Have you noticed how many of the fruit and vegetables sold in our stores are grown in other countries? We import 44% of vegetables and 84% of our fruit, worth around £6.4 billion a year!
Whilst most of our imported veg comes from the EU, our fruit comes from all over the world. The key imported produce are tomatoes, lettuce, onions, bananas, grapes and soft fruit.
Fruit and vegetables accounts for around 2.5% of the total UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The most GHG-intensive stages of the supply chain are transport and refrigeration. Waste is also highly significant since food that is produced but not eaten wastes the energy used in its production, processing and distribution. 25% of all harvested fruits and vegetables are never consumed.
Air freight is an area of particular concern. Around 1.5% of imported fruits and vegetables travel by air. Nothing is being done to tackle this problem and air freight is growing at 6% a year. Little is being done to address refrigeration, especially in transport, and transport emissions from roads and shipping, even though here, too, trends suggest that imports are set to grow.
Improvements in energy efficiency at all stages in the supply chain are necessary. However, action to address consumer behaviour is also vital, in our choice of products, treatment, storage and cooking, over-purchase and waste.
We can drastically reduce emissions by growing our own or using seasonal field-grown UK produce, cultivated without additional heating or protection, which are not fragile or easily spoiled. At the very least we should buy overseas grown produce which is reasonably robust, cultivated without heating or other protection and which is transported by sea or short distances by road as they are also comparatively low in their GHG intensity.
The best option is to start to grow our own in gardens and allotments gardens. This will help reduce emissions and waste and improve the nutrition, taste and longevity of the produce. The next best option is to change our habits and purchase seasonal vegetables and locally grown fruit.
The idea for this article came about from a visit to Feel Good Gardens, where they promote the use of homegrown fruit and vegetables.
Feel Good Gardens is a tranquil, beautiful and friendly community garden at Forestry Holdings, next door to Sherwood Pines. They run regular growing sessions at their three-acre site, and offer opportunities to get involved at many levels – gardening in a polytunnel, taking on a small raised bed, or simply inviting you to go along, socialise and observe the wildlife that also visits their site.
One of the current seasonable vegetables they recommend we start growing for ourselves is asparagus, a delicacy known as the garden caviar. It can be steamed, baked, barbecued, grilled, roasted or made into soup. It goes with lots of things – melted cheese, dressings, butter, olive oil, lemon, fresh herbs, crispy pastry in a simple tart, even toast.
White asparagus is not a different variety, just the ‘forced’ vegetable, deprived of light when it starts to emerge from the soil (much like forced rhubarb) which prevents it turning dark green and gives a very delicate flavour.
Waiting for it to come into season in the UK and enjoying it during its season is preferable to eating asparagus imported from the other side of the world. Apart from the lack of freshness, changes in chemical composition start to occur as soon as it is cut or picked (with the sugars rapidly turning to starch). The independent Carbon Trust has calculated that importing one kilogram of asparagus from Peru generates 11.0kgs of carbon dioxide, whereas UK production produces 2.1kgs of carbon dioxide per kg. In Nottinghamshire we are blessed with sandy soil – ideal for growing asparagus.
Asparagus has some real health benefits. It is low-calorie and an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals, especially folate and vitamins A and K. It contains antioxidants including vitamin E and glutathione, plus various flavonoids and polyphenols shown to reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks and heart disease. As if that weren’t enough, it’s great for skin health thanks to beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium and thiamine. There’s real health reasons to grow and eat asparagus.
For more information about Sherwood Forest Friends of the Earth, visit Sherwood Forest FoE on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.