Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Farm: shop

Last weekend I visited a shop that had been turned into a farm... in the middle of London!

The Farm:shop, on Dalston Lane, is a treasure and a model of imaginative thinking. Its creators, Paul, Andy and Sam, responded to an invitation by Hackney to propose uses for empty shopfronts, and landed a small grant for basic materials, and a year of rent-free access. They've established partnerships with local businesses who are funding different rooms and hope to be able to turn to commercial application some of the ideas being given room to grow.

You enter a hallway that is mapped and pegged with small shelves.

This is the Bacteria Wall, which local artist Synnøve Fredericks is using to explore the possibilities of shared fermentation. She's using kefir grains she found on Freecycle

to make other fermented beverages - ginger beer at present - that can then be shared and cultured by others, and plans to map them on the wall.

The front room is bright and foggy-windowed from the fish tanks, which will soon be stocked with tilapia; they aim to feed these with the larvae of soldier flies which they'll nurture on their own compost. On the lower right are tanks for freshwater prawns who will feed on the fish waste. The white pots on the left will be filled with hydroponic plants that can be turned on their poles to catch even light. Racks on the right have hydroponic salad greens. The whole system is connected by pipes but is really, as Sam put it, just a differently-shaped pond.

The demonstration fish are enjoying the space.

Hydroponic greens

The propagation room will soon become a cafe so that people can watch the seedlings grow while they have a snack which may or may not include farm shop-grown food. Part of the point of the exercise is to show how much space is needed to grow food: all the food produced in this farm shop will not supply its cafe.

Seedlings are propagated in cubes of rockwool and plastic composites.

The green wall in the stairway...

The "late summer room" includes tomatoes and peppers grown in light and heat conditions that promote fruiting. The lighting system is cooled by air; the ducting will be used to send heat into other rooms.

The basil wall will soon be joined by a parsley and a mint wall.

There's a polytunnel in the back, which will be used for winter greens, and many more things in the summer. They'll be getting pigs - only small ones - who will be given a run along the side of the tunnel and fed leftovers from the garden in exchange for some rooting and composting work on their parts, before they leave again for the fields.

And then there are the chickens on the roof, which sixty years ago were a common feature in London gardens. From their vantage point they can see the tops of double-deckers running along Dalston Lane. There are only four of them, so not a huge volume of eggs expected. They live on a layer of leaf mulch which gives them something to pick through and ends up as a nice bit of compost.

After stopping at the co-op cafe on the corner for a fortifying bowl of sweet potato and squash soup (with some excellent bread, and a bottle of a surprisingly delicious dandelion & burdock beverage)

I stopped in at the Eastern Curve Garden

which has been going since July and provides a green oasis for locals,

as well as a meeting space

for architectural students among others. They've offered a number of programs for children and adults which have proved very popular.

There were planters that had held both ornamental and food plants during the summer

and some planted with winter greens.

Some of the Eastern Curve's peppers that had needed warmth and shelter are now residing uner the Farm: shop's polytunnel.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Climate Change Accountability Act

Shame on Stephen Harper, yet again. Here's a message from David Suzuki:

Keep Senate from subverting democracy

Stephen Harper has done what he promised never to do: allow the Senate to go against the will of the majority of Members of Parliament and the Canadian public. On November 16, after a surprise vote and without any debate, unelected Conservative senators killed the Climate Change Accountability Act.

The Act would have made government accountable for putting in place the solutions to reduce global warming emissions to safe levels – in line with targets that leading scientists say are necessary to avoid the devastating consequences of uncontrolled climate change.

It was overwhelmingly supported by and passed in the elected House of Commons, thanks in part to the support of Canadians from across the country. This decision by Conservative senators to avoid debate and call a snap vote shows disrespect for our democracy and for Canadians, who time and again have told our elected representatives that we want the federal government to act on the most serious threat facing our country and the world.

