Sunday, June 22, 2008

small potager

In November, the area designated for vegetable growing looked overgrown.
The above shows the garden area when we had just started to create the space: we found it was a lot larger than anticipated at first.

A few weeks ago, the raised beds were put in and a ton of compost added. The compost was bought from the local authority and came at £ 17.00 a ton. This is composted at high speed from all the green waste people take to the recycling centre and from the recycling bins collected at the kerbside; a lot cheaper than when you buy it by the bag at the garden centre.

Due to the delay in finishing the hard landscaping I have bought an instant salad garden from WigglyWigglers to make instant use of the potager which included a variety of salad plants, spring onions, celery, celeriac, beetroot and tomatoe plants. I have also planted out butternut squash and french beans.

The remaining part of the garden is still in progress but its blueprint is a food forest garden with trees, shrubs and a mixture of edible and non edible plants. Currently we have strawberries that are ripening in tubs but have had to be covered with fleece, blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes with a few berries on and 2 gooseberry bushes that show promise. As this is the first year for these plants, the harvest will be limited. Amongst the greenery there are also alpine strawberries that make a wonderful addition to our breakfast each day.

There is more opportunity to go out and potter in the garden and I am feeling a bit trimmer too. So far on the vegetarian diet my weight has dropped by 20lbs; no caffeine, no wheat, no dairy, no meat, no yeast, no sugar, no salt. Probably sounds very boring but it enables me to move forward with the possibility of eating the majority of the fruit and vegetables that are grown in the garden supplemented by natural sugars from honey, and dry staples like rice, oats,dried beans, seeds, sprouted seeds and nuts. It suits me personally but my DH needs a certain amount of meat to stay healthy.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The turning point

The news articles in today's newspapers are telling us of a new phenomenon : despite rapid increasing prices for fuel, food and daily living expenses the average high street spending has increased to record levels last month, way beyond expectations. When the government expects people to tighten their belts and spending, many have gone out of their way to spend more and more. There are 2 possibilities : some people may feel that now is the time to buy as next month the item may be more expensive and others might use shopping as a way to make them feel better about the rising costs of mortgage, credit and life in general in defiance. Whatever the motives, the move is a different one than expected.

On a local level we are seeing a difference too. We are spending more time explaining to people what we can do locally so they do not need to travel to the nearest town and there is a change in buying patterns too as people reconsider travel journeys that can be avoided. A more worrying trend is that some suppliers are going into liquidation, i.e. voluntary bankruptcy as profit margins decrease and running costs and interest rates rise. This will wipe out some businesses that are influenced by these factors and will result in some smaller companies laying off staff, and an increase in local unemployment.

I personally believe that the trend will continue as with higher fuel costs, higher prices for food and commodities will continue too. What would then follow is a request for more money, i.e.salaries to increase to keep up with the cost of living and possible strike action. This is the turning point where a simpler life is no longer a voluntary option for many but one that is being forced upon people as a result of a changing global economy. I predict irrational behaviour as people begin to realise that they cannot have what they want instantly, they may have to wait as supplies and resources become scarce. The quest for fuel seems to be a primary focus based on the fact that fuel and oil availability will reduce in years to come. The laws of economy then mean that when a product becomes scarce, the price will go up. Thus if for instance rice is no longer exported by countries because they need it for their own use, the price of rice rises as its availability decreases.

A proactive approach is to look at alternatives and ways to maximise current opportunities :
  • For shelter - check what you can do to minimise the costs of your accommodation.
  • For food : plan what you eat, diversify ingredients, take lunch to work and buy some staples ahead of time.
  • For warmth : the cost of fuel will rise the nearer we get to winter so now is a good time to invest in filling your oil tank, building a log store for a wood burning stove and saving as much as you can on energy costs. What you save now you can use when you really need it.
Most papers will be full of tips on how to save money and short term savings can be made by cutting down on what is bought new, long term savings can be made by being focused on what you will need in the future and finding the right time to purchase that item. If you made assumptions about a budget at the beginning of the year it may need to be reassessed to take into account price rises.

As a sustainable business, we want to keep our prices competitive which has been successful in particular in the fresh produce section of the shop. Ice cream consumption is low due to inclement weather and chocolate consumption is up. Soup is in demand although this is completely unseasonal.

Life as we knew it is about to change.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Where are the bees?

No bees, no fruits? No beans?
It is remarkable at the moment that the weather is off track, the plants are unsure what to do about it and a synchronicity of flowering, pollinating and fruit is far from easy to obtain presently.
We obtain our local honey from an enthusiast. He has been telling us for the last six months that he is unsure whether the bees will survive the climate change and when he came in this week, he glumly told us that 50% of his hives had not managed to survive the winter. 50% is a huge amount.
What seemed a possibility is now a certainty in our area : bee populations are severely damaged and this can only mean that British honey will die off and we will need to import our honey from the rest of the world at a premium cost. If we have no bees pollinating the orchards and fields, our crops will diminish and as such, farmers will have a harder time managing to create value crops. As a result of less insects too, birds will require us to supplement their diets with seeds and worms to keep them thriving.
If you love honey, go buy some as British honey may indeed become a rarity in the future.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Independent small retailer's week

Canary yellow is not the most suitable colour for our complexion but it certainly has been a talking point. To celebrate the status of small independent retailers, many have joined forces to open conversations with shoppers and wear the yellow jerseys. More details can be found on the myshopisyourshop site.

In a playful way we learnt what we do well and took the opportunity to find out what our local shoppers think about the way we do things, what could be improved etc. Most of all, we had a good laugh and were laughed at. The weather has been really miserable lately and word got around that something was up in the shop. It was a fun day and we have taken on board the comments made.

At the same time, our shopping bag competition has come to an end and we have some really good entries to choose from. Some made us laugh a lot and others were more serious. At least many people had a go to make the slogan about the shop their own. What we want to do is to recreate a sense of community and belonging and although vastly present in our village, we can still do our bit to enhance and strengthen the relationships we have with our customers. Details of the winning slogan will follow.

Its been quite a week :
  • market research
  • photographs taken of the ' canaries'
  • the choosing of our own shopping bag logo
  • launch of organic vegetable and fruit box.

There is more to explore but we work on the principles of the triple bottom line as suggested by Sally Lever: people, planet and profit.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Organic box scheme

Fruits & Vegetables Sign by Madison Michaels
Fruits & Vegetables Sign

For a few months now we have been searching for an organic vegetable and fruit box to offer to the customers of the shop. There are still issues around it but Monday this will be available. We have been offering an increased range of local produce. Local producers did not seem willing to provide a delivery service to the shop so we turned to our wholesaler and asked him to source a box for us.

It’s a bittersweet step; we will be offering an organic box but some of the produce , although organic, will be from far away. This is a bit sad that pears in the organic box are coming from Argentina but it’s a stepping stone at the moment until we can establish demand and see if we can win the local producers over to see that it is worth investing in.

We tried the contents out last week and in the box were the following :

1 small swede
1 broccoli
1 cauliflower
1 lettuce
2 courgettes
1 sweet potato
1 lettuce
4 bananas
4 pears
4 apples
2 oranges
4 plums
6 tomatoes
1/2 cucumber
1 beetroot

It was tasty but needed to be kept cool as it does not keep as well as the usual vegetables and fruit.

A few people who order from a national scheme have shown an interest and will be testing it out.