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 😉

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