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Searching for our lost minerals

Thursday 24 September 2009, 08:00

Alasdair Cross Alasdair Cross

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Moira and Cameron

Drive through the southern Highlands between Braemar and Pitlochry at this time of year and they look pretty bleak. After thirty miles of bleached heather it comes as a shock to see a splash of colour on the horizon. Drive closer and you come to a couple of acres of luxuriant vegetation on an exposed hillside, 1000 feet above sea level - trees heavy with apples as big as your fist and storybook-sized turnips bursting from the soil.

For Costing the Earth we've set our new presenter, Dr. Alice Roberts - fresh from TV's 'Coast' - the challenge of tracking down the minerals we've lost from our staple foods in the past seventy years. Perthshire growers, Moira and Cameron Thomson are convinced they've found them again, languishing as waste in their local quarry. By adding rock dust they believe they can mimic the action of ice ages, recharging the soil with the vital minerals that should make their way into the fruit and veg they grow.

Alice and I tucked into some incredibly sweet gooseberries and munched on freshly pulled endive while Cameron pulled parsnips out of the ground, in search of one big enough to really impress us. Giving up, he took us back into the farmhouse to show us a frozen head of broccoli that could feed a family of five for a week. Over coffee Cameron took pencil and paper to explain his theories of geological shifts, climate change and shifting ice sheets. There's nothing Alice likes more than a good scientific argument so I sat back and sipped my coffee as they tore into each other over the crashing impact of ice sheets on the Highland landscape.

When I finally steered Alice back to the car Moira waved us off with the news that the inspiration for their theories- and their vocation over the past twenty years- came from a Radio 4 programme they heard in 1983. I'll leave the scientists to judge the detail of their ideas, but if Radio 4 inspired those gooseberries thriving on a blasted hillside then we've contributed just a little to civilisation.

Alasdair Cross is Producer of Costing the Earth

  • Costing the Earth - The Great Mineral Heist is broadcast at 0900 on Monday 28th September and repeated at 1330 on Thursday 3rd October.
  • Farming Today covered the soil depletion story this morning at 0545. Listen again.
  • The picture shows Moira and Cameron Thomson and is used with their permission.

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    Comment number 1.

    I come from the North East and moved down south, Kent, to live with my husband. I appear to have fairly minor thyroid problems, my husband who has always lived in Kent and shares the same diet doesn't. We do work hard to purchase our food locally, in particular our vegetables come from a 'bio-Dynamic' scheme near Canterbury, our meat from a local butcher who sources locally, our bread also produced locally. I have ofetn wondered about the mineral background of our local soils in comparison to what my body grew up with and perhaps was conditioned to as a child. Clearly the background mineral regime I am exposed to now is very different to that which I was exposed to as a child. Also we use sea salt, if we salt at all! We eat no "processed foods"

    Perhaps I should be including Northumbrian rock dust as a condiment?

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    Comment number 2.


    A friend in the US has unearthed a template from a hand saw dating from the American Civil War manufactured by a company called TAYLOR BROTHERS OF SHEFFIELD. I am trying to trace this company in UK but have had no luck using Google etc.

    Have you any suggestions as to what I can do next?

    Thank you v much in advance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    No 2 Try searching http://www.sheffieldrecordsonline.org.uk/index_cutlers.html there are plenty of Taylors in th egraveyards of Sheffield, and we have a kitchen knife in use now made by Taylors of Sheffield.


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Find out about this year's panel and theme