Tuesday, 8 May 2007


I headed off to Belfast last week to visit some friends. For a few years now they have been on a council waiting list to acquire an allotment within walking distance from their house. This will allow them to grow their own organic vegetables. Like many areas that doesn’t have an abundance of spare land, these allotments are very much sought after. It could be years until one comes up (it would be a good idea to put children’s names on the list when they are born, that way they will probably get a plot before they retire)!

One thing that appeals to a lot of people about allotments is the sociable aspect. You could spend many a happy hour talking vegetables with your neighbour, swapping tips and cultivating new ideas.

Being self-sufficient with organically grown produce in the garden can’t be beaten. But if you have no interest in the fine art of growing your own, where can you get organically grown fruit and vegetables that haven’t been genetically tampered with? Most local shops, supermarkets and market stalls only sell a very small proportion of organic fruit and vegetables. This may be because people don’t ask for organic as it does tend to be more expensive. Another reason is that the produce may have imperfections on them such as scabs on apples and the odd slug tucked away on the underside of the leaves. Every year growers are improving their growing techniques to such an extent that you would be hard pressed to tell organic produce from chemical grown, apart from the taste of course. Prices too are coming down as the demand increases. Organic produce tends to be grown on a smaller scale than chemically grown plants and there are strict measures to make sure that the soil isn’t eroded from over cropping. I remember once driving through Lincolnshire in England and the effects of open field and intensive farming were devastating, the roads are up to six feet higher than the fields. When the roads were built they were on the same level, the soil has simply been blown away leaving an appearance of nothing more than a desert. The only way to grow vegetables in some of the worst effected areas is to add more chemicals as all the goodness has gone from the remaining inch or so of the soil.

In Ireland we’re limited by the amount of fruit and vegetables we can grow, as the season for growing is quite short (thankfully we still have soil though). In an environmentally perfect world we would all eat just the things that are growing around us. It would be pretty boring eating curly Kale all winter though! After saying that, here, up until recent history all people ate all year were spuds, there was no choice. Thankfully though, now we do have a choice it’s very popular to buy out of season crops from the shops, a punnet of strawberries to eat after your avocado salad in January for example. There are of course things that would be totally impractical to grow in our climate; the heating costs to grow things such as bananas and oranges would make the fruit far too expensive, the heating would be a pollutant too.

There was a report recently where a team calculated that the contents from just one pot of yoghurt combined had travelled more than 3000 miles to get to the table, which is a total waste of energy. The same goes for fruit and vegetables, some travel thousands of miles to get to us and of course the more it is handled the greater the cost to us, some products going through two or three distributors before the shop gets them.


There has to be a happy balance to satisfy our varied taste for fruit and vegetables. One person that has done a lot of research on this subject is Thomas Becht. Thomas runs Donegal Organic Farm Produce based in Glenties. His company specialises in organic home delivery boxes. There are a number of vegetables that they grow themselves that are available at this time of year such as parsnips, leeks, turnips and even fennel, but to cater for customer demand Thomas sources products locally and from our European neighbours whilst trying to keep transport down to a minimum.
The boxes are made up to the customer’s specifications depending on what fruit and vegetables they like. They can include extras such as organic orange juice and if you’re really lucky the odd free-range egg from their hens. One advantage of these delivery boxes is that if you ask for a surprise box you will find yourself eating things that you wouldn’t normally buy. On Friday’s the company delivers around Donegal from Killybegs up to Dunfanaghy through Letterkenny and down to Donegal town. Unfortunately they don’t come up to Inishowen, it’s only a question of time though before we all realise that we are what we eat and that Inishowen needs a constant supply of organic fruit and vegetables.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like looking at the pictures

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