Beans

This is a guest post by Jeffrey Rogers.

A teacher asked her class to make up a sentence using the word “beans”. “Our local farmer grows beans,” said one girl. “My favourite food is beans on toast,” said a boy. A third student spoke up, “Please Miss, we are all human beans.”

Indeed we are all human beings (or human beans if you prefer). And it takes an awful lot of food to feed these humans, all 7.8 billion of us. When I was growing up, every schoolboy was taught that you could fit the world’s population onto the Isle of Wight, though it would be like standing up at a crowded cocktail party. I suspect that today, fifty years later, quite a lot of people would be standing on the Isle of Wight’s beaches with their feet wet. That would be a damp party for any latecomers.

Let’s keep going with this imaginary cocktail party. Who would supply the food and drink?

Based on the total amount of food eaten on Earth today, the party planner would have to supply about 14 billion kilograms of food for every day of the party. That’s almost 2 kilos of food each, but that would be ample. There is enough food being produced today to feed everyone. But it’s not being distributed evenly. I’m sure that few people reading this article will know what real, desperate, chronic hunger feels like. According to bread.org, though, about 10% of the world’s population live in a state of hunger. That’s 780 million people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That’s more than 140 times the population of Scotland.

But hold on a moment, I hear you say; how many people go hungry in Scotland? According to endhungeruk.org, 1 in 10 Scots are in a state of ‘food insecurity’. That’s not quite perpetual hunger, but it’s a perilous state to be in when “because of a lack of money, a person or a household has to eat a less healthy diet, go without food, or worries about doing so”.

Here in Scotland, we need a more effective safety net for vulnerable people, those without regular employment and those living in deprived areas. The growth of Food Banks and similar volunteer schemes is a symptom of this state of neglect. It’s tempting to think of such schemes as hand-outs to the undeserving. But some people work really long hours in low-paid employment and it still doesn’t cover all the household bills. We should honour our fellow “human beans” and help them out in times of need.

Elsewhere in the world, environmental degradation, especially due to climate change, is turning many millions of acres of productive land into deserts through drought, heat stress and salt inundation.

It’s time to rethink our food system. Before we start blaming governments, let’s look to our own households first. Are you food waste savvy? Do you shop carefully so that you don’t have to throw perfectly good food away? And do you recycle any food scraps into the Council food caddy service? This is an excellent way of turning food waste into top-quality soil conditioner for farmers and landscape gardeners here in the North-East.

And I continue to repeat my mantra: the Climate Crisis is real, is urgent and is caused by human activity. To avoid the worst effects of climate change we must stop burning fossil fuels.

Enjoy your beans on toast.

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In common or alone: how to grow your own food!

Climate Café #5 was last Tuesday evening and the topic was growing your own food. Growing food encourages community, healthy eating, and makes out society more resilient to climate change and changing weather patterns. We had three speakers: Alan Carter from the Powis Community Garden, Bob Donald from One Seed Forward, and Greg Walsh from the Allotment Market Stall. Here’s my summary of the talks.

Alan Carter from Powis Community Garden

Alan Carter talked about how to transform a derelict and unloved space into a thriving community garden. How did he do it? There isn’t a formula for how to make these transformations a success, other than having one or two passionate people, but Alan shared some really great tips with us. For instance, he used the resilience of nature to build green space. Wildflowers, for example, are hardy and beautiful at the same time. Food crops like fruit trees and brambles can be dispersed to help mimic nature and avoid creating monocultures in one area. He also opted for plants that work well in a community setting like crops with high pickability and low nickability. For example, a lot of effort goes into growing cabbages but picking them is easy. Hence cabbages have high nickability and low pickability. Compare this with raspberries that don’t require much effort to grow but a lot of effort to pick and hence have a low nickability and high pickability. A low nickability is better for community gardens because you don’t want to make it easy for one person to take off with the entire crop in one night.

It’s also important to provide individuals with space of their own. The community space gives people new to gardening a way to dip their toes in and gather ideas. The individual space lets people take full control and thrive with their new hobby. The best community spaces have a combination of both.

The benefits of community food gardens are not just for the vegetables and the carbon savings. It’s also about getting people together, building relationships, and encouraging engagement with food which is particularly important at a time when 50% of the food in the UK is processed. There are also mental health benefits when people have agency/control over food production.

If you’d like to learn more then head over to Alan’s blog, Of Plums and Pignuts.

Bob Donald from One Seed Forward

Bob is the founder of a particularly inspiring community growing initiative called One Seed Forward. It was founded in December 2016 and targeted Aberdeen City and Shire. The aim is to get people growing their own crops and is based on the principles of the Slow Food Movement – good, clean, and fair. It’s good for them and the planet, clean – no pesticides, and fair for the producer and worker.

One Seed Forward gives away seeds for free to individuals and community groups. The idea is that for every free seed you get you give two back in return. These can be given to your neighbour, your school, anyone. It’s about getting involved in food growing and encouraging others to do the same.

In 2017 One Seed Forward gave away 400kg of seed potatoes and 50,000 spring onion seeds. These were given to 13 schools and 16 community groups. They generated approximately 4,000kg of potatoes grown locally as a direct result of the initiative. In 2018 Bob plans to give away 625kg of potatoes.

Every attendee of the Climate Café went home with a bag of potatoes from One Seed Forward. Mine are happily chitting away as I type this and I plan to bury them at my plot at the end of this month. If all goes well I’ll have some potatoes in about 18 weeks. We were all encouraged to share our progress and the Climate Café Community (CCC) of growers was born.

Greg Walsh from the Allotment Market Stall

How many cabbages can you eat? This is the question that inspired Greg to start the Allotment Market Stall. One allotment gardener had a particularly prolific crop of cabbages one year and wasn’t sure what to do with them all. Greg then had the idea to gather all the excess produce from allotments around Aberdeen and sell it, thus reducing waste. At the same time he’d be able to promote growing your own food and a little bit of money would go back to the allotments.

They started in 2013 with a 5-week pilot during which they collected and sold excess produce for a total of £700. Since then they’ve done it every week over the summer, selling the food at Duthie Park. In 2017 1,664kg of produce was collected over 12 weeks. They sold 1,464kg, sent 116kg to food banks, and 80kg went to compost.

The Allotment Market Stall is run by 13 volunteers and in 2018 they’ll be selling produce at both Duthie and Seaton Parks in Aberdeen. They calculated the maximum and minimum food miles of the produce they sell and the largest is 23 miles while the shortest was 5 metres.


The next Climate Café is on the 3rd of April and the topic is Hydroponics and Permaculture. Please join us at Waterstones Bookstore in Aberdeen. The talks start at 7pm.