News 2009

Oct 2009: Tales Not From The Riverbank

May 2009: On Holiday From Growing Veg in Greater Manchester

January 2009: New Blood

Oct 2009: Tales Not From The Riverbank

After several attempts at buying our dream holding we are still busy at it. The previously noted QE effort to reflate our bubble- like economy and low interest rates haven't helped at all with potential sellers quite prepared to sit and wait for better times and prices. Farmland is also attracting interest from many people concerned only with its security as an asset class.

The wider world has been tough for organic growers as ever, generally without a sensible selling route to the public and often scraping along through box schemes or limited farmshop selling.

The public has continued to retreat to less salad and fruit and a bit more cheap frozen. Interestingly Unicorn as price sensitive as ever has held up well with static sales while many independents have suffered terrible sales falls when seen as optional purchasing. Some farm shops selling their own stuff have also done well showing support is there if the offer is good enough (freshness and price usually the issues).

More positive words have emerged from several official bodies about the need for UK horticulture but tangible action still awaited. There also seems some greater understanding among an impending Tory regime rather than the current laissez-fairists about food production. Lets hope fruit and veg production isn't just waiting for the crumbs a from big landowner/big arable subsidy plan.

While oil hovers around $70/barrel with lower consumption one can only hope that it will go northwards sooner rather than later. My view is that anything above $150 would lead to serious change in many areas, but might be the only hope for humans and our current environment. Price seems to change behavior where altruism merely tinkers.

Positive threads of late in no particular order:Felicity Lawrence pointing out Asda destroying livelhoods/lives with another Banana price war, Organic Growers Alliance and their great magazine, Sekem and continued great deeds in the sand, Wangari Maathai keeping Kenya and beyond aware of the self-destruct button, Salamita producing fruit of the gods in an insecure landscape, the tenacity of terriers which we all need sometimes..........

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May 2009: On Holiday From Growing Veg in Greater Manchester

Well a bit at least. What have we been up to since we stopped operating the Sale site? Moving house of course but also recharging an amount. Lesley’s been over at Ecoseeds in NI helping on the wildflower nursery and I’ve been continuing support for the new team at Sale as well as Unicorn’s new land at Glazebury, nr Leigh.

Some great new growing notes appear on this site with more to follow (let us know if there are particular ones you would like to see). There has been plenty to do at Unicorn as ever and a new start a shop guide is on the way to appearing on their website. Overall a period with less responsibilities for us both has been refreshing while we continue efforts to relocate on mild costal land.

The wider world has continued economic upheaval as western capitalism fades but some fairly desperate and short termist “printing” of money has been used to buy time. To achieve what is not clear, even the looming election may not be worth winning as the bill for the money printing bites but planning horizons in the west are now very short.

Economic decline has been slower than I expected partly due to the bloated public sector continuing to be fully funded and partly that there is a lot of wealth still out there, as well as debt. Resource costs are slowly biting with rising food and manufactured goods costs but oil in particular is in surplus for the moment as demand has so reduced. New oil will however only get dearer having the beneficial effect of reducing consumption further.

Positive public behaviour noted in earlier pieces continues- eg veg growing and frugality - but most UK citizens do seem to still assume everything will return to “normal” at some point. Economic commentators have been amusing at times with talk of “cycles” presumably not Celtic ones and staying with the infinite resources view. Presumably Easter Island elites thought the same.

Further amusement can be had by reading Simon ”carbon buster” Calder in the Independent on Sunday extolling another of his airflight adventures to contemporary Easter Island and its beautiful scenery! Never one to be troubled by history spoiling the view.

The Greens, even under Caroline Lucas leadership, have remained marginal and the general political void has left some space for right wings boot boys UKIP+ the BNP. The Lib Dems look stronger after most MPs caught with their hands in the till(s) but overall a lack of leadership in the UK is most evident. This may be an opportunity for a return to planning and prudence rather than endless shopping on the never never. Let’s hope Douglas Hogg gets his moat cleared out properly this time.

Adam York 12.05.09

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Garden Tools On The Shelves

Unicorn recently launched a modest range of tools from Bulldog in Wigan and Caldwell’s in Warrington partly to meet demand for growing veg but also to promote some quality manufacturing form the region.

Bulldog is the last tool forge in the UK: pretty much everything else has been “off-shored” to somewhere with lower wages, etc. This had led to cheap products in the UK not least because of an inflated currency for a decade or more. Now the £ and asset bubble has burst domestic production of goods does not look archaic once again. Unfortunately factories cannot be switched on and off readily and imports will continue to climb in price.

Global trading aside why Bulldog in particular? Forging is not just a quaint village blacksmith idea, it is the use of heat and pressing to produce hard and durable steel sufficient to outlive the purchaser. Stainless steel in particular is popularly associated with quality tools but is difficult to manufacture to anything like the same strength as Wigan’s finest. The popularity of their tools with contractors is testament to this. As a company they are refreshingly free of the marketing bullshit many UK companies are drowning in.

Other useful handtools such as wheel hoes or stirrup hoes are not in production in the UK (imports from Switzerland for some years) but a look at www.johnnyseeds.com/ (owned in a way not dissimilar to Unicorn) shows what is possible. Readers of Elliot Coleman will also appreciate the mess that UK gardening tools are. Let’s hope things get better here soon.

Adam York

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January 2009: New Blood

After the coldest December for some years the Winter salad leaves suffered some tests and limited picking. Using fleece on leaves under cover can protect against very cold nights, say –4° or below although each plant has different cold tolerance. Winter Purslane continues to be the most impressive in harsh conditions.

Outside the Russian Kale is picked to a standstill until reshooting in February and the Spinach Beet we hope will revitalise in March for a few weeks of picking. Most efforts have however gone into planning the transition to new operators at Glebelands, Glebelands City Growers Ltd.

The new team consists of Ed+Sally, moving up from Bristol, and Adam and Charlotte both of whom worked on site in 2008. They have registered a new company and will take over the site during February. A pending Local Food funding bid offers the opportunity to secure and expand production, chiefly through more protected areas/polytunnels. Dramatic prices increases in imported veg prices, due to a weaker £, reinforce the need for such an approach.

Adam and Lesley, operators for the 8 years since opening, are going in to a brief respite period post selling their house. While looking at further work on seasonal extension they will also be continuing to write, speak and advise on food production and selling issues. As James Kunstler points out in his thoughtful 2009 predictions www.kunstler.com there’s a lot of change going on, not least in farming.

Adam York

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