Wednesday 18 July 2012

Why milk is so cheap and what if you doubled its price?

What if you doubled the price of milk?

Waitrose essential semi-skimmed milk: 118p for 2 litres.

If you doubled the price of this milk, for an average household consuming, say, 3 litres per week, that would mean an additional cost of 177p for the price of their milk.

Is this an unreasonable price for a staple product? We would say not.

Milk is fundamentally underpriced, as supermarkets have adopted a pricing strategy of dropping the price on core lines of staple products so as to appear incredibly good value to customers, whilst maintaining big margins on other product lines. Incredible indeed, and unsustainable.

Over the last 150 years, food prices have steadily fallen. 150 years ago, food was 13 times more expensive than it is now! 50 years ago, we were spending 1/3 of our income on food, last year it was just 7.7%. Against this backdrop of steadily falling prices, it is no surprise that the customer expects and wants to spend less on food and more on other products, and that we have (and retailers encourage) a "why pay more?" mentality.

And our priorities have shifted. What are the most successful new consumer companies of the last 10 years? Apple, Amazon, Starbucks, Sky to name but four. People think nothing of upgrading to the new iphone, or a getting that "must have ipad", or treating themselves to a £2.95 coffee each morning, but generally will adopt a "why pay more?" attitude when it comes to staple products.

It is perverse thinking, and though we at Farm Direct are believers in capitalism and the free market, we feel that this is a clear example both of market failure, of bullying oligopolistic pricing policies within the food industry and a misguided and overexpectant consumer. Dairy farms in desperate straits is the outcome.

Surely it is simply a case that the pendulum has just swung too far?The price of milk is plainly not going to double. As we see farmers trying to renegotiate the price for their product, it is worth bearing in mind that virtually all such negotations use the existing price as the marker from which the tug-of-war then starts.

We don't think this is right, as we believe milk is fundamentally undervalued and has been for a long time.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Growing produce in the rain - what is it like?

From Martin Mackey, of Ripple Farm Organics, who has a a small horticultural farm of 14 acres situated in the Stour Valley, Kent.

We have never seen such consistent wet damp summer weather here in 20 years farming in East Kent, so much so that we are unable to get onto the fields with tractors and machinery. This is especially surprising given that we are farming on free draining light chalky soils that can normally handle any rainfall with ease!

There are several knock-on effects of this::

1, Our planting and sowing schedules are disrupted as we cannot prepare ground and travel on it.

2, Weeds are growing like mad, and weed control cannot be assisted by the inter-row tractor mounted implements and therefore has to be all done by hand, and of course we have not got enough hands!

3, Fungal disease is worse in wet, low sunlight conditions and is causing crop damage and losses, (epecially blight in potatoes)

4, All harvesting has to be done by hand and carried out of fields by hand!

And after this tale of woe we find that people dont get out shopping normally in the wet and so we are all affected!

The wet reminds me of my childhood growing up in county cork.

Martin Mackey

Ripple Farm Organics.

Thursday 12 July 2012

In response to The Grocer's announcment that "David Cameron announces £5m fund to help dairy farmers improve competitiveness with 'game-changing' innovation.

Dear Grocer,

If we may be so bold: a very big thumbs down to you for publishing this. 

Why? Two reasons:

1, Because this has all the hallmarks of a classic hot-air, knee-jerk "let's look speedy & pro-active in the face of a crisis" initiative from a PR driven government.

There is no game changing innovation contained in the announcement- just a tiny uncommitted sum put forward for great ideas from farmers - a Dragons Den style shiny bauble of a reward dangling in front of suffering dairy farmers.

2, because game-changing innovations are not what is needed, and frankly reading such piffle, I dont know whether to laugh of cry.

Milk is fundamentally undervalued, and this is for two main reasons:  a, due to a ruthless discounting culture amongst retailers (especially on staple lines: for heaven's sake, it is cheaper than bottled water and most beers), and partly due to a now deeply seated "why pay more?" culture for which both retailers and consumers are responsible.

The game changing idea that is needed is therefore threefold:

a, for one of the main grocery retailers to respond to this crisis by to raise the price of their milk, and i would suggest that they do it under a "WHY WE pay more" strapline - a doubling of the price of milk would cost families on average (assuming a consumption of 3 litres per week) approximately 170p - is this so bad?

b, that retailers have a new price structure for payments to dairy farmers that involves them receiving a share of the retail price of a carton of milk, POST the direct production costs of the product.

c, that consumers are educated to understand that buying milk for 60p per litre is just too low for what is a highly nutritious product and that if they want to keep their farmers in business, then they should pay more for this great product.

