It’s been good to get away these past few weeks. A change of scenery is always a good way to get some perspective on things and feel re-inspired. We were rather busy in the garden before we left, thinking we may be faced with an early Spring upon our return. However, the weather now seems far worse than when we left. Still, thinking positively this gives us some rest bite to fully get on top of things in the coming weeks before spring fully shows herself.
If you know us personally, you will be aware that we are not the sorts to jet off to St Vincent and the Grenadines for a full expenses paid week in the Caribbean – as pleasant as that may be. Instead, our pleasure comes from time spent in our little stone house in the Portuguese mountains without electricity, taking our water from the nearby spring, cooking on open fires, and toileting in a bucket (but with a very nice wooden seat).
Anyway, enough of this tittle tattle, here are some reflections from our time away…
Portuguese moving away from rural life
The Portuguese have largely moved away from the countryside over the last 50 or so years, and many areas have turned to scrubland or woodland. Rural life was shunned for jobs in factories, as they began the merry dance towards a consumer-based society.
Our home in Portugal was once surrounded by productive olive terraces; the bottoms of the valleys close to the river were filled with grains, vegetables and grape vines. These places were truly abundant and vibrant. Other things grew too, many of our terraces were filled with Camelia bushes – the flowers sold in Lisbon and Porto.
But Portugal’s local producer economy is still more vibrant than ours.
There is a certain irony that while we started a flower farm here in Cornwall, we already owned one in Portugal – albeit hidden under 6ft of brambles.
In many ways it would have been much easier to begin our business in Portugal, as while Portugal has changed a great deal, its local producers are still prospering in many ways. You can still go to the local weekly market and buy cheese, veg, salad etc. from a dozen or more different producers. Local food and grower networks exist, small-scale farming is still celebrated and access to the local market is seen as your democratic right.
In comparison, when we enquired about Falmouth Farmer’s Market (our nearest market) we were told that there was already someone selling flowers and so there would be no space for us! I believe all producers should be able to access their local market. Such Markets should play an important role in building personal connections and bonds of mutual benefit between farmers, shoppers, and communities.
I think lots of farmers markets in the UK are a sham and have lost their true meaning. They are often dominated by people selling things they have not produced or grown themselves. They are expensive and difficult to access. This can make starting-out very difficult indeed and has proved a big challenge for us.
Taking the initiative
In the absence of a structured local marketplace we are going to be experimenting with a membership scheme in 2020 – often called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Such schemes create a unique relationship between the grower and consumer – offering incentives for the consumer (e.g. offers and discounts, farm visits etc.) to back the grower by committing to buying produce on a regular basis, such as through a veg-box scheme. In other places around the world it is also used to sell flowers and so we thought we would give it a go.
Build stronger rural economies and back local growers
It’s time to re-start building and strengthening our local rural economies, to build more resilience in the food chain in times of climate uncertainty, to reduce food miles and become more conscious of where our products come from.
Great local producers do exist, such as Cusgarne Organic Farm, Soul Farm and many others. Interesting initiatives like the Falmouth Food Co-op also help local producers find a marketplace, and by investing in these producers and local initiatives we can really start to see a more vibrant rural economy emerging.
At times it’s tempting to escape to Portugal and be in a place where local growers and producers are still celebrated with great pride. But ultimately, this is our homeland and we have strong roots here. We can produce wonderful things right here in Cornwall and find a good market for them. It feels like a challenge at times, but we really do believe in bringing all local producers together, praising and singing from the mountain tops about each other’s offerings and with that we can create something very special indeed.