A recent radio talk show explored the depths of a problem that faces a growing number of parents here and quite frankly I was glued to it. With more than a passing interest it is a topic of conversation we often have here at The Urban Co-op. Fussy Eating…There are a few newish names to now add to the pile to describe the phenomenon. ARFIDs (avoidant resistant food intake disorder) being I believe, the latest. Five words makes it quite a mouthful but seems to be the trend to describe something not working right these days. Food Neophobia was the case before that. Picky eating etc. I was that child too and apparently caused worry when I was younger. Growing up on a farm though we were surrounded by food in one form or another. Obviously, I survived it!
A common theme we do see now though is that of distressed parents who resort to their child eating one or two “products” because it is all they eat, and fear of the child starving means they will resort to any length to secure these favoured products. Highly processed of course and ultimately minimally nourishing. Eggs and milk are rarely the last resort foods in this situation. The advice apparently is to keep feeding these products for fear they will drop off to nothing and effectively they will grow out of it. When parents use a platform of a national radio show to compare notes on the similarities of their situations it somehow helps them cope, not feel so alone and helps them to carry on with an acceptance of the situation. This theme is a common one in society today. We share a problem so that makes it tolerable. At a critical growing time for children there is a chronic price to pay for such acceptance. We must challenge this mindset of accepting a problem because it is common. Something is wrong with the system when a large number of people share the same symptoms. Getting to the root cause is where we start to find solutions. Time to grab this problem by the scruff and take action folks.
I’m not going to preach here; my own offspring present their challenges with fussy eating and continue to every day. In this toxic sea of ultra-processed “food” products, it is not easy to navigate through the suffocating messages. The fall out is stressful and chronically debilitating for so many in ways we will never fully understand. Guilt shovelled onto parents is crippling enough to prevent progress of any kind when every mealtime becomes a battleground. Our relationship with food and nourishment has been thwarted for decades and there are many complications and difficulties.
There are workable solutions though and our mindset at The Urban Co-op is to find what works in a collaborative supportive way. We can offer some help and techniques to get you started. It’s a topic that deserves to be exposed for the solutions possible to give that light to all struggling every day to face mealtimes. Like many aspects of co-operation, we have realised that together we can find solutions to the problems we have in our communities. Rather than a battleground food can be a joy again. Watch out for the Fussy Eating talk at The Urban Co-op on 29th March 8pm.
the power of food...
There comes a point where you must take action. I am thinking about key points in life where a decision is made that results in a life-or-death situation. You may recognise those moments. Not to be too dramatic about it but maybe you have experienced those acute near miss events that may have shaped your life dramatically one way or another. Such adventures can form an exciting narrative for the future to tell the grandchildren etc.
Then there are the chronic long-term decisions that are made with which we may not feel the impact for a long time but when we do they are significant. Our policy makers are charged with the trust from us to make the best decisions for our long-term interest. We trust they take all the best evidence from all sides and make a measured decision that is in the best interest of the majority. Or so the narrative is sold to us. Trust us, they remind us relentlessly… For the most part we do.
But trust is truth and transparency. Selective truth and obscure transparency are as good as it gets with policy makers for the most part. We are reminded time and time again that agendas are often profit driven in the end. We the people are left with the guilt consequence that somehow the problems are all our fault. Fear and guilt are useful tools to encourage us to behave in certain ways. I will leave one word here to illustrate this point, but I am sure you have others…butter.
An interesting thing is happening though. I am the meerkat watching the horizon and have noticed the narrative changing. Have we reached a tipping point where we have finally begun to accept that the blatant ignorance of the power of food as a healer is no longer a runner? For ever the sceptic I reserve the right to be convinced this is a true direction forward. The date on the report looking at what was learned from Covid 19 in terms of the US food systems raises a question for me. There has always been too much profit to be had in the Big Food & Pharma models. But hey, maybe there is a realisation that no matter how high tech we go we still need people to work. People who are well physically and mentally. Caring for those who are not has become unsustainable. Trolley crisis’s and protests fill our newsfeeds. We have reached breaking point. Someone, somewhere has decided maybe we need to look at food as our medicine again. This topic is appearing in policy reports. Not so long ago we were snake oil peddlars… (thankfully we have changed the policy of witch burning in recent centuries for using food as medicine).
As always, I find it interesting and curious. I will be watching this space. Meanwhile let’s keep sharing our own knowledge and wisdom on the power of food to heal us and ensure we have the continuity of supply to sustain us.