For The Grocer to take such a passive line on this announcement will only serve to propagate the myth that you are but a figleaf to the supermarkets.

Yours sincerely,

The Farm Direct Team.
The price and cost of milk - how to help the dairy farmers?

Over 2,500 dairy farmers descended on Westminster yesterday to protest against a drop in the wholesale price of milk whereby they will receive upto 2p per litre less for their milk, effective from August 1st.

Many farmers will now be receiving less than 25p per litre, which given that the estimated production is 30p per litre, - making it a loss-making business - hence the crisis and the protest.

Who is to blame and what can be done? As ever the answers to either of these questions are not straightforward, but here are some humble observations from us at Farm Direct.

The bar chart below illustrates an estimate of what the cost of producing milk is, and how the rest of the money that you pay is split between farmers, processors and supermarkets.

This chart does need to come with some significant caveats: 1, they are our own estimated numbers (but based on circulated & accessible data), 2, different farmers get paid different sums depending on who they supply to.

But plainly with farmers hardly getting enough to cover the cost of production, it is clear that the vast majority of the available margin is not going to the farmers.

In our view, retailers are greedy for margin as the bar-chart above ilustrates - and we think that they take a unfairly high proportion of the price that consumers pay for their food, relative to the amount of value that they add in providing us with it.

But tempting as it is to lay the blame at their door, we think it is just as much the consumers' fault. For we sought, created and now enjoy a world of enormous consumer choice, where we make decisions about what food we want to consume at the drop of a hat, and we can choose any number of outlets that can provide us with what we want at - we expect food to be widely available at all times, and generally choose the shops that provide it at the best possible price - especially a product like milk that we treat as very much a commodity.

Food as a commodity is a cliché, but in the case of milk it is particularly and depressingly true - we even demand that it is homogenised, so that it all looks the same! Oh, and we expect it to be as cheap as water or beer.

It shouldn't surprise us therefore that this choice, accessibility and superlative value comes at a price - and that in a demand led world, it is the party furthest from the end consumer that gets the toughest deal.

It seems to us that a "fair price for farmers" should focus around an agreement that gives them a percentage of the margin POST direct production costs. The bar chart above demonstrates that they currently receive very very little of that, and that the retailer keeps it all for themselves. This would at least provide an incentive for retailers to push up the price of a product that it entirely undervalued!

As consumers, all we can do is start trying to choose differently.

Advantages of buying our Ivy House Farm Dairy milk

1, It is single herd dairy - meaning it comes from the same farm and herd each week - the Bowles family who produce it are entirely contactable (01373 830 957) and you can therefore get great knowledge and comfort about exactly how their products are produced.

2, It is unhomogenised, and so hasnt been mucked around with for cosmetic purposes, and is therefore easier to digest

3, Ivy House process their own milk and we buy it directly off them. they get over 71% your money, we get 29%.

4, it is a delicious product.

Disadvantages of buying our Ivy House Farm Dairy Milk?

1, it is approximately twice the price of basic supermarket milk - which if you consumer 2 litres per week, means that it will cost you around at extra 110p per week.

Now is that so bad?

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Our Proper New Season Lamb is here  - Tender & Flavoursome

Lamb is now the only widely farmed animal where consumption remains seasonal in Britain - and the reason for it is both interesting and straightforward. 

Ovulation in ewes is naturally prompted by the shortened days of autumn, so that the birth of lambs, whose gestation period is five months, coincides with the first fresh grass of spring.

But New Season lamb is eaten at not less than four months old - so how do we manage to eat "New Season" lamb for Easter? 

The answer is for that the Easter New Season lamb ewes are tricked with artificial techniques into breeding earlier in the year, and giving birth in the winter. The newborn lambs are then given concentrated feed, rather than grass, to ensure that they are ready for eating by Easter.

And why? Because the perception is that us consumers would like to be able to both see the new season lambs in the field, AND then eat new season lamb at the same time, even though a good 15 seconds of logical thinking would make us realise that this is not possible. But in search of a way to "have our cake and eat it", so we have worked a way out to trick nature.

We think that is a bit sad - especially when it comes at the expense of taste, and naturally we are very happy that Nicola & Toby at Beatbush feel the same way and will not compromise with the timings of their flock's natural breeding patterns.

So go ahead and enjoy truly New Season Lamb....!!!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Re-introducing Rosé Veal this week - a product that many would argue if you enjoy dairy products, then you have some responsibility to eat.

