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Organic? Who cares! Eat more veg!

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Jim McColl Jim McColl | 17:04 UK time, Tuesday, 1 March 2011

It is a fine morning, after an overnight frost and we have a good day in prospect but I am down in the dumps! Last week's 'Which' report on organic vegetables and subsequent comments in the Sunday press brings back all the angst about what is going wrong with society in regard to our attitude to fruit and vegetables.

mixed veg

In my view, from a Scottish perspective, we should be encouraging people to EAT VEGETABLES - any D********D vegetables, ‘organic’ or otherwise but I get the feeling that in some ways fewer vegetables are being consumed than when I were a lad! That should be the main concern. Having been born in to a ‘working class’ family our main meal of the day was at lunchtime – 12 noon and 1pm. We would have homemade soup, main course and pudding. The main course consisted of meat or fish, potato and one other vegetable.  We only ever saw chicken etc or a second vegetable on special occasions.  The staple vegetables were brassicas, peas, beans, beetroot, carrots, turnips, swedes, parsnips, onions, leeks, parsley and with pulses many included in soups – all fresh and available according to season. The first time I experienced meat, potato and two veg. served every day, was when I spent some time ‘in digs’ and ate with the family on a Berkshire farm. It was there that I tasted Runner Beans for the first time and I was 24 years of age! I've loved them ever since!

Salads were a favourite dish for High Tea in summer, served between 5pm and 6 pm. This would include cold meat, lettuce, fresh grated carrot, tomato, cucumber, boiled eggs and perhaps a few chopped spring onions for garnish.

I am not sure if things have improved despite all the publicity about healthy eating. We used seasonal vegetables that were home grown often on allotments and in back gardens. The cry today is to go back to something like that for economic reasons but that is part of a different argument.

Cucurbita pepo 'Long Green Bush'

If we are to progress we do not need the destructive power of hindsight, favoured as an argument in the blame game. In the 20 to 30 years after the Second World War, agronomists, scientists, consultants and advisers were involved in trying to improve our food, secure its supply and guarantee its health status to meet the demands of a burgeoning population. They did so with the information available to them, in the interests of the health and well-being. Just to add a little sauce to the argument, at one time these people were employed by the state and their knowledge was given freely to whoever needed it. I was part of that system for nigh on 12 years. A great deal of the research and development on food crops is now in the hands of commerce - I'll say no more. To do so meant that traditional organic methods had to evolve. Improvements in yields were achieved by better husbandry; plant breeders produced higher yielding varieties, in some cases with better pest and disease resistance. Storage, grading and distribution were all improved to serve retailers and customers alike. In some cases, of course, the grading standards went over the top - is a bent cucumber any less nutritious than a straight one, of course not but in some circles appearances count and that is undoubtedly part of the present problem!

In one of our Sunday papers there were a few quotes from a poll on the Which report such as ‘organic veg. are a middle class thing’, ‘organic veg are too expensive’, ‘organic veg don't taste any different so why pay extra?’, ‘I wouldn't buy ordinary veg poisoned by chemicals, it's organic for me’ and so on.

I have witnessed what happens when farmers and growers take production methods to the extreme, in order to maximise production/profit, in relation to the soil, some have described it as asset stripping! The methods that I would advocate are a million miles short of that.

I regard myself as a 'Pragmatic gardener' for signing up to ALL the principles of good husbandry and in particular care of the soil, whilst responding to the needs of my plants and crops. If and when it is appropriate I will use so-called CHEMICAL fertilisers and liquid feeds together with pesticides and herbicides especially in non-food crop situations.  I will continue in this vein encouraging people to grow more of their own fruit and vegetables whilst tending the decorative areas of the garden in such a way that supports wildlife and protects biodiversity. Organic gardeners will do the same in their own way.

The aim should be to get people to EAT MORE VEGETABLES!

Sorry about the rant, I did want to talk about mulching - maybe next time!

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