Tasty feast – Fife Diet legacy and a new beginning for PLANT

The lovely feast

The lovely feast

Sunday of the 8th of March was a bitter-sweet occasion. We held a fabulous local food feast to celebrate two things – the legacy of the Fife Diet project‘s local food movement as it is wrapping things up, and the excitement of the new project funding for our very own Tayport community food garden.

You will no doubt hear it all about the PLANT project from me over the next year so I will not bore you with that (at the moment, we are still at the stage of nail-biting suspense, waiting for the change-of-use planning permission approval for the garden site, which I am told will take around 2 months).

Instead, I would like to tell you more about my experience as a Fife Diet member, share the recipes for the dishes I contributed to the feast (skip to the end of the post for these) and maybe make a new “eat local” pledge or two.

Fife Diet has been around for 8 years with an ambition of transforming food culture in Fife to focus on more local, and sustainable choices. Part of it was to do with greater carbon neutrality (just like our project, some of their funding came from Carbon Challenge Fund), but also greater fairness of food production and distribution systems and food sovereignty. Grand and noble aims indeed.

Why did I join? I have to admit that I am a bit of a greenie, but I am far from an extreme locavore or sustainavore – I eat meat, shop at the supermarket and, as a scientist, I am not against the use of GMO tech to improve crops in principle. Neither do I believe that going back to sustenance farming is a realistic solution to the world’s food production and distribution problems (nor do I proclaim to know what is;).

Perhaps it was the story of shellfish from the Scottish west coast hitting the headlines in 2006 that finally broke the camel’s back for me – a perfect and local illustration of how broken and ridiculous the global food production system based solely on profit can get. Everybody’s heard of the export-quality Scottish salmon and even trout, but the west coast’s warm ocean currents also produce marvelous shellfish. The outcry was about a move of processing facilities to Thailand, where the Scottish langoustines would be hand-shelled and returned to back to the UK supermarkets as crumbed frozen scampi. A mere 12,000 food miles. To me the outrage was also the fact that the beautiful langoustines were being turned into amorphous and largely tasteless fast food blobs in the process. It also explained the eerie absence of the local fishmongers we discovered while staying near Lochinver in Assynt a few years back, despite the local restaurants and pubs boasting fabulous local seafood menus.

Perhaps it was the disappointment at the dominance of New Zealand apples and lamb on my supermarket shelves – even when both were in season here. And don’t get me started on the Mexican asparagus in spring…

I am also a relative newcomer here (via continental Europe and Australia) so I am not quite in sync with the local seasons and local produce. Although I’d lived in temperate zones in the past, Scotland has its own challenges which mean that you cannot grow long season or hot summer crops here (tomatoes and cucumbers only from the greenhouse – while they turned into real triffids outside during Canberra’s hot, long summers). But it also has its advantages – kale, leaks, broad beans can be grown over winter and do not get frosted like they would during the European winters, and the strawberries and raspberries are to die for most of the summer! Joining Fife Diet has given me a perfect excuse to pay more attention to seasonal and local produce, and local cuisine.

So I signed on the dotted line, filled in a questionnaire to estimate my carbon food print and made my pledge to do better. It was a largely virtual relationship (apart from the attendance at the Cupar AGM last year).

Have I changed what I do?  Let’s say I spend more time in front of the supermarket shelves looking at origin labels. I have found some local suppliers for my veg and strawberries. I was surprised at how compelling I found the production value of the seasonal recipe booklets and Fife Diet perpetual calendar (still on my kitchen wall to this day), and their occasional blog updates in my cooking. And now I have gotten myself involved in working with PLANT’s project aimed at growing more locally.

Was it all due to Fife Diet? It’s hard to tell, as the overall mood around local food has been changing (even my supermarket has quite a selection of British apple varieties these days). But I will miss the Fife Diet’s distant inspiration. You can dip into their legacy via the website – including their seasonal recipe books, as well as the new ebook collecting them all are also now available for free. And then there is the Common Good Food project which from the looks of it will continue some of the good works.

But back to the real reason for this post…We hosted our lunch for PLANT members in response to the call from the Fife Diet (here are reports from other, public events).

The idea was to make dishes with as many local and fairly produced foodstuffs as possible. Timing could not have been more challenging – the leanest time of the year (even the nettles and ramsons were not yet out)! I think we did amazingly well under the circumstances.

To make it easier we did go for all vegetarian and combined pot luck dishes with the communally cooked ones. Fife Diet-central generously provided us with some dried goodies from their food coop pilot project. The rest we had to source ourselves. Local gardens provided a profusion of kale, silverbeet, herbs, leeks, eggs (so many eggs!), preserved, dried and frozen fruit. Even locally produced cider from apple pressing at the last year’s PLANT’s Autumn Fruitfest. We tried to get the rest from local growers or suppliers – Balgove Larder (a surprise discovery here was that they stock their own honey), Fraser’s Fruit and Veg in Dundee, Pittormie Fruit Farm. But there were also some goodies from supermarkets, e.g. Graham’s cream and a last minute midnight run for the Scottish-grown white cabbage.