This week we are delighted to re-introduce Rosé Veal again to the farm direct menu. It comes from Jon & Vicky Brown of Bocaddon Farm Veal in Cornwall.

Their veal is a high quality, high welfare product that comes from unwanted bull dairy calves. If their calves were not reared by Jon & Vicky, they would be disposed off at 1-2 days old. In doing, so they solve a major problem for dairy farmers by using an inevitable by-product of their industry.

Their case has recently been highlighted by Jimmy Doherty in his Channel 4 documentary series, who says: "If we eat rosé veal, everyone’s a winner: the calf, the farmer and the consumer.”

For a full explanation of Rosé Veal production, as well as FAQs, click here - why Jimmyy set out the case very comprehensively for us to enjoy a delicious product.

So why not try some Rosé veal mince this week? It's Same price as our other beef mince (£7 per kg), and is delicious.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Ever Tried Raw Milk?

There are benefits to drinking pasteurised milk, such as calcium. But it has nowhere near the same number of benefits that raw milk offers. Raw milk has all the benefits of pasteurised milk, plus:

i) The protein is not denatured (physically altered in shape) as is the case once pasteurised (heat treated), and is therefore fully available and metabolisable by the body

ii) Cholesterol is not heat treated and remains in its natural state as good cholesterol that the body can metabolise and use. Once milk cholesterol is heat treated, it is altered into a form the body cannot deal with, so the body produces more of it's own cholesterol to deal with this 'bad' cholesterol. It has been shown in the U.S. that raw milk lowers blood cholesterol, whereas pasteurised milk increases blood cholesterol.

iii) All the good bacteria are still present and help with gut action and digestion. It is also possible that these good bacteria also help fight bacteria infection within the body

iv) All the enzymes in raw milk are still present. Some people are lactose intolerant, which means they cannot digest lactose milk sugar as they themselves do not produce lactase enzyme. This is the enzyme needed to help digest lactose sugar. Raw milk contains lactase and therefore helps digest lactose, and deal with that intolerance. Lactase is just one enzyme found in raw milk, there are others too! All these wonderful enzymes are killed by pasteurisation.

v) It has been shown that raw milk helps to fight eczema, hayfever, allergies and asthma. On our own milk round, we have customers that have our milk to get rid of their eczema. Since having our milk, their eczema has either improved or disappeared!

There are more benefits, but in conclusion, I would say that there are far more benefits to drinking raw milk. A study by GSCE students for the BBC programme Countryfile about three years ago was interesting. Three petri dishes were prepared, one with UHT milk, one pasteurised and one raw milk, and left open to the atmosphere. Nothing grew on the UHT sample, it could not support life. Only good bacteria grew on the raw sample, and only bad bacteria grew on the pasteurised one. Why? Well, in the pasteurised sample, the good bacteria once in it, were now all dead, leaving a good substrate ripe for invasion by whatever bacteria were around in the atomosphere, whereas with the raw sample, the good bacteria still in the milk repelled any bacteria that tried to invade! That is fantastic!

I would say that drinking homogenised milk is potentially HARMFUL! Remember, it is only done for cosmetic reasons. The organic movement would like to see this process banned. Firstly, some believe that the smashed up globules of fat become so small by this process, that they are passing straight into peoples bloodstreams, and that is what is clogging blood vessels up. Secondly, a globule of fat is coated in protein. In its natural state and size, the ratio of fat to protein is as nature intended, and is fine for us. However once the fat is smashed into tiny globules they are still coated with protein, but now the ratio of fat to protein is altered as the protein element is now a bigger proportion in that ratio. Some believe that this alteration with there being excess protein is also causing metabolic problems for people.

(taken from

This Week At Farm Direct....

With a proliferation of greens and shellfish in season, the focus is now on light and healthy eating. Think of it as nature's way of encouraging that 'perfect beach body' - just in time for the summer that never comes!

From the coast we have the first of the marsh samphire, razor clams and freshwater crayfish (if you didn't try them last year, mind your fingers!) as well as whelks, cockles and winkles.

From our farms, globe artichokes are ready to pick (tender and beautiful, they will please the aesthetes as well as the gourmet), while spinach (both organic and non-organic) returns after a brief gap in the crop.

There is an abundance of organic lettuces on Gill Wing Farm. They are available at a reduced price this week - lollo rosso, lollo blondo and little gem all £1.29.

With continued heavy rain in the South East our new potatoes are proving particularly tricky to harvest (the soil is like porridge); fingers crossed we will have some for the weekend. Likewise, our calabrese has taken a bit of a battering under it's insulating fleece.

