60 Harvests Left

Guest blog, by Annabel Britton, from All Good Market in Stamford

There are more organisms in a handful of soil than there are people on Earth.

It’s the foundation of all terrestrial life and civilisation.

And it’s a finite resource: its loss and degradation cannot be recovered within a human lifespan.

The soil crisis

Photo by Dylan de Jonge

Globally, we’re destroying topsoil at a rate of 1-3cm each year. It would take an entire millennium to recreate that inch or so of soil (source).

In the UK we’ve lost 84% of our fertile topsoil since 1850, and its a particular problem for our part of the world.

‘The most fertile topsoils in the east of England – where 25% of our potatoes and 30% of our vegetables are grown – could be lost within a generation’

 Lord Krebs, chair of the Committee on Climate Change’s adaptation sub-committee.

Importing food isn’t going to get us out of this mess – globally, the UN estimated in 2014 that we only have 60 harvests left.

Humans have farmed for 12,000 years and we only have half a century left. That is terrifying.

So what on Earth (excuse the pun) are we going to do about this?

COP26 this year is focussed on soil and agriculture but national governments don’t exactly have a great track record of getting shit done (*angry Greta stare into camera*). Let’s look at some things we can accomplish ourselves.

1. Buy organic food and avoid using pesticides in our own gardens

Whilst all sprays are subject to government regulation and careful oversight to ensure farmers are using them properly, they are not without downsides.

Putting aside the nefarious effects on bees, earthworms and waterways, they also hinder the fixation of nitrogen, an essential nutrient for plants. Therefore, their use makes it harder to grow a decent yield next year – necessitating the use of more fertilisers. It’s a vicious circle for farmers, but it applies to your garden too.

Put away the sprays!

2. Follow the ‘no-till’ principle and avoid disturbing soils

This releases the carbon held within them into the atmosphere. You can imagine what it does to the earthworm’s home, too. However, there is usually a trade-off between ploughing and spraying. Choose one.

3. Eat (UK-grown) pulses

Peas and beans fix nitrogen in soils and offer a fantastic source of protein. 

Hodmedod’s are pioneering this movement in the UK.

The more you buy them, the more farmers can justify growing these wonder crops.

4. If you eat meat, eggs and dairy, buy it from farmers who use regenerative practices

Much is made of meat and climate change, but livestock can have a role to play in regenerating our soils, too.

For example, Yeo Valley’s cows have sequestered more carbon in the soil than they have emitted in the past five years. All Good Market’s egg supplier lets their chicken out to pasture (when possible) and so does Bassingthorpe Milk. For pork, beef, lamb and mutton you can buy direct from 3 Daughters, while Liv and Matt at Gwash Valley sell 100% pasture-fed beef.

5. Compost!

Organic matter thrown in landfill releases methane.

When you compost it instead, it returns nutrients to your garden’s soil and improves its structure.

I hope that soil soon has its ‘ocean plastics’ moment. A picture of a worm is never going to provoke the same visceral reaction as a photo of a bird with its stomach filled with plastic.

But we ignore this situation at our peril.

Thank you to Annabel Britton from our Food Partners, All Good Market in Stamford, for writing this blog. Please check out her website and sign up for her newsletter, for more good things!

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What does £30 of food look like?

Reproduction of the £30 food parcel provided by Chartwells

In January, a meagre food parcel provided by Chartwells to children eligible for free school meals went viral on social media. The image as shown on the right, is the amount that Chartwells claimed £30 of food to look like.

To get an understanding of the parcel cost provided by Chartwells, we asked Mint Lane Café for an evaluation on the food parcel – based on their Thrifty shop prices, the parcel was no more than £1.70.

Out of curiosity, we then asked Mint Lane Café to assemble £30 of food from their Thrifty Café, the picture below is the result and the disparity couldn’t be clearer.

The £30 of food produced by Thrifty Café (Photo: Mint Lane Café)

Perhaps giving those eligible, a £30 voucher or cash to spend at a store of choice could prove to be more effective.

Especially given that more stores, such as the Mint Lane Café are developing menu cards to guide people to the best combination of foods to buy and cook – at no extra cost.

Incredible Edible in Lincolnshire

Incredible Edible is about actively participating in the journey towards a sustainable food future, becoming more connected with our food and each other.

Reconnecting with Food

This takes various forms: creating community gardens to bring the neighbourhood together over food; transforming derelict public spaces to become beautiful and edible – propaganda gardening, we call it! – or re-learning the disappearing arts of seed saving, cultivating, or preserving.

Incredible Edible is about actively participating in the journey towards a sustainable food future, becoming more connected with our food and each other.
St Giles Community Garden

Across Lincolnshire, residents are using the winter lockdown as an opportunity to connect with each online, share ideas and make plans.

Online Events

Lincolnshire Food Partnership is hosting a series of online talks and discussions to support and inspire anyone interested in growing in their community, or just curious to learn more about what others are doing.

