in a company business, I knew I had to do something with my life, re-fill it so it won’t be wasted away as a corporate robot. I decided to apply for scholarship, fulfilled my old dream of studying abroad, in the hope of re-fuel my mind and my soul. At that time, one of our clients from France questioned my decision to quit the job. He said that I was very brave to leave the good job position for the sake of going back to study.

In fact, now I feel the fear. Source of image:

Recently I’ve applied some casual job positions to fulfil several gap months until graduation. When I started re-writing my CV, I just realised that I’m getting old. I’m no more a fresh graduate with unlimited opportunity. Probably I won’t be considered as a priority for the role of Management Trainee in reputable companies. And I’ll be 25 by the end of this year. Somehow this reality strikes me. Almost 25 and soon to be unemployed (well unless I find a job before graduation).

I probably took a Master degree in the hope of escaping corporate life for a while, but now I know that inevitably I will have to go back. Income is the main concern. Now that I’ve used to get regular income for the past 3 years and the lifestyle followed, I feel a bit fear of going back to undergraduate life when I had to struggle between freelance jobs and maintain lower lifestyle. Besides, my family does have a high expectation of me. As the eldest of four daughters, I knew the burden is on my shoulder.

The jungle is there, yet to be explored. While many of my friends have settled down; getting married and having kids, I’m still in the middle of adventure. I’m partly worried–yet partly challenged.

Oh, and I’m going to write more about job market in UK. Check it out here.