I have to say I got a bit carried away with my contributions: jerusalem artichoke and mixed kale bake, festive cabbage with forest mushrooms and yellow split peas, hummus two-ways (red fox and split pea), and kavolo nero and carrot thai salad.

Jerusalem Artichoke and Mixed Kale Bake

Local and raw

Local and raw

I discovered jerusalem artichokes last year thanks to Pittormie Fruit Farm and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s January recipe ideas from The Guardian. This time we got them closer to home – it turns out that one of us had a garden full of them just up the road (you can also get them from Bellfield organics). They seem very easy to grow but are fiddly to prepare (peeling the knobbly varieties is a rather ‘meditative’ practice). Perhaps next time I will simply give them a good scrub?

I used Hugh’s gratin recipe, but replaced the onions with leeks which are so plentiful at this time of the year. And used the local Anster instead of cheddar.

Festive cabbage with dried forest mushrooms and yellow split peas

Da cabbages

Da cabbages

I thought the yellow split peas we got from The Fife Diet’s larder would do very nicely in a traditional Polish Christmas Eve cabbage stew I had tried out last year. At any other time of the year this dish would have a load of smokey sausage and ribs in it, but at Christmas it is made meat-free, like all the others. Normally, it is made with sauerkraut, but I also tried a fresh cabbage version which.

The snag here was that I had neither the local source of sauerkraut (I belatedly heard that ReHarvest project had just made some from Bellfield organics leftovers, and sold it at the St Andrews’ Fife Diet community lunch), nor any locally gathered mushrooms. Since there is no shortage of cabbage around these parts, and Tentsmuir forest is positively crawling with fungus at the right time of the year, there is really no excuse why I should not give both of them a go this year. May even take the PLANT group out for a mushroom picking adventure:) So here are my two new ‘eat-local’ pledges for this year, allowing me to go back to my roots too.

There are plenty of minor variations on the theme, and I was inspired by two recipes from Polish food bloggers (Gospodyni Miejska – Urban Housewife and Sto Smakow – 100 flavours).

  • 500g of sauerkraut (you can get it from the Polish shop or Polish section in Tesco’s) (you can replace it with
  • 25g dried forest mushrooms (can replace with dried shiitake)
  • A handful dried prunes
  • 1 large onion
  • 100g yellow split peas
  • 60ml of oil + 2 tbsp for frying the onion1
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • 6 grains of pimento and black pepper
  • salt and pepper

Wash the mushrooms, cover with 1 liter of water and soak overnight.

Boil the soaked mushrooms for an hour in the same water, strain and slice if needed. Keep the strained liquid.

Squeeze the water out of the sauerkraut and chop up (may need to rinse it a couple of times to reduce the acidity of flavour). Cover with mushroom water in a pot and add 1/2 bay leaves, pepper and pimento and the chopped mushrooms. Boil slowly, stirring occasionally and adding water if needed until soft (40-60min).

Boil the peas with the other 1/2 of pimento, pepper and bay leaves until soft but not falling apart, and strain (30min).

Chop the onion finely and fry in 2 tbsp of oil until softened. Add the onion, prunes and the peas to the cabbage with the rest of the oil and cook, stirring occasionally for another 15-20 min.

TIP: This dish gets better the more you reheat it, particularly when re-fried with butter and smokey sausage. May be the time to use up the frozen leftovers! Nom:)

Hummus – two-ways

Red foxes and yellow split peas

Red foxes and yellow split peas

We had one challenge with the foodstuffs from Fife Diet – red fox peas. Nobody in our group had heard about them, and quick Google searches returned nothing else apart from Hodmedods’ brief description. They suggested treating them like chickpeas. So I did. I made my recent favourite, Roasted Carrot, Chickpea and Harissa dip from The First Mess blog. Very local chillies too – grew them on my own balcony!

Somebody else also made the straight-up hummus and they were lovely in a vegetable stew featuring the turnip. The whole group was blown away by them and now we are planning red fox growing trials;) It looks like they are the same thing as more commonly referred to black badgers or carling peas (although those are listed separately by Hodmedods). They are definitely a variety of field peas, but the story on the interwebs seems rather confused – definitely worth looking into further.

Oh and there was the intriguing-sounding ‘polish-style’ hummus – this time from a Polish veggie blog, so I will translate here.

  • 250g yellow split peas
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic (around 25g)
  • 2-3 tbsp of oil
  • 25g of sesame seeds (lightly toasted on a hot pan)
  • 1 tsp of salt

Soak and boil the peas in salted water until almost soft. Crush the garlic and fry in oil until softened. Add to the peas together with the lightly toasted sesame and cook, stirring until fully softened. Mush into paste with hand held blender, add water/oil if necessary.

Voila! Pure simplicity – but fit to repel a whole vampire army.

Spicy Thai  cavolo nero (tuscan kale) and carrot salad

This was a last minute decision, as we got a nice bunch of freshly picked Tayport garden cavolo. It was a nice surprise to discover that it grows so well here over winter. Yet another one of these expensive supermarket fancy vegetables, alongside the jerusalem artichokes, which seems to be just too easy to grow at home. Here is the recipe from Running to the Kitchen blog.