Please call or write the Prime Minister and your Member of Parliament to let them know that we expect them to live up to their responsibility to be accountable to the will of Canadians and our democracy. Consider also sending a letter to your local newspaper to let others know how you feel.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bake-athon marathon

Oh it *is* lovely to be in a country that actually has trains, it really is. But when said trains are 90 minutes late due to signalling failures which mean the train you're on has to back up and re-route itself through the Midlands which means you miss your connection to Edinburgh by, oh, two and a half hours, and that means you have to hope your driver is willing to turn up nearer 11pm than the 8.20 originally planned, well... it's not so much fun as it sounds. Still. You get there in the end, more or less, swearing an oath of never again take a train that involves connections, and there's your kind driver and he takes you to your room in the B&B that is also a sheep farm

and you and your hosts can finally get to bed a little later than planned.

And all that brought me to Bread Matters, the recently relocated (from Cumbria) cooking school run by Andrew Whitley

who is part baker, part bread messiah, part raconteur, part food activist. (Doubtless a few more parts in there but that will do for openers.) He's also one of the founders of the Real Bread Campaign which advocates for better bread - and better bread labelling - in Britain.

Eleven of us had come from all points of the compass - the north of Scotland to the south of England - to learn some skills in whole grain bread baking. It was a congenial group and we were, I think, all pretty pleased with the skills we picked up and the bread we took home.

We made, over the course of a two-day workshop: Seeded Spelt Leaven Bread (enlivened by 9 different seeds)

Yeasted Wholemeal Bread (tin

and plait

Cracked Grain

Borodinsky Rye (with a flaked coriander seed top and bottom)

Bran Sponge Loaf

and Chollah (plaited with 8, 7, 6

or 5 strands).

Those with the means and time to do so had followed Andrew's instructions on building wheat leaven and rye sourdough starters, and we spent a good deal of time learning about these and using them in different ways. In fact the only 'straight' yeast breads we made were the wholemeal and the chollah.

We spent a lot of time practicing different kneading techniques and learning to handing some nice wet dough.

And we were fed extremely well thanks to the multi-talented Veronica Burke and her helpers, who provided wholesome and elegantly sustaining snacks

delicious lunches and a wonderful dinner that included choices like this lovely fish cake starter followed by boef en daube with beets, greens, carrots and hasselback potatoes.

We left weary and sated with our enormous bags of bread, our Real Bread aprons, a pair of scrapers and a copy of Andrew's excellent book, Bread Matters. Which is another weighty if welcome tome to add to the cumulative weight of all the slim volumes of verse I've been attracting. I guess I'll be helping the Royal Mail to build its Christmas profits before I leave...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jazz et cuisine

The one concert I went to in the London Jazz Festival was a pretty obvious choice: Jazz et Cuisine promised a "tasty fusion of food and music."

What we got was a treat for the ears and nose: British musician Andy Sheppard playing clarinet and guitar, and wonderfully imaginative Italian percussionist Michele Rabbia playing just about anything - tinfoil, marbles, shopping bags, his face

- as they improvised around the Gallic bustlings of Ivan Vautier

as he whipped up oddities like Pan-fried foie gras with green asparagus, topped with an egg soft-cooked inside a pastry wrapper and served with raspberry butter,

or Fine pastry onion tart served with lobster, onion sorbet and crispy bacon pieces with sharp cider butter.

He made nothing I'd particularly care to eat or attempt to cook myself (even if I had some of the molecular gastronomy kit he was using), but it smelled wonderful and was engaging to watch.

And just as well it wasn't to my taste since the curious British obsession with Health & Safety meant we weren't allowed so much as a nibble, since the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall isn't a licensed kitchen, and is therefore presumably considered toxic.

What we did get was a "special offer" to show our tickets at the cafe, and receive the opportunity to buy a plate of French cheese and a glass of Merlot for "just £7.50". I passed, in favour of a nice piece of orange & lavender cake and a mineral water for about half the price. Hmph.