Shokoh returns this week, making the most of our seasonal produce to make: elderflower & apple compote, citrus chicken casserole, Iranian chicken salad, beetroot salad, carrot cake and of course her famous Swedish meatballs.

And finally, after a great response to our free Monday night delivery, we are continuing the offer for the next four weeks. Please try the service and let us know what you think.

Marsh Samphire - The Asparagus of The Sea

Hand picked from the tidal marshes of the East coast, marsh samphire is a succulent, salty, cactus-like delicacy. What was once a common sight in fishmongers, marsh samphire has somewhat fallen out of favour over the past few decades, but is now making it's way on to the plates of gastro-pubs and fish restaurants all over the country. We can't encourage you to try this enough - it is seasonal, delicious and great value (only £1.49 for 125g). To cook, simply wash, bring it to the boil then drench with unsalted butter, a squeeze of lemon juice and cover with freshly ground black pepper. Beautiful.

Monday 11 June 2012

Interesting article on why food is getting more expensive and what you can do about it.
Interesting thought for the day, from super-widely-travelled writer and presenter Simon Reeve:

"We lack something crucial in our modern democracies that is essential to future viability, and that is long term thinking.

I worry that we're going to be a species that gets to the edge of the cliff and doesn't stop. People just don't get what seven billion human beings can do to the surface of a relatively small planet like ours.

I don't see any statesmen out there that are really capable of guiding or leading us to a period of sustainable living."

Lets take these words in in conjunction with this update from Global Environmental Outlook.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

This Week At Farm Direct......

We're out collecting wild veggies this week and we think you'll love the selection that we have available.

Wild veggies provide a natural solution to the prolonged hungry gap that has been brought about by a rather arctic April and May.

With our stored onions nearing their end, wild onions stems are a great alternative, while in place of spinach, try our sea beet - it is a little saltier and has an even higher iron content.

Our fresh seaweeds (sadly neglected in our diet) offer a wealth of flavour, with virtually no carbon footprint and are flabbergastingly good for you.

On our farms, the first bunched beetroot from wild fields is now ready (albeit in limited quantities), and we are cutting the young leaves off our fennel to add an anice-zing to your soups and salads.

The unpredictable weather is still playing havoc with the planting of next season's veg - seedlings keep getting washed away and with the top soil 'porrage-like', we have to wait for a prolonged dry spell before we can get drilling again.

The first of this year's asparagus (last week) was a bit nobbly and dark - Tony tells us that this is due to slow growth at the start of the season and the asparagus should be a lot greener this week. We have reduced the price of the single and double bunches as an olive branch if you were disappointed with last week's pick.

Our wild veggies forager, Miles Lavers, has also been using nettles to brew 'Cornish Stinger', a clear refreshing beer that is also gluten free. Miles picks his nettles from an organic farm, ensuring no pesticides have been used near them. Try a bottle of stinger for £2.99 this week, or if you fancy a go at making it yourself here's the recipe.

And finally, with spawning season now over, we can expect a greater range of white fish this week. Our fleet have changed gear, dropping the monkfish nets in favour of the smaller white fish nets. With white fish currently at a premium, prices are high, but that should change over the next few weeks. Keep an eye on our fresh fish section to see what we have - it will be updated as the boats land.

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Foraged Foods From The Cornish Coast

Our forager, Miles Lavers, has spent the week collecting foods from the shore, moors, pastures and lanes along the Cornish coast. Try his:
Kombu - A sea veg that accounts or the trending 'umami' flavour in Asian cuisine. It's great mixed with rice, noodles or in a stir fry.
Sea Beet - A seasonal, iron rich, alternative to spinach.
Rock Samphire - A friend of fish, gammon and egg, this zingy treat has 30x more vit C. than an orange and is even cited in Shakespeare's King Lear.
Wild Onion - Somewhere between wild garlic and spring onion, you can use the leaves in salads, soup or even pesto.
Sargassum - An invasive seaweed, imported on the back of pacific oysters. It takes oxygen out of rock-pools, suffocating fish so we need to eat it all up. Miles (pictured) says it is "ridiculously good for you"!

Thursday 10 May 2012

Matthews Blog - When It Rains!

 Over the past month the rooks have started to move away from the cereal fields and are beginning to cause a few problems at Wildfields.
To begin with they were hunting out freshly drilled seed within a day or so of planting. As soon as the wind was calm enough crop covers were applied to try and keep them out. They then started following the drill up the field, removing the sunflower and bean seeds nearly as fast as they were going into the soil. In some places they have even started punching holes in the crop covers to get to the seed.