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TrackATree three and four – the suspense is building up

10 March and 18 March 2015

Two-in-one this time – aren’t you lucky;) It’s an incredibly frustrating time at the moment. The buds are bursting – or are they? A surprisingly subtle process. I keep pointing my binoculars up at the top branches time and time again and second guessing myself. Unless it’s sunny enough to see the subtle budding greens against the sky, it’s virtually impossible to tell if the buds are cracking to show the leaf tips. I try to time the visits in the afternoons, when the sun is lower at the horizon, and provides better illumination of the branches instead of silhouetting them picturesquely, black-on-sky. To add to the confusion, each species bud morphology is different, so even with the trees which have lower branches it is hard to tell if I am looking at expanding bud scales or the emerging leaf tips. Sycamore has been particularly frustrating here – its expanding bud scales virtually indistinguishable from the smooth leaf tips. Hazel’s fuzzy leaves on the other hand are low enough and obvious enough to immediately give away their secrets. Perhaps the sycamore will be more forthcoming next week…

Magus Muir

Last week’s census day felt like an outburst of spring after the week-long wintry grumpiness. Clear skies and lively bird chatter welcomed me at both sites. At Magus my birch’s  branches were lit porcelain white against the blue. Birds seemed to be settling into their territories, with songs echoing to and fro from their selected perches. But there were exceptions. I spotted a group of great tits seemingly engaging in a ritual of some kind. Their ‘leader’ would start with a rapid fire of the croaky call, fidgeting on the branch to present its puffed out chest in all directions. Others followed, at a cautious distance, and with what seemed to be feebler voices (you can hear them here). Having ‘done’ one branch, the leader would move off along the path to another at the same level a couple of meters away, his troupe behind him. Several moves later, they would turn around and come back the same way. Were they marking their territories or simply showing off in front of the girls?

My usual Tuesday this week was full of dim overcast air, so I waited till Wednesday’s sunshine started to poke through. The light was not quite right to see the upper birch branches, so I double checked myself against other trees with lower hanging buds. A couple might have been cracking slightly but still a no-show for now, I decided. A rather dull visit, with nothing new to photograph and birds being samey and quiet…so I was traipsing back to the car in a hurry. But then a little delight – a couple of tiny wrens were inspecting the undergrowth, diving in and out from under the tents of dead fern fronds. Rather then their usual melodious song, they too sounded rather alarmed and squawkey (recording here). Was it a predator or was it just me?

Craighall

Last weeks’ sunshine brought out a greater diversity of birds here – it was not just the loud-beaked tits anymore, but other, gentler small voices. Even managed to catch a faint blackbird song from among the tops of the trees at the edge of the gully, rudely interrupted by the pheasant’s harsh exclamation (listen here). I was farewelled by a silent bird of prey, hunched over with bloodthirsty focus on his electric pole perch near the carpark. And there was also – fanfare please – the FIRST BUDBURST on my hazel!

This week, the indignant bird song mixed with screeches of a group of 2 year olds ‘exploring’ the wood by scrambling up a steep gully slope on all fours and sliding back, together with any ground cover they managed to mush up in the process (listen here). Calmly supervised and encouraged by their carers. I do keep wondering how such a scrap of a wood withstands the relentless daily human, dog and horse assaults… All this while the hazel was budbursting all over the place and the sycamore hurrying on at its heels.

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TrackATree second coming – where I brave snow’s ghost

4 March 2015

I rushed out there for my second census a couple of days late, but as soon as I came back from my time away. Tuesday woke up freezing and covered in snow – not just the Sidlaw hills in the distance this time, but here, on the banks of the river as well. I was looking forward to catching some of it in the woods as we’ve had so little this winter. But apparently it was not freezing enough for it to linger into the afternoon and I had to do my census bare-earthed. It was still freezing enough, even with the occasional rays of the late afternoon sun breaking though, to motivate ‘efficiency’ so it was a rather rapid affair.

Magus Muir

There were fewer dog walkers – perhaps not surprising, given the weather but it might have been the timing of the visit, around 4pm, which just a week or so ago would have been in the dark.

The wind and the weather silenced the birds, and all you could hear is the movement of the trees above against the grey sky, occasionally broken by the shots from the bird scarer guns in the fields. Grim.

There were no signs of the buds bursting on my birch either.

Craighall Den

It was more cheery here – at least the birds were still out and about – the same flocks of great tits and robins rummaging away among the branches sheltered from the wind by the gully.

There were more of the hazel catkins showing – including a rather pathetic effort of my own census tree – but many still holding back their pollen for the better weather. No leaves poking through the scales on any of the three trees either, although the sycamore’s and hazel’s buds were swollen with impatience for the new season.