Smart or Wise
SMART OR WISE
If you are familiar with the concept of feed lots in the US and are reading this, you are probably not a fan of them. Intensive beef production comes to mind but these CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are also used for horses, pigs, chickens etc. The Green Revolution in the 1960s dramatically increased food production and was a game changer in terms of food prices, availability, and population growth. After the war years this was no doubt a wonderful plan. The benefit of hindsight though can make us ask the question was it such a good idea to intensify?
Has the collateral damage to our health, the soil health, biodiversity etc been too high a price to pay? We are scrambling to recover our collective immune systems every way we know how while we deal with the damage on a day-to-day basis. On a piecemeal basis we are recognising that a more natural, traditional, and respectful approach to nature and biodiversity is yielding quality results. A return to real foods is healing individuals from chronic conditions, a return to nourishing the soil with natures appropriate food instead of chemicals is breathing new life into farms. An appreciation for organic farming and produce is growing. The race is on to recover both physically and mentally. Can we learn from the mistakes? What wisdom can we glean from the process?
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution underway are we going to repeat the process again?
Smart cities where the population are encouraged to live in concentrated spaces does seem like a great idea. For now.
3,000 farms to be bought out
3,000 farms to be bought out in the Netherlands in an apparent bid to cut carbon emissions is the recent news from Europe.
A good deal is apparently being offered to the farmers to stop farming in a time of food insecurity. It makes me uneasy to read the news portrayed about this story because this is what we are allowed to see. What is going on behind the scenes? That is the true story…
There is no denying this will be catastrophic for the individuals and families concerned. They have protested of course but perhaps you didn't notice. Afterall farmers have been implicated in causing the problems of global warming so.... The implications psychologically though will be felt worldwide for a long time. I often wonder if the anointed who have decided that this is a good idea were put into a position that they could not access food, would they learn to prioritise differently?
Cultures who have experienced deprivation often learn to be resourceful and bountiful. Holland has known both deprivation and bounty in the last century. So has Ireland. Nutritional wisdom has been passed down to us to help us thrive in tough times. We may need to tune in to this wave length soon.. Efforts to reduce the food supply are underway worldwide whether we like it or not. What can we do about it?
At The Urban Co-op we have worked to highlight the true value of the resources we have ourselves in this country but also conscious that we must wean ourselves off the concept of cheap food. To keep farmers in business their produce must be really valued. So, our priorities must shift and our resources more realistically managed. We are getting there, and it is with gratitude we recognise the awakening that is happening. Customers who openly acknowledge they are making conscious choices to where they will use their resources. This is zero waste in action. We see the altruism and mutual aid mentality returning as we recognise that we must co-operate to exist and thrive.
It is our goal in 2023 to become a full co-operative where we the people can own and manage access to our own food supply. Is this a lofty ideal? I don’t believe so, especially now. The process is afoot! We urge you to help us on the way though and every support counts! If you have 2 minutes to help fill out a survey on the direction of the Co-op we would be delighted to get your input…
We have an option of support that we believe is a great deal in the meantime and could be a great Christmas present if you are struggling to find your way off the consumerism hamster wheel… Our Sunshine Cultivate Membership offer is an option that can not only support The Urban Co-operative now in the interim but become a FULL SHARE option on legal changeover. Truly a gift that would keep giving and Mutual Aid in action too.
Thank you for the dedicated support of The Urban Co-op in 2022! We are very grateful that we are here in at year end in the year that has been. Moments of reflection allow us to be proud of what has been achieved despite the obstacles. The collective energy of community is rising like a tide, and we look forward to what can be achieved when this energy is channelled positively!
Have a great Christmas and see you on the other side….
Trick or Treat anyone?! Hibernation mode is setting in and the taste of warming foods like stews and soups are appealing. The primal need to shore up some reserves of fat is a wise one that we see in the natural world in wintertime in preparation for rest in the long dark nights. For many the dark evenings are difficult to cope with mentally but I find that a change of mindset to embrace the time for extra rest is helpful. Eating well – real nourishing foods cannot be overstated enough especially now as we head into the winter. The Halloween trick or treat time can be yet another sugar fest for children and you can be sure to see them suffering with colds and flu a few weeks after any splurge. Have you ever noticed this?
Our relationship with sugar is complex. Very complex. Our generation are now consuming far more than we can cope with individually and collectively. It’s overwhelming our bodies and our brains. And we are paying a very heavy price in society. Diabetes is sickeningly normal.