When they are not feeding they sit in the trees looking at the pea crop like a vulture waiting for its prey to become weak, patiently waiting until the pods are full of succulent peas.

The much needed April showers arrived right on cue, the intermittent showers at the beginning of the month had enough drying time between them to enable most of the backlog of planting, caused by the dry weather in March to be dealt with. Parsnips, broad beans, shallots, parsley, celery, rocket, radish, french beans, cabbage, lettuce, beetroot and calabrese have all made their way into the soil just as the sky darkened, I look back at that busy weekend satisfied that 90% of the planting made it in before the heavy rains came.

Since then the heavy rain has been much more consistent and no planting or drilling has taken place for the past two weeks.

Last week I returned from a sunny few days on the south coast to find that some parts of the farm had been under water as large parts of the county experienced flooding. My celery had been completely covered and now looks a little yellow but I am hopeful it will recover. Roy has been busy digging trenches and pumping water out of the potatoes (a complete role reversal from last year). Once again we have a backlog of planting with more plants due next week.

The two plots of carrots that were drilled in February and March are looking well after a good old-fashioned hand weed to remove the established mayweed and grass, unfortunately because of the weather the third drilling planned for April was missed. As soon as I get chance I will drill two lots and try and stagger them by covering one with fleece.

The runner beans sown in modules have now reached 40cm in height and are in desperate need of transplanting outside, I think I will give it one more week and then hope we don’t get any more frosts.

The early garlic is looking well; with the first harvest of large green garlic expected in early June. I am hopeful that a return to warmer weather at the end of May will help to push the main storage crop on to a decent size.

On the down side the weather has not been kind to the French beans, the first drilling was a bit of a gamble at the end of February and although they germinated well under fleece they have now stood still and are gradually being picked off by slugs. The second drilling has failed to germinate due to the colder wet weather and will probably have to be re-drilled.

The first broad beans are now full of bloom and are regularly visited by bumble bees.

On the harvesting front spring cabbage, leeks and rhubarb are still doing well with the later responding well to the rain.
The beetroot in the polytunnels are nearly ready but were set back slightly as the floodwater moved sideways leaving the soil more like porridge for a couple of days.

The long range forecast is predicting longer spells of dry weather for June so as soon as possible we will be planting and drilling again, making the most of the soil moisture while we have it!!!

This Week At Farm Direct....

At last, the first asparagus of the season is now ready to pick - a welcome fig leaf over the barren bareness of the annual hungry gap!

The cold & rainy weather has meant the asparagus is starting quite late this year, and this being the first week, availability is limited. So best be quick, because it will all go. We have kept the same prices as last year, so it is excellent value (2 for £5) - and it will be super fresh too.

To compliment the asparagus, we have some organic baby eggs (from young hens) that we need to find a home for, and Trealy Farm's beef pastrami makes a welcome return too.

So, sit next to the radiator, close your eyes, dunk your asparagus in a baby egg, and pretend summer is nearly here!

And another seasonal bonus - we have sorrel in for the first time - highly recommended by Hugh F-W, and fiendishly hard to get hold of!

Flooding has caused us lots of problems this year, washing away our radish and cucumber plants, decimating our French beans and delaying our celery and new potato harvest. So if availability seems sporadic, or if there are veggie substitutions in your order, it will because we get to Thursday & Friday and realise that some crops just can't be picked.

Fortunately our spring salad leaves (which are undercover in poly-tunnels) have survived and are flourishing in these conditions after a warm winter (in case you forgot!).

This week we have two new lettuces - can can, which is frilly and green and lollo bionda, which is very frilly and green. See if you can spot the difference!

On the way out, our over-wintered crops are coming to an end - spinach from Wild Fields has now been ploughed back into the ground, while our organic spinach and chards will only be around for a week or two.

And finally, a spring tide (part of the fortnighly lunar cycle, when the waters are higher than average and the fish further away) means we only have two boats out tomorrow. There is expected to be plenty of mackerel and smooth hound fillets available as well as ray wings, monkfish and crab. Keep an eye on our fresh fish section for the latest updates.

Fresh Essex Asparagus.... No Starch In Sight!

They say that home-grown asparagus has a taste superior to others. That's because freshness really does make a difference. With a high natural sugar content, freshly harvested asparagus quickly starts converting its sugar into starch - spears quickly lose their snap, moisture and sweetness.
Our asparagus is cut on Thursday afternoon, before arriving on Friday morning. We're not sure how others do it, but were fairly confident that you won't find fresher that that!