It’s not all dull and uneventful here in our TrackATree community though. The peeps in charge of the project have been working hard over winter and got a publication in Global Change Biology journal (here for the BBC coverage). Congrats! The data they used is the 200 year historical record of spring events available from the Marsham family estate in Norfolk, claimed to be the original citizen scientists here in the UK. Old data but new analysis – with special attention to the effects of temperature in autumn, winter and spring. And it turns out that rising autumn temperatures, may force much earlier oak leafing and delay the birches. Are these results generalisable across larger geographic range? Will the oaks be leafing before birches on regular basis? How do the understorey plants react? TrackATree data will help resolve these questions.

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TrackATree 2015 – the first outing

We are back on Track-ATree (I told you all about it last year, remember?) !!! They’ve been chivvying us on to start our census early – since there are some early signs of spring out there already with the mild winter this side of the Atlantic and all…We even have some refurbished census forms, field guides and such. Also – a new flower to look out for, and a pretty one too – red campion. Unfortunately, I already know it’s not around at my sites. I was rooting for dog’s mercury, but I guess that one would have been a tad tricky to score with the tiny little flowers…

So, I finally got my gear together again and did my first weekly round on Friday 20th of February. Despite gloomy weather forecast, it turned out a glorious day, so the temptation to clear my head was simply too hard to resist.

Magus Muir


You may recall it is a lovely mixed birch grove, with somewhat swampy feet, and a sprinkling of lovely willowy willows. Driving up through Starthkiness I took in the scratchy bare branches of the trees stretching up in unison towards the white and blue of the sky. I was really excited to say hello to the place again – it is simply too much out of the way to visit outside the census season.

I was a bit worried when I saw that the recent bout of maintenance did take down quite a few of the trees to thin it out, and to take care of the windfalls. But was relieved to confirm that the mossy base of my birch was still boasting the full head of branches. As expected, and confirmed with binocular inspection, very much still NOT in budburst, and not even in flower.

Magus Muir 20 Feb 2015

Otherwise, it was a bit quiet, undergrowth full of soft moss  greenery poking out amongst the browns of the dead fern fronds and the grey of the lichen on the bark of the trees. Even chirping of the busy flock of great tits passing through among the tops of big beeches at the far edge was rather subdued. Oh – and the ever flabbergasting number of dog walkers for such a small place!

Craighall Den

A quick zoom zoom to the Den, where there was some more evidence of recent mainenance with a new gate in place.

It was a bit more cheery here, some snowdrops at the entrance (makes me wander how ‘natural’ their presence is here), a vigilant wood pigeon, and a much more chatty crowd of great tits, flashing their sunny chests and tipping their black hats as their busied themselves in the oaks over the creek.

Craighall Den 20 Feb 2015

My oak, hazel and sycamore were still very much in winter mode – but also very much still standing. Not much else moving apart from some hazel catkins, some herbs in the undergrowth and deer’s white bottoms as they rushed away from me among the shrubbery on the opposite bank of the burn. Some rooks calling out ominously overhead – you never really forget here how close the fields are, how tiny this scrap of the precious mixed woodland!

Oh – let’s not forget that I also discovered where Eeyore’s house had gone. Or several of them…

“In a very little time they got to the corner of the field by the side of the pine wood where Eeyore’s house wasn’t any longer.
‘There!’ said Eeyore. ‘Not a stick of it left! Of course, I’ve still got all this snow to do what I like with. One mustn’t complain.” A.A.Milne House at the Pooh Corner

Well, it all went really quickly this time. It really does get much easier once you set it up in the first year (and when you don’t try to faff about with technology;). It was a pleasure to press my ear and eye to Nature for a careful lookie again though. Off to enter my data then and see you in around a week’s time:)

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Sharing the stories from intergenerational storytelling in community gardens

Telling our stories through clay faced trees with Jane Mather

Telling our stories through clay faced trees with Jane Mather

I learned two things on Friday at the Scottish Storytelling Centre sessions.

Intergenerational storytelling is a very precisely defined practice with its own handbook, rules and funding streams – and aimed at very useful and tangible outcomes for the community.

But at the same time telling each other stories is a very intimate, personal process like an exchange of truly special gifts. Gifts to be cherished and enriched through re-sharing.

These two lessons came from the two halves of the day.

The morning

We booked and traveled to Scottish Intergenerational National Network’s event in the morning , coordinated by the lovely Pat Scrutton (it took some Googling to find their website but here it is and here is the umbrella organisation). The theme was tantalizingly relevant to the Tayport Growing Space project PLANT‘s embarked on recently – we were going to hear about intergenerational storytelling in the community garden context.

As their English brethren say so succinctly on their website we have learned that the group “aims to support the development and promotion of intergenerational practice as a catalyst for social change“. (The Scottish edition has a slightly less rousing slogan, reflecting similar sentiments though: “Generations Working Together provides information, delivers support and encourages involvement to benefit all of Scotland’s generations, by working, learning, volunteering and living together.”).

It seems that the idea of intergenerational practice is a brainchild of Beth Johnson Foundation and a reaction to a growing disconnect among people living next to each other, especially the lack of everyday interactions between the growing pool of the eldest members of society and the youngest. It sounds eminently sensible …something to dip a toe into at length I think at a later date (perhaps the Annual Meeting on the 4th of March?)

