Some highlights of this week’s VegVan and Oxford markets:
We’re getting some delicious corn cobs in from both Westmill (during the week) and Sandy Lane (weekend), both organic. No more needs be said! …Get them while you can!
ARRAN VICTORY HERITAGE POTATOES
Every week we try to have a salad potato – waxy, holds together well, good for boiling – and then a roaster/masher potato (more floury and fluffy) as well to fulfil all your potato desires. We don’t do potatoes ourselves as they are (1) prone to blight and (2) highly labour intensive without mechanised harvesting planting, tending and harvesting. So while it’s not really economical for Cultivate to do pots, we are well supplied by other local growers who do a greater area of field-scale crops, rather than specialising on more delicate horticultural products as we do
This week’s roaster/masher is a purple-skinned heritage variety with from Sandy Lane, called Arran Victory. These were bred in Scotland and named in 1918 to celebrate the end of the First World War. They are good for roasting, or boil gently or steam for a mash. The breeder of this potato was a man by the name of Donald McKelvie a farmer and shopkeeper from the isle of Arran who bred potatoes in his spare time. He was born in 1887 and began breeding potatoes in 1901, developing the Arran series including Arran Victory, Arran Cairn and Arran Pilot.
ARRIVAL OF THE SQUASH
As well as the sweetcorn the sure sign that the season is turning autumnal is the arrival of squash. Our flagship last year was the Uchiki Kuri aka red kuri, a sweet little orange variety with orange flesh inside too, that will store well for several weeks at least. You can eat the skin too so cut it up in slices and roast in the oven with olive oil is my prefered manner of preparation. You can also slice it thin and put it in a frying pan. This week we also have a few Spaghetti Squash – these are interesting characters,deceptively anodyne from the outside compared to some of the colourful characters from the squash world, but if you roast it for 45 minutes in the oven (either whole or chopped down the middle) you can fork out the stringy insides and eat them like noodles. More instructions here http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-spaghetti-squash-178036.
We’ll have mountains of delicious squash of many many different varieties with extraordinary names and differing taste profiles coming over the next months so watch this space… for a taster see e.g. http://www.cuesa.org/article/guide-winter-squash
Cultivate’s fruit and veg doesn’t always come with the cheapest price-tag. The higher price reflects production systems that we believe in, often replacing carbon-intensive and environmentally-damaging artificial fertilisers and pesticides with higher levels of human labour and care. When labour is paid properly (i.e. minimum wage – not talking superstar salaries here) it’s hard for it to beat the currently low cost of exploitative large-scale industrial processes – and that’s one of the main reasons why organic and ecological food is more expensive. It’s not because organic is ‘less efficient’ but because it simply takes more work to farm in a way that respects people and the planet.
However, we do always keep an eye on the prices of conventional and organic products available elsewhere, including the supermarkets and online retailers. When our price is significantly out of kilter, we adjust it to come closer to the market level. So this week we brought down the price of our kale, for example, prompted by a chat with a customer (please do talk to us – we listen and take comments into account!). It was previously at £7/kg and is now at £6/kg. Kale is a hard one to get comparisons for because not many large retailers sell it. Waitrose Organic kale price is £8.30/kg, while Sainsbury’s conventional-grown kale is £5/kg. Abel & Cole organic kale comes in below both of these at £4.95/kg. Despite Abel and Cole’s price we’ve decided to go with £6/kg to reflect the labour involved in harvesting this crop and the fact that our kale has suffered from the dry weather over the summer and hasn’t produced as much quantity as we’d hoped. And it’s still cheaper than Waitrose!
As for mushrooms, the supposed subject of this section of this week’s VegNews, our Suffolk organic chestnut mushrooms are currently sold at £6.50/kg. For comparison, Tesco conventional chestnut mushrooms are £4/kg, Tesco organic are £5/kg, Waitrose organic are £5.96/kg, Riverford organic’s are £7.25/kg and Abel and Cole are £9.87/kg. Huge variation. In this case, given that mushrooms are bought from an external producer, our pricing is based on our need to maintain our average markup across the range of VegVan produce. Maintaining markup is essential to the overall goal of all within the cooperative that we will break even and make a profit to be reinvested. But we always balance markup considerations against our own feelings on what we consider to be reasonably priced – we always perform the ‘would I pay that much?’ test, and from my point of view at least I am glad to report that the chestnut mushrooms pass with flying colours, especially once they are cooked in butter with garlic, parsley and sea salt…
Our mushrooms are grown by Capel Mushrooms in Suffolk and supplied to us by our wholesaler Choice Organic:
“Capel Mushrooms was established in 1962 and is now run by the founder’s sons, Damian and Patrick Herne. In 1988, faced with the problems of being a relatively small mushroom grower in an increasingly competitive market, Damian and Patrick took the decision to become organic, having dismissed alternatives such as moving into snail farming or rhubarb growing. As one of the first organic mushroom growers in the country, they then faced new problems, not least the lack of a market. However, they persevered and developed a solid reputation as organic growers.
At the main site in Capel St Mary, the compost on which the mushrooms grow is produced and used to cultivate closed cap mushrooms. Compost is also produced for a second site at Trimley, where they grow open cap, brown cap, portobello and portobellini mushrooms. All these mushrooms are, in fact, the same species, Agaricus Bisporus, but different strains and growing times allow the variations. Capel work as part of a co-operative with another organic grower, Gourmet Mushrooms, who produce speciality mushrooms such as Pleurotus (similar to Oyster) and Shii-take.”
For details of where you can find Cultivate around Oxford this week, check out our schedule.
Please note: we can’t always guarantee to have everything featured in VegNews when you come to the stall or van. Supplies are limited!