But it is more than just the damage to the select pancreas. Picture this! Alzheimers – Diabetes of the brain, Osteoporosis – Diabetes of the bones, Acne – Diabetes of the skin.
Name it whatever you like – our sugar consumption is robbing us of our potential to be our best selves and keeping our attention away from what truly matters. If as much attention was paid to nourishing our community with real food as is spent on “treating” us with the slow poison, where could we be? It’s not a trick question…
Not all food is created equal, and we are beginning to realise the reality of this. It is encouraging to see the collective awakening happening on the harms we are doing to the population. The drive to force the land to yield extra so that the growing populations could be fed (in the form of the Green Revolution) has had an untold implication for our health. Though this revolution brought us cheap food we are paying an ultimate price to balance the books.
Revaluing food for what it truly is capable of is part of our goals. But how do you present the true value of food to the consumer so used to low prices for food? Organic food has created a value proposition and there is much work being done to maintain the status of difference that this word represents. But it is not black and white. Like our human microbiome there is increasing recognition that there is enormous variability in the soil health and resulting nutrient content of foods. A label may not be able to communicate the true value. We are following with interest the work of the Bionutrient Institute in the US on this topic. Looking at the variability of the nutrient content of a variety of crops, the range is quite amazing. One beetroot can be 9 times more nutrient dense than another. It really does matter where it comes from and how long it has taken to get to the consumer. We would love to test our local foods and compare notes! Our taste buds can often give us a clue to the quality. The question is are we prepared to put a price on this difference?
Diversity & Inclusion
As part of co-operative principles and in line with our strategic plan, our work experience program has gotten underway this week.
We are delighted to engage with a wide variety of valued community participants, in this unique and exciting venture.
Our current community partners include:
We aim to provide meaningful, individualised, and relevant skill sampling in an effort to highlight existing individual strengths. This allows participants to explore new work opportunities in a supported and structured learning and working environment.
The initiative has already garnered much support and positive feedback, both from participants and local stakeholders.
The dual benefits are already apparent to both The Urban Co-op and our community partners and will be part of an on-going and expanding social inclusion engagement process.
Sainfoin - an example of harnessing knowledge from the past to help us find a way forward
spent learning and tramping about fields and meadows at Brookfield Farm at the end of June, the timing of our introduction felt significant.
For centuries, sainfoin (which translates from French as “healthy hay”) enjoyed widespread pride of place in traditional land cultivation throughout the world. So ubiquitous was this forage legume in the U.K., it is said that one in seven fields in southern England were covered in its pink flowers until the mid-1940s. Considered by farmers as the ‘best cog in the farming wheel’, it was recognised for its successful and beneficial use in pasture fields as fodder for ruminants, but also as a miracle crop that gave back to the soil.
Sainfoin boasts so many benefits to humans, grazing animals, and the planet alike that it seems incredibly nonsensical for it to have ever fallen out of favour. When you understand the context behind its decline in popularity, though, things start to make more sense. As the penny drops, I challenge you not to nod in a knowing and jaded manner.
Why did sainfoin lose popularity?
Sainfoin was just one victim of the creeping loss of long-held wisdom and knowledge about crop diversity and soil health as the industrialisation of agriculture and “yield is king” era pushed other more “productive”, more “efficient” crops up the pecking order. Farm support payments of this era insisted upon prioritisation of intensive production and output. Creation of and reliance upon a monoculture of crops decided upon as the most reliable (and use of synthetic fertilisers to enforce this reliability) was deemed to be the answer. At the time, sainfoin’s tendency towards inconsistent yield and slow regrowth meant it didn’t make the cut.
As is often the case, decisions or paths taken that seem ridiculous to us in hindsight, with the benefit of that hindsight and of the information available to us now, can be more easily understood if viewed through the lens of the mainstream thinking that led the charge at the time. Of course, the disappearance of sainfoin from our land dovetails with this ethos of the post-war Green Revolution.
But the times are changing. For those involved in regenerative and sustainable agriculture, interest in the powerhouse that is sainfoin is enjoying a resurgence.
Benefits of sainfoin
The benefits of utilising sainfoin in agriculture are manifold. In contrast to many of the cereals and grasses currently used in pasture, sainfoin, as a member of the forage legume family, offers high protein content and more effective utilisation of that protein within the animal’s system. Another digestive benefit of sainfoin is down to the tannins it contains, which help to prevent bloating. Nutritious, organic, filling food for happily grazing sheep and cattle can only be a good thing, but this is not the only plus - limiting bloating also means reduced ammonia and methane emissions, and we know how pressing of a concern reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector is.