But for now let me tell you about the two speakers who shared their stories with us.

Leith Community Crops in Pots: Carboneers Project

Julie Brown, the project’s education officer, told us about this grassroots project which has grown from one mother’s attempt to take control of her food choices and provide her children with an outdoor and food growing experience in a suburb of Edinburgh which is densely populated and devoid of growing spaces. She started by putting a potted vegetable garden at the back of her tenement building and then her children’s nursery. Inspiration spread from there to others and now encompasses a local neglected common ground at Leith Links – now developing into a community growing space, The Croft. The latter has a future ambition to become a city farm – definitely something to keep an eye out for!

Since last year the project exploded with injection of CCF funding from Scottish Government and 3 part-time staff members, including Julie. The goals are ambitious, as typical of CCF projects, and encompass trying to change people’s behaviour around food to more sustainable, low carbon choices. She’s been coordinating the Carboneers component of the project aimed at “energising people, utilising community skills, and creating solutions to climate change”. Carboneers stands for (Low) Carbon Pioneers:)

Thoughts
It was truly inspiring and encouraging to hear about a similar grassroots project blossoming into something so fabulously ambitious, in a much more challenging urban setting. I hope we can bring something equally exciting together with ours, although it will be a challenge without a dedicated education officer.

In the meantime, I am sure they will not mind that we can ‘borrow’ some of the Carboneers workshop themes and strategies for engagement with younger kids via primary schools and childcare centres. My favourite idea was the ‘roly-pig’ composter – round plastic containers with an openable mouth which can be fed with weeds and worms and then rolled about to promote decomposition. There is even a little hatch for peeking inside to see the composting in progress.

Julie has been working to deliver the Climate Change Curriculum for the local primaries and her ideas include: mini microscopes, carbon monster book, lifemoisaics-prompted discussions, local producer/forest visits, poster making, P6s teaching P1s, library of eco-kits for the parents…

Something else to steal for the adults – a film club focused on food/community gardens/climate change. Our Harbour Cafe already has the space for the screen and projector… And we can always follow their lead on taking much inspiration on eating local from The Fife Diet folk – they have done so much groundwork here and it’ll be an honour to continue their legacy after they are hung up their hats this spring.

It was a bit sobering to consider the potential for vandalism in open community gardens, as the Croft and ours are aimed to be. Greenhouse choices are particularly important here – some opt for plastic bottle constructions which seem to be quite resistant to damage but may encourage ‘undesirables’ to linger inside, others go without to minimise such attractions. Some say engaging the culprits may be the key.

Another useful tip – carefully plan to induce action rather than panic when raising awareness of climate change!

Growth in the Garden for Communities

Allison Galbraith entered the stage next with her confident storyteller’s presence. She’s been a practitioner for a while – of storytelling and intergenerational practice. She did explain the careful design involved in intergenerational storytelling projects and how they deliberately bring the oldest and the youngest people together to interact and result in production of a concrete metastory though participation of some kind of creative professional in the encounter. Others added that, especially with secondary school children, outcomes fitting into the curriculum or achievement scheme (e.g. JAZZ or John Muir Trust) are important and so is much more careful planning ahead to fit into the school year.

Allison exposed us to a primer in storytelling experience, convincing us that storytelling is at the heart of the human condition – as the human brain has evolved to make meaning through narratives. She even got us telling each other our own garden stories and then retelling them to the wider audience (telling and retelling, or sharing and re-sharing was a common theme with the afternoon session). We were indeed all storytellers:) She also regaled us with her own storytelling performance, so much more accomplished and engaging than my own: there was a “long long time ago”, and a cottage with an elderly couple, a fairy child, bucket of slops and a garden. All the makings of the perfect composting origins tale;) (suggested resource for similar ideas was Peace Tales by Margaret Read MacDonald).

She also mentioned the project in the making which she was putting together with the Glasgow’s Woodlands Community Gardens – yet another urban gap filler bringing food, garden and community together in the open, with strong emphasis on biodiversity (Once upon today movie tells you all about that aspect). They have had some successful storytelling events and now are looking to expand into something much more seriously inter generational with the local elderly respite day care centre and school kids being brought together in the garden. Apparently a complete logistical nightmare, with no toilets on site!

Thoughts
Perhaps the strict intergenerational practice is not something we will jump into with our project just now – it sounds like quite a lot to take on, on top of setting up a garden. But engaging actively with broad range of ages, and thinking of how to engage older or less able people in Tayport is important. And carefully thinking about some concrete outcomes we might want to achieve and in fact preserve from the intergenerational encounters. Me and my partner in crime on the day already had some ideas. One is bringing out the stories of the community garden site together through oral history, input from the local history buff and his photo collection, and some digital map storytelling tools. And I liked her much more tangible idea of ‘raised memory beds’ planted with significant plants associated with childhood memories from older residents together letting them tell their personal histories. From my own perspective I would like to add some intercultural encounters to the mix as well – there is a history of Polish soldiers stationed in the Tentsmuir forest during WWII to start with – and a contrast with some newer Polish arrivals. What about the Chinese and Indian takeaways in town?