So far, we have heard from Incredible Edible Beeston, which has been running for a year, throughout the pandemic; from Incredible Edible Wakefield, which has been growing for a decade; Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust on how to support biodiversity in our gardens; and six Community Gardens across Lincoln, telling us about their activities.

Forthcoming events include Growing in Schools, and Connecting with the Council on Public Growing Projects.

Get involved!

Everyone is welcome to take part, whether to start a project, get involved with an existing project, or just pop in to find out what it’s all about – if you eat, you’re in!

More information and details of forthcoming events here:


Believe in the power of small actions

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HMP North Sea Camp

Farms need people.

Fewer EU workers and the Covid-19 pandemic have left a gaping hole in the number of agricultural land workers.

HMP North Sea Camp – a men’s open prison on the Lincolnshire coast – provides training and work experience to prisoners, including agricultural, horticultural and other food-related work.

This presents a particular opportunity for Lincolnshire employers in the food and farming sector to contribute powerfully to the future of prison leavers as well as increasing the safety of our communities in the future.

My Little Allotment: growing veggies, well-being and an online community

Kirsty’s Lincoln allotment turned around her mental health, ignited a passion for growing, and over the past four years has inspired thousands of people, through her social media following. 

I talked to Kirsty about what motivates her, and how her experience as an allotment holder has transformed her life.

Growing from childhood

Like so many of the allotment growers that I have spoken to, a seed was planted in Kirsty’s childhood.

***message to all adults: take the kids to your allotment; plant a garden with them – it all starts somewhere!***

Kirsty’s parents had an allotment where she spent time as a kid, and although she didn’t gain the know-how at that stage in her life, it laid the foundations – the feeling that an allotment was a good place to be. 

She’s still learning from her mum and dad who have a nearby allotment, and so are her children!

Gardening on Instagram

When Kirsty applied for her own allotment in Lincoln as an adult, she was in a very low place with her mental health. 

Nonetheless, she started browsing books and the internet, and following gardeners on social media to get some ideas and tips. It wasn’t long before those first interactions led to a lively online community of growers. 

She has documented her allotment ever since. It makes for a beautiful instagram feed – the colours, the variety, the progression through the year. And literally thousands have joined her on the way! 

So Kirsty learnt from other gardeners on social media, and in return she inspires and encourages others, in a virtuous circle. 

But which comes first, the growing or the communicating? I asked 

Technically, she opened her instagram account before she received the allotment key, before the first seed went in the ground. But that’s not what drives her. It’s the enjoyment of growing veg and flowers. The social media is secondary.

“It’s all about the allotment,” she tells me. 

Therapeutic gardening

As many gardeners will attest – gardening becomes almost compulsive: trying out this idea, messing about with little area, working with nature to create a garden. It’s a constant dialogue with the earth. You get lost in it. 

Being outdoors, enjoyable exercise, being creative – we KNOW these things are good for our health – especially our mental health. 

For Kirsty, her time at the allotment became – more than anything – a therapeutic journey: one of powerful and unexpected healing, as she learned to live with PTSD. 

“I was so ill, I could hardly do anything, I could hardly look after my kids. And the allotment turned everything around. It was just me and the soil,” she told me.

The experience of watching plants grow – germinating from a seed, through the seasons, and die back in winter – that teaches you something about life. It makes you feel a greater connection with the world. It’s hard to explain – it is so simple, and yet so profound. 

What next?

More real world benefits continue to flow from that simple start. 

Kirsty has been recruited for various gardening projects, my favourite being a community growing project at Sleaford station. 

Produce from the allotment is gifted freely to friends, neighbours and strangers at Mint Lane Cafe. “I just want as many people as possible to have this good food.” 

And more plans are afoot for food growing in the local community… you’ll have to watch this space!


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Growing in Schools

Growing in Schools was an online event for home-educators, teachers, school staff, and anyone who thinks kids should get to learn how to grow veggies, and would like to help make this possible in your community – here are the recordings, for those who missed the live session!

Be inspired by two Lincolnshire schools showing us how it’s done with excellent food growing & eating projects, and the chance to ask questions from people in the thick of it!

Growing food at primary school

We’re joined by Emma Keyworth from Washingborough Academy – a Lincolnshire primary school – to give us a guided tour of the pioneering growing work at school, where food is fully integrated throughout their curriculum!

Growing food with teenagers

Jayne Hickling is a secondary school teacher and founder of Allotment Cooks . She tells us about her secondary school-based growing project, and growing food with teenagers.

Find Jayne on allotmentcooks.co.uk

Explore, taste and eat veg with kids

Kim Smith from TastEd explains the TastEd approach to introducing and enjoying fruit and veggies with kids – at home or school.

Please tell us about your interests and let us know where you’d like us to go next with Incredible Edible in Lincolnshire –

This event is part of an online series for Incredible Edible in Lincolnshire – a community of Lincolnshire people using food to galvanise our local communities, and share the journey towards a fair and sustainable food system. Everyone is welcome – if you eat, you’re in!

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