Sorrel: The Long Forgotten Taste of Spring

Once a common ingredient in soups, stews and salads, sorrel has somewhat fallen out of favour in modern times. Such a shame says Hugh FW in Friday's Guardian, it's, "startlingly, puckeringly sour and lemony, but with a wonderful lightness: it tastes green, it tastes of spring". Pair it with oily fish, sprinkle of classic egg dishes or simply stir it into a new potato salad. Hugh has been championing sorrel since this piece in 2008, hopefully it will now start to catch on!
Try our 75g packs, the perfect way to try sorrel for the first time.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Smooth Hound, Is It The New Monkfish?

This week Shokoh is using smooth hound fillets, to make our first ever Indian inspired 'bycatch' fish pie. This is why we think you should be eating 'byactch':

1. Bycatch is ethical
: A bycatch is a fish that has been caught unintentionally, while trying to catch other fish (in this case sole and white fish). The bycatch (which often amounts to over half of what has been caught) is typically thrown back, dead. We think this is wasteful and unethical.

2. Bycatch is tasty: Bycatch is not a reflection on the quality of the fish, far from it, rather its status is down to food trends and market price. For example, 20 years ago no fisherman in Britain would dream of landing monkfish, it was a worthless byctach. Up goes the price of prawns and Britain needs a substitute with a firm flesh. Monkfish fills in the gap and it is now one of the most expensive fish caught by our Cornish fleet. Smooth hound is a tasty firm white fish - a perfect substitute for cod.

3. Bycatch is Cheap: The low demand for bycatch means that the price likewise remains low, we can pass this saving on to you.... Monkfish £28/kg, Smooth Hound £8.50/kg!

Try Shokohs 'bycatch' fish pie this week and tell us what you think.

Thursday 26 April 2012

This Week At Farm Direct......

The 'hungry gap' begins in earnest this week - that traditional lull between the end of the winter crops and the start of the summer veg.

Our sprouting broccoli has now been ploughed back into the fields, making way for new summer crops (how we will will miss it!), while over-wintered spinach, chard and our kales will only be with us for a couple more weeks.

The uniquely mild winter has, however, meant that we have a plethora of salad leaves and accompaniments available in their stead - our organic radishes begin this week, as does the crispy cos lettuce and the chefs favourite red veined sorrel.

While our veg offering might be slightly leaner for the next few weeks, please stick with us. This is a true experience of British seasonal food and you wont catch us compensating with veg from the continent (like many box schemes).

Elsewhere on our farms, Andy is still reducing the size of his greedy flock of ducks. We have breasts for £5.49 2x legs for £3.99 and smoked breasts for £5.99

Now the season is in full swing, Jersey Royals have come down in price £1.99 for 500g. They are a little bigger than earlier in the month, but still have that distinct sweet, earthy flavour.

After several requests from customers, 'real' tomato ketchup from Stokes is back. You bacon sandwiches are once again complete! Try it for £2.60 this week.

And finally, a special thanks this week to Rohan from The Garden Classroom. Robert and Rohan have been on a whistle-stop tour of Islington primary schools talking about sustainable rearing, growing, catching and eating. Robert even got the kids munching on our Ripple Farm wild garlic!

Missing: April Asparagus

You may remember that this time last year we were well into asparagus season, but where is it now? Asparagus seasonality is heavily reliant on soil temperature; if the soil is not warm it wont grow. Due to the recent April showers, the soil temperature has stayed low and are asparagus is only 1-2" above ground. There is also still a risk of air frost (which makes the spears translucent and inedible) and until this passes we cannot begin to harvest.
Not to worry, the late start will prolong the season and with an upturn in weather, we should have asparagus by the second week of May.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

In defence of Tesco...

Hi Hisbe,

Re your article ("We've got Beef" -, I Love what you are setting out to do - I am an independent retailer in North London, trying hard to encourage hungry North Londoners to eat seasonal, locally produced food - we have been going 2.5 years, progressing promisingly, but business is tough, no doubt.

You deliver a pretty scathing broadside against Tesco, its executives, its shareholders, its cynical non-creation of jobs - but your message is weakened by one group you appear not to have the courage to attack and that is its customers. Only in your final sentence do I see that you mention this final critical Tesco stakeholder , and it seems to be the only sentence in your article that lacks bite, instead exhorting (pretty weakly if i may say so) us to "vote for business how it should be".