Afternoon

Now – this was a pure accident. It turned out that the Storytelling Centre was running a workshop following the theme from the morning’s Intergenerational garden encounters. It promised to be a much more hands on session – a chance to experience in the flesh and as a participant the essence of storytelling with garden themes.

Across Nature’s Threshold with Jane Mather

Jane engaged us in several storytelling and activity scenarios which she had successfully used with older and young participants to foster their connections with natural world.

My favourite was trees with faces, when we used potters’ clay and found items to make faces on trees. Brilliant fun, creative, tactile and miles away from ready-made craft set type activities. Clay featured indoors as well – we got to play with it while stories were told (she also used it as a prop while telling a creation story of a rabbit and an owl aimed at settling kids down, molding the two creatures as she spoke), and the classic – RHS wildflower seed bombs. Egg boxes also featured – that great, cheap, multipurpose reusable. Used them as treasure kists for collection of found natural treasures outside (great activity to get people to focus on little details around them), to be decorated when we got back inside. The practice of sound mapping seemed equally meditative – closing your eyes and sitting quietly for 5 minutes and mapping the sounds around you (you can use the collected natural treasures to try to reproduce them later). Predictably, we have sown little edible egg box gardens for our windowsills. There was also a great idea of creating mini terrarium story gardens on the cheap with found objects, little garden soil + gravel, and moss/ferns/lichen from the garden/wood adding some plastic action figures or animals for dramatic effect.

What really stumped me though is the sharing/re-sharing activity at the end of the session. We were to share a garden memory with a partner and they were to re-tell it to us as a story. Sounds simple enough, just a little fun. We shared our memories, and she retold mine with some fine detail embellishments. But I remained silent. I could not stop thinking of Jane’s words: “A story is a gift”. I think I was worried about damaging or mangling somebody’s memory through my retelling. Too tired to give it attention it deserved. I decided to save its re-telling for later.

Thoughts

The session and the NSC definition gave me something to mull over:

Storytelling happens
when the story is told
person to person live,
without print or technology

There is something unique in face to face encounters to share stories. It is a much more intimate and, to me, somewhat disturbing experience. The feeling of unease may be a result of my history of hiding behind digital conversations for so long. At the same time I know that some of my older friends find it more difficult to engage with others through the digital medium and favour in-person interactions. Maybe intergenerational encounters could blur these comfort zones into a productive overlap? I certainly believe that the digital medium is a powerful tool for documenting metastories resulting from this – equal to and perhaps more far reaching than material objects such as books or pieces of artwork. Engaging the generations together in such creative documentation would be a powerful experience.

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Chewing on the nuggets of wisdom from Learning to EATS

Newburgh Community Orchard

Newburgh Community Orchard

Have been meaning to mention this for a while now – I have been helping out a little with PLANT (People Learning about Nature around Tayport), a branch of the Tayport Community Trust. A ponderous name, I know – but what a catchy acronym! For simplicity, we tend to call it a community garden group:)

This has blossomed into a new interest in community gardening and related projects and I have been discovering the delightful variety of community group activities and enthusiasms around Fife and beyond.

The last one of these knowledge-harvest events was in Newburgh on the 30th of May, focusing on creating edible public spaces, and organised by the local resident and a SAMH’s man, David Ross (@GardensbytheTay), under the auspices of EATS – a Fife council initiative (SAMHs collaborated with EATS when it first started in Kirkaldy). EATS stands for Edible And Tasty Spaces (great name AND acronym;) and was championed by the council’s own Kevin O’Kane.

Peter Mannox of the wonderful North Fife blog has already provided a brief summary of the proceedings with some great pics thrown in. Here I some golden nuggets of wisdom from each speaker which made most impression on me and may come in handy in developing our community spaces.

EATS history repeats itself – Kevin O’Kane

Kevin told us the story of EATS project and what struck me was how long he’s been trying to put his ideas of growing communal food in public spaces into practice. The Fife council started on EATS in 2012, on the back of the popularity wave of edible public spaces  brought on by success of the Incredible Edible Todmorden hitting the headlines in 2007. It is a small but growing project which is tentatively moving further afield from its native Kirkaldy with help from local groups.

But Kevin has admitted to thinking along similar lines since 1998 and was able to first put thought into practice when a new community park, containing a community orchard, was created in 2001 by the council. In the long term, this fruit garden was unfortunately not well maintained and was removed in 2010 (although some of the fruit trees still remain).

Nuggets:

  • This illustrated to me the incredible volatility of such projects and how they are subject to fleeting fashions in community growing.

Thoughts:

Luckily for us at PLANT, the community garden trend is on the up and the council looks favourably upon the use of the public spaces for edibles:) Perhaps the long term success may be more likely when the top down council initiatives join up with existing community groups to develop locally relevant ideas, with majority of maintenance again done by the locals. It would be nice if there was also some edible-targeted £ available from the council as well, but given the current economic climate…

Lesley Riddoch calls for the power to the communities (and also for more huts!)