Sainfoin is also known for its ability to “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere, ie: to sequester it in the soil and use it for the benefit of both its own growth, and the growth of any crops grown either with it or after it. While many plants unfortunately lack the capability to access and utilise the abundant nitrogen available in the atmosphere, the way sainfoin manages it is fascinating to learn about. Sainfoin partakes in a symbiotic process whereby bacteria with the ability to break nitrogen bonds make their home within the sainfoin plant, thus acting as its own personal pure nitrogen provider. It goes without saying that this natural process of providing nitrogen for plant and soil health is preferable to the use of its synthetic counterpart. While sainfoin is working its magic at fixing nitrogen back into the soil, it can tolerate low quality soil - this is particularly important to consider given the depleted nutrient value of much of our soils at the moment. In fact, there is evidence from the 1800s that tenant farmers were required to use sainfoin in order to maintain soil fertility.
Further, due to this nutrient sequestration, as well as the way it responds to heat and light, sainfoin will actually produce higher yields as the planet grows warmer. It has also been proven to be both drought and frost tolerant. This is in contrast to many other forage legumes currently in use, such as alfalfa and clover, which have been shown to struggle with the abrupt and extreme changes in weather. This is just another way in which re-integration of sainfoin makes utter sense in a world where agricultural practices need to be adapted to the challenges presented by climate change.
Sainfoin’s welcome contribution towards tackling our climate and biodiversity crises doesn’t end there. Through its ability to fix nitrogen, we have already seen how sainfoin is a dream come true for soil health and biodiversity. As a rich source of pollen and nectar, sainfoin is extremely attractive to pollinators of all types, meaning it also does an incredible job at promoting biodiversity of, and maintaining stability of, local ecosystems. While pollinators are welcome, pests and disease are not. Taken alongside many of its fellow legumes, sainfoin is known to be comparatively rather resistant to potentially serious pest and disease problems.
On the topic of disease, sainfoin has long been lauded for its medicinal properties, even referred to in Italian as “herba medica”. The tannins in sainfoin have been shown to have potential as an untapped natural resource in replacing the need for anthelmintic (anti-parasitic) drugs in animal farming. Biological solutions are much preferred to these medications - not only do these drugs become increasingly ineffective as resistance to them builds over time, finding natural ways to combat against illness and disease is an overall kinder, healthier, and more cost-effective solution than relying on regular administration of drugs.
In the face of threats to the status quo of current agricultural systems posed by climate change; in the face of worries about inconsistent or non-existent harvests of crops whose seasonal reliability we have carefully managed but are now less able to predict, sainfoin is a shining beacon leading us down a new path for the changing seasons we now must adapt to.
Huddled under the protection of some nearby trees while the unseasonal wind and drizzle did its best to steal away our enthusiasm, I encountered sainfoin for the first time. It captured my attention so fully because it is an emblem of some of the most pressing questions, we need to turn our attention to: why we have allowed ourselves to lose so much knowledge and diversity, and how to rethink our current food and farming systems in a way that acknowledges the significance of this loss, and attempts to redress it.
If blindly continuing with a now broken food system that we created to solve problems from half a century ago is the problem, the answer is taking lessons from the past, incorporating them with new knowledge and applying them for our current reality.
The story of sainfoin is not a unique one. We have forgotten, and are on the verge of losing, countless food varieties worldwide - varieties that could be pivotal in helping us to face catastrophes to come. Sainfoin can serve as a starting point in considering this. It shows that protecting and reintroducing the wisdom, techniques, and diversity we have allowed ourselves to lose or to ignore is integral in building kinder, healthier, more equitable and sustainable, less extractive, regenerative food and farming systems.
Carbonero, C. H., Mueller-Harvey, I., Brown, T. A., & Smith, L. (2011). Sainfoin ( Onobrychis viciifolia): a beneficial forage legume. Plant Genetic Resources, 9(01), 70–85. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1479262110000328
Sheppard, SC, Cattani, DJ, Ominski, KH, Biligetu, B, Bittman, S, McGeough, EJ. Sainfoin production in western Canada: A review of agronomic potential and environmental benefits. Grass Forage Sci. 2019; 74: 6– 18. https://doi.org/10.1111/gfs.12403
Recipes from Katie Verling & Jacques