Consumer demand is the single biggest factor in whether businesses succeed, and I am heartened that Tesco have announced their first profits drop in over 20 years - and hope that this is due to reduced demand from customers who find propositions like our at farm direct more attractive than that of Tesco. But i still suspect that more customers pass through the doors of our local Tesco Express in a single hour than purchase from my business in an entire week!

I am not disheartened by this - I think i have a promising proposition for customers and am hopeful that I can make it succeed, but this is my entire focus - on attracting customers to my service and away from the supermarkets: I have no interest at all in bashing Tesco, simply in trying to take a slice of their sales, and in order to do that I need to make our proposition as attractive as possible.

I think you are jumping on an easy bandwagon by bashing Tesco & its CEO, whilst ignoring the queues of happy customers that everyday vote with their feet & wallets through their checkouts: they are the stakeholder at Tesco that you need to focus on.

Thursday 12 April 2012

3 Reasons why everyone should try cuttlefish in Springtime:

1, Cuttlefish flood the shores in springtime, dropping their eggs in the rocky nooks and crannies off our beaches. Shortly after, they die of fatigue - which is the reason why if you go for a spring walk along the beach you are more than likely to come across these exotic cephalopods washed up on the sand. So, waste not want not, put them to a good use and get them on your plate!

2, Britain is one of the most fertile sources of cuttlefish anywhere in the world, but because we don't know what it is, and because supermarkets find squid a smaller and prettier product to sell (even though it probably comes from Yemen and is air-freighted over here), the vast majority of it gets sold abroad to places such as Spain, Portugal and Asia.

3, Our cuttelfish is caught off the Cornish Coast, near Helston, using static nets checked each day - a very uninvasive and environmentally way to catch fish (compared to trawling).

So in summary: cuttlefish is delicious, local to our shores, highly seasonal in April and May, and much cheaper than squid, so try it out!

Wednesday 11 April 2012

This Week At Farm Direct....

We are very happy to see some rain again this week! Our shallots, calabrese broccoli and beetroot have all just been bedded and the Easter downpour will really give them a boost.

The first of our vibrant green cucumbers (both organic minis and non-organic biggies) are now ready, as are our organic cauliflowers and sorrel leaves from Kent.

Ripple Farm's over-wintered spring onions are popping up through the soil again, this week we have white, while red will be available in a week or two.

Roy's eagerly awaited new potatoes have started showing earlier than ever before! Expect to see them following asparagus at the end of the month.

We are now on to our second variety of white sprouting broccoli - the first variety, 'White Eye', has come and gone and Roy has now started picking 'White Star'. This is likely to be our last week of the white sprouting - try if you haven't already, it is very different from purple sprouting and much more like a slim-headed asparagus .

Likewise our wild garlic, which is now starting to flower, finishes this week. If you want to preserve its subtle garlic-like flavour why not make a batch of wild garlic pesto, it will keep for forever in the freezer!

We have the first of this year's cuttlefish - they only come to our shores once a year so wont be around for long. Willie also came in with a boat load of mackerel this morning, we have both 'headed and gutted' and fillets available.

And finally, after last weeks Easter service, we are back to our normal opening hours this week. Drop into the depot on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, while the Barn is open from 10-4 on Saturday.

Cuttlefish - Britain's Most Underrated Cephalopod

The tale of the cuttlefish is quite unique. Every April they come to our shores to lay their eggs before dying and washing up on our beaches. Despite their abundance, value and plethora of gastronomic uses, we discerning Brits have never really bothered with them - they all go to Spain, Portugal, Italy or East Asia.
If you like squid or octopus you will love cuttlefish - treat it in a similar way, cooking for a few seconds or very slowly until tender. It pairs with meat, tomatoes, red wine and of course is irresistible when deep fried.
Try cuttlefish this week, 450g for £5.99 or 900g for £11.99.

Matthew's Blog - Sunshine, Early Crops & Baloons

Temperatures for March were well above average for the time of year and crops that were drilled into moisture are starting to germinate. The extremely tasty new season potatoes that have been wrapped up in fleece and polythene to try and encourage early growth are just starting to push their leaves through the soils surface. Roy informs me that this is the earliest he has ever had the crop showing above ground.

We recorded a total of 20mm of rain during March, below average for the time of year. Visit '' to check out climate information for our region.

I hope you have all been enjoying the white sprouting; it truly is a delicious vegetable.
As Robert has mentioned it is a short season and the first variety White Eye has come and gone, Roy started picking White Star last week and hopefully a return to more seasonal temperatures may just prolong the season. Next season Roy will be adding the variety F1 Burbank to try and lengthen the harvest.