This is the first time I became aware of Lesley – now you know that I live under a rock;) What a great woman (and an excellent speaker)! Endless energy and many hats – very well summed up in her Twitter profile (@LesleyRiddoch):

“Journo, broadcaster, writer, cyclist, marine energy fan, gammy knee-holder, PhD student, Norwegian learner, Nordic Horizons organiser, Scotsman columnist”

Obviously a fervent believer in the power of local communities, she’s just published a book called Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish. Drawing on this “account of Scotland at the grassroots” she gave some incredible examples of Scottish resourcefulness, with  relevance to creating edible spaces.

Nuggets:

  • When trying to get a community together around a project it is important to find local/personal connection with the land and its uses – most places have some historical links such as the French monastery apple orchards of Newburgh. This can bring community and generations together.
  • Life experience and enthusiasm beats formal academic and management qualifications – draw on it!

Thoughts:

She also emphasized an issue which I keep hearing about in this country – the complexity of Scottish land ownership (and its monopolisation on the hands of the few) as one of the important barriers to communities taking control of their spaces. She writes regularly about the need for land reform in Scotland – here is a recent piece on Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill, before Scottish parliament this month, and how it may be able to address some of the issues.

Oh – and, you know, huts:)

Edinburgh’s Edible Estates with Greig Robertson

Greig is a self-confessed social entrepreneur, “trying to make a living from making good things happen” for over 10 years. His ideas for community self-built eco-housing had not quite worked out but his research in Denmark inspired some successful work with community growing projects in Edinburgh.

The new interest precipitated the creation of Edinburgh Community Backgreens Association (here is the potted history – no active website for the group exists any more) which allowed for the development of his community growing model for such spaces. He is now using the same principles for a more ambitious community growing project at run-down council estates – Edible Estates at Wester Hailes (name stolen from Fritz Haeg with permission).

Nuggets:

  • Community space design included small raised beds allocated individually + a communal food forest of fruit trees and bushes. Individual raised beds ensured minimum conflict,  perfect for beginner growers to cut their teeth on, did not require much investment of their time, maximised number of people involved. It was also a motivator for those with grander ambitions to find more space to grow edibles!
  • Engaging community members in design (especially in Wester Hailes) and getting them to build their own raised beds etc (minimum contractor landscaping/build) to ensure buy in, ownership and friendships.
  • There will always be some objectors to the projects – but they are a minority and often with antisocial attitudes. Even at the relatively deprived council estates, 10-15% of residents are “dying to get involved” – especially in project which make visible difference to their surroundings (despite the lack of faith from the council itself).

Thoughts:

The Tenement Greens project seemed to be fairly successful (although with the funding running out they seem to have lost their online presence and I wonder how long-lived they may be without such a central push). The success was no doubt due to the fact that the greens are fairly enclosed and private spaces with a limited number of users. I am keen to see what happens in the open spaces of the council estate at Wester Hailes.

Alan Carter’s tips for edible communal forest gardening

Alan is a Chair of Board of Directors of Reforesting Scotland and the author of forest gardening blog, Of plums and pignuts where he shares his Aberdeen permacultural adventures.

He outlined the benefits of forest gardening: better pest control due to interplanting and increased architectural complexity, lower maintenance and greater aesthetic value throughout the seasons.

Nuggets:

A great public food plant, such as a mirabelle plum (a yellow variety of which I remember grazing on as a child in Poland, they were everywhere!), is:

  • robust
  • low maintenance
  • attractive
  • survives picking
  • with a long picking season
  • hard to pick, e.g. lots of small fruit vs big fruit such as apples (the effort ensures that some is left for others)

Other tips on growing in public spaces:

  • Make sure that it is easy for the council workers to work around the plants
  • Use tubes to protect from rabbits and herbicides.
  • Use own-root trees instead of grafts as they will regrow true to type if damaged.

Comprehensive list of edible forest plants suitable for Scottish spaces is on his blog. Apart from the mirabelle (or japanese plum), my favourites were the day lilies with their edible flowers. I also wouldn’t mind trying out the variegated perennial kale 🙂

David Ross guides through Newburgh EATS inspirations and the community orchard

David (@Gardensbythetay) brought the idea of EATS from his work with them in Kirkaldy and set up a community garden on a sad piece of lawn in front of the Newburgh Library. This involved loads of negotiations with the local powers-that-be, and a promise not to grow a field of spuds and cabbages. The results are stunning, productive and have taught the local brownies where the potatoes come from. This is what it looked like last year.

He also showed us the 10 year old community orchard, linking to the area’s fruit growing past. It is conveniently placed next to the local school and used by them on a regular basis. They run workshops – not just on pruning, planting etc but also teaching kids when the fruit are ripe for picking (which prevents premature harvest).