In the polytunnels where it consistently reached 40 oc last week, the early season beetroot are starting to grow; parsley and shallot transplants are ready to be set but are just being held back in anticipation of some welcome rain.

Whilst the sun was shining I took the opportunity to cultivate and hoe between the rows of garlic. The machine disturbs the weeds and buries the smaller ones whilst the bigger ones are left on the soil surface for the sun to shrivel. This process also loosens the top of the soil, which allows rain/irrigation water to find its way down to the plant roots rather then run off the beds that have been compacted over winter.

For one moment last Wednesday I thought I was going to share a champagne breakfast. The weather was warm and there was a light breeze, the hot air balloons were out in force and one looked like it was going to try and land on the farm. Thankfully it landed on a neighbours field and not our crops, I made do with my apple.

Shokoh's Menu - Sheppard's Pie & Carrot Cake

Shokoh is cooking a classic shepherd's pie for us this week (serving 2 or 4). For a veggie alternative, try Shokoh's lentil shepherd's pie, this proved very popular last time she made it and is slightly cheaper.
Cake-wise, Shokoh is baking carrot cake w/ cream cheese glaze.
Her sides this week are celeriac remoulade and beetroot salad. This is likely to be the last week to the beetroot (it gets a little woody at this time of year) so make the most of it while you can.
And of course Swedish Meatballs (serves 1 or 2).

Wednesday 4 April 2012

This Week At Farm Direct....

It's Easter week, so our service is 24 hours earlier than usual (Thursday to Saturday, not Friday to Sunday) - hence the Tuesday newsletter.

The first of our Gill Wing organic salads are now ready - we have baby spinach, 'bright lights' chard, butterhead lettuce, land cress and lambs lettuce from our Sussex poly-tunnels.

Last month's sunshine has given us two new varieties of tomatoes, beefsteak and golden plum. With high levels of light on the Isle of Wight, expect a particularly sweet picking this week.

We also have rape tips for the first time, over-wintered rainbow chard from Ripple Farm and jonnagold apples from Jacobs Farm. Hungry gap? What hungry gap!

If you've still not tried our nettles from Wild Fields or are struggling for inspiration, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has some great ideas on how to use them in Friday's Guardian.

Lent ends this Sunday, the traditional time to feast on the best of British seasonal produce. If you are looking for something to feed the family this bank holiday weekend, I highly recommend our excellent value organic lamb legs, whole grey mullet (caught today!) or an Organic Duck from Gill Wing Farm.

Please note, we are likely to be short on pork this week so please get your orders in as soon as possible to guarantee your preferred cut.

And finally, don't forget about our revised order deadlines for this week. Our deadline for orders with meat is now Thursday 7am (not Friday), while all bread needs to be ordered 24 hours in advance.

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Rape Tips - Italian Secrets From Dorset

For the first time this week we have rape tips, a green vegetable native to Puglia in Italy. Descending from the wild turnip, rape tip tastes somewhere in between turnip and broccoli, with a mustard kick. Treat your rape tips as you would broccoli, or follow the Italian lead of sautéing with garlic, pairing with pasta, or adding it to cooked beans. Rape tips also complement roast meats, especially pork - why not serve it with your roast this Easter Sunday?
Try rape tips this week for £1.89 for 250g.

Friday Fish - An Ethical Alternative To Sea Bass

If you're seeking a real seasonal treat this Good Friday, look no further then grey mullet from Chris Bean (newly famous from The Fisherman's Apprentice).
Grey mullet is a great alternative to sea bass, it is firm, bakes beautifully and is a fraction of the price. Try it whole or filleted (serves 2).
If you want to be super ethical, we also have wrasse this week. Wrasse is a bycatch of the grey mullet - much neglected, it recently came top of a blind taste test by London's sashimi chefs.

Shokoh's Menu - Iranian Stew & Citrus Chicken

In preparation for a turn in the weather this weekend, Shokoh is making stews and casseroles this week. Her Traditional Iranian Stew contains beef, aubergine, tomatoes, dry lemon and sour grape (serves 2 or 4), while her citrus chicken casserole is made with lemon, herbs, broad beans and cannellini beans (serves 2 or 4).
Serve her stew with almond and saffron aromatic rice .
Her side salads this week are spring coleslaw and Swedish potato salad, while her cake is lemon & thyme loaf.
And of course Swedish Meatballs (serves 1 or 2).