Nuggets:

  • Engage with the local bodies and be prepared to convince them of your case
  • Gardening in public and getting local kids involved is the best PR (and helps limit vandalism)
  • Complex interplanting of vegetables and insect repellent companion plants such as marigolds is likely to minimise pests.
  • Use the harvest as an excuse to share food with the community
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TrackATree week 8 – trying to pack it all into the penultimate visit

Pulled pork wonder at the Hatters, Ceres folk museum. Totes Noms!

After my last time censusing, I was acutely aware that this may be my penultimate visit. I was also convalescing from a nasty cold and in need of some fresh air. So on 27th of May I took my time to pack in as much as I could into the day.

Detours and discoveries

In addition to the two sites I included a couple of detours (as well as an extended Ceres visit again).

I took the back road from Strathkinness to Pittscottie via Blebo Mains woodlands (wood 1 and wood 2) which I found on the archived Visit Woods website – in hope that I could add them to the census next year. Disappointingly, both turned out to be fairly feeble scraps of newly planted woodland with no clear access routes. The disappointment was sweetened by a rather picturesque views towards Cupar from one of the hills – framed with a particularly floribund hawthorn at full throttle (known as ‘may flower’ to the locals).

The other serendipitously delightful discovery came from my rummagings online – the Dura Den! This Woodland Trust managed forested gorge, technically known as ‘Long Established Plantation Origin’ in character, sits just north of Pittscottie along the Ceres burn. A very narrow strip of forest with limited public access due to its precipitous nature, it turns out to be a bit of a natural history gem. Not only because it boasts the largest colony of soprano pippistrelles in Fife (as reported by Scottish Wildlife Trust in 2006 – PDF) but mainly because it is a site of the remarkable Yellow Sandstone fossil fish discoveries by Dr Rev John Anderson in early-1800s. This has whetted my appetite for a wee visit sometime – both to the site and the St Andrews University’s Bell Pettigrew museum which is meant to host some of the fossils.

In the meantime, I was rather impressed by the fieldworking style of the dear reverend and his fossil hunting ‘party’ (note that the lowly ‘diggers’ kept working through the lunch break):

we all lunched on a beautiful grassy bank on pies – chicken, pigeon and ham – and then grapes, peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines – all of which were washed down with plentiful supplies of cider and sherry.

Source: Dr Rev John Anderson ‘s letter to a family member, cited by Yvonne Boni of Cupar Library in her presentation on local history (available from Blebo Craigs community webpage).

On the way back I could not help myself from stopping to explore the road verge wildflowers before the Fife council takes to them with a mower. Over the last couple of years, Plantlife meadow conservation peeps down in England have been running a campaign to reduce mowing of the verges in order to enhance biodiversity. I was pleased to discover that Scottish Natural Heritage commissioned a report on the matter in 2013 exploring the complexities of the issue (PDF), and I am hoping to discover that the councils will be taking it under consideration shortly. Watch this space;)

Magus Muir

This would be my last visit to the site – the wood sorrel flowers were definitely having their last words under my, now very leafy, birch.

The caterpillars seemed to be in full munch here as well as Craighall Den – leaving behind holey leaf canopies. There were also lots of flies – including those busily exploring flowers (much less exciting then bees and butterflies but I am told they are equally important for pollination!). Speedwell and forget-me-nots provided a touch of blue, alongside the buttercup yellows. The less conspicuous nettles, raspberries and sedges were also flowering. So were the wood-edge rowans. The willows, so deceitful on my first visit, were now in full leaf and dropping their tell-tale catkin husks onto the path.

I got a bit over-excited at the car park (seems to be the place where all the action happens at the Muir) as I chased after a pretty white butterfly. I almost dismissed it as a cabbage white, but then noticed the faint vain patterns and flashes of yellow on its wings. I think it might have been a green-veined white instead! That reminds me – the orange-tipped males were dancing around over the road-verge feast on that day too…

Craighall Den

Taking a leaf from Rev Andreson’s book, I started my visit with a lush lunch at the Ceres’ Folk Museum caf. It turned out to be run by The Hatters & Co – a mad little outfit under the guide of Stella Collelouri, which I originally encountered at the Rev’s native Newburgh. I am sure that the feast of pulled pork bun with home-made bbq sauce they served me would have easily rivaled the rev’s pigeon pies!

To settle my lunchey tummy, I went for a little stroll around Ceres. On a pleasant note – lots of bird action for such a small place – house sparrows, swift nests, rooks and many more twitterings (just have a listen to the recording!). On a slightly disturbing one – Wemyss Ware painted ceramic cats (claim to fame – Elton John and the Queen Mother have some…hmmm)! Pity, their botanically-themed pieces seem to be rather sweet…

I only popped in briefly at the Den to see the oak – the crown still looked a bit thin. To save myself the indecision, I decided that I will decide on my next visit whether it reached the full leaf or not. The only excitement was provided by the red rash of what seemed to be maple mite gall infestation on some of the trees (that reminds me – I am still to identify the species of this hawthorn-like creature!).

I think this will be my last TrackATree field post this spring. Stand by for descriptions of the woodlands’ histories. Although I can’t promise I will be able to stay away from dabbling in some other #citizenscience:)

 

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