Rugby FoE > Local Campaigns > Food and Shops

Real Food and Local Shops:

Everyone should have access to real food that is both fresh and affordable. Street markets offer locally produced real food, yet fruit and vegetables are around 30% more expensive in supermarkets. Food that could be grown in the UK is shipped in from around the world, causing climate pollution from the extra food miles, and pesticides are used sometimes just to make sure our fruit and vegetables look cosmetically perfect on supermarket shelves.

Supermarkets also cause local independent shops to close, but out of town shopping areas with poor public transport are difficult for people without cars to reach. Nevertheless, to support the 'loss-leaders' farmers often have to accept the loss-making prices supermarkets offer, otherwise they face losing their market.

Shop Local First:

Photo of newsagents closing down in Rugby in July 2009 taken by FG

We should all help to keep local shops viable by using them and encouraging other consumers to shift at least some of their shopping from big supermarkets to local shops; re-building a relationship with them in which we can also encourage local shops to source more local, organic and ethical products and provide a fair income to the farmers that provide these, rather than having prices driven higher by rising fuel and transport costs.

We should also be concerned about the building of more and more warehouses as our natural world is disappearing at an alarming rate; and emissions from their fridges and freezers make up more than a quarter of the supermarkets' total carbon footprint.

Factory-farming rips up rainforests for animal feeds:

The meat and dairy industry causes more climate-changing emissions than every plane, train and car on the planet and intensive livestock production has a devastating impact on rainforests. In South America huge soy plantations for animal feeds are wiping out wildlife and making climate change worse.

Pesticides cause health problems:

The widespread usage of pesticides is causing health problems. About half of all UK fruit and vegetables contain pesticide residues and some of the residues in food can bio-accumulate in our bodies or harm our hormone systems, but a lack of commitment to cutting pesticides makes it hard for people on low incomes to buy food free from pesticide residues.

What are the solutions?

Whether spending at shops or at Farmers' Markets the emphasis should clearly be on local produce throughout. Another solution in these difficult financial times is to grow your own, and in October 2008 Sustainable Rugby held an event to help with this:

Keep it local Flyer 2008 by SR

Starting to grow your own food

By Carrie of Home on the Hill

So, you've decided that it's time to join the 'grow your own' trend and produce some of your own food next season, but you are thinking "Where should I start?"

Well, it might seem like there's lots to consider but it's not really that complicated; just ask yourself the following three simple questions:

  1. Where will I grow?
  2. What will I grow?
  3. When will I grow it?


Questions to ask before you start:

Where?

Garden or allotment?

Your garden is always best if you have the space as you're more likely to pop outside and do a spot of weeding in a spare half hour. There's an old Chinese proverb that the best fertiliser is the gardener's shadow and, depending what you choose to grow, you might need less space than you think. If the garden is too small but an allotment looks too big, ask about renting half an allotment or find out about community allotments near you.

Anyone with children under 5 should ask at their local Children's Centre and anyone in New Bilton can ask at the New Bilton Community Association.

How much space do you need?

Photo of vegetable plot taken by CP Having found your plot, it's time to assess it. How much space do you need? This can be finalised when you think about what to grow. Most vegetables need an open and sunny spot. They also like water-retentive but well-drained soil, so avoid the boggy part of the garden and the 'dry as dust' patch by the hedge. All soils can be improved by the addition of organic matter (home-made compost or well-rotted manure) so don't worry too much about soil quality as this can be fixed over time.


Next the plot must be cleared of any perennial weeds

Perennial weeds are the kind that come back over and over again even if you mow them. Things like brambles and couch grass. If you have time, cover the land with a mulch such as black plastic, or a really thick layer of newspaper or cardboard (about 3cm thick) topped off with straw. Leave this for about a year before digging the soil over and removing all traces of plants and roots; you can go straight for the digging part but the mulching first makes things a lot easier. If you've taken on a whole overgrown allotment, mulch most of it and dig over a small portion to get started with.

Many allotment sites have now banned carpet as a mulch and current organic advice is not to use it because no tests have been done on the leaching of the glues and dyes used into the soil. Black plastic doesn't leach and newsprint is perfectly safe.

What?

It's obvious really.

  • There's no point in growing mountains of courgettes, easy though they are, if no-one in your family will eat them. Think about what vegetables your family really enjoys.
  • If space is short, think about which of these are most expensive in the shops. Potatoes take up lots of space and are pretty cheap to buy. Mangetout also uses lots of space but is quite expensive so a better choice for the beginner.
  • Start with the easy stuff: salads, runner beans, potatoes, courgettes, squashes, spinach and leaf beet, beetroot, onions from sets (not from seed), some herbs, peas, rhubarb.
  • All gardeners get a glut of food in the summer months, but try to avoid overdoing some things. Most families will get quite enough courgettes from 3 or 4 plants. For staples like potatoes, onions and carrots you need to plant lots to be self-sufficient in these; or just go for the best tasting early varietes of potatoes and carrots, plus some pickling onions. Allotment growers can go for lots of different things but for those with less space think salads, new potatoes (early varieties) in pots, fresh herbs on the windowsill, runner beans and baby carrots.

When?

This is a really important point
Growing veg takes time so assess how much you have to spare.

  • Don't take on a whole allotment if you already have a busy, hectic lifestyle; it'll just add to your stress.
  • Busy people should also try to grow as close to home as possible, so think about pots in the back yard or herbs in a window box. Every little helps; as one large supermarket is so fond of telling us!
  • Also, your growing endeavours will be more successful if you can spare an hour every day, rather than bigger chunks of time less regularly. Try to get to your plot at least every other day, even if just for 20 minutes. You'll keep on top of little jobs and be able to nip problems in the bud.

Getting started

Photo of vegetables growing taken by CP

So, you've found your plot, decided a few things you'd like to grow and have enough time to do it.
What now? Well it's really a matter of buying seeds and getting going:

Finally, remember to harvest regularly and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Further help and support

Both Garden Organic and the RHS have advice services for members. The RHS also have a useful forum on their website, accessible by non-members.

Other gardeners are usually willing to offer an opinion on all aspects of growing; ask your allotment neighbours or make use of internet forums such as downsizer.net, selfsufficientish.com or River Cottage.


Getting started with keeping chickens

By Carrie of Home on the Hill

Far too many of the laying hens in the UK are still kept in battery conditions, typically spending their life in an area smaller than a sheet of A4 paper. You can make a difference by avoiding battery eggs when you go shopping, and opting for eggs labelled free range or organic. If you want to go a step further, you can keep your own chickens. Keeping chickens has become very popular; part of the grow your own trend, but it can be hard to know where to start. Well, our beginners guide is here to help.

It might all seem a bit too much information for the beginner to take in, but it's not really; just ask yourself three simple questions:

  1. What do I keep?
  2. Where do I keep them?
  3. How do I keep them?


Read on...

Questions to ask before you start:

What?

Why chickens?
Why do you want to keep chickens? Let's assume you want chickens for eggs and that you don't know much more than that. Let's further assume that you have at least a small garden and probably not eons of spare time.

What to buy?
Rather than talking about the different types, let's keep it simple: With chickens, keeping it simple means 'get hybrids'. Hybrids are chooks (chickens) bred for free-range egg production. They will lay reliably for 2-3 years without going 'broody', have very few health issues and are easy to keep. Three or four hens will provide enough eggs for the average family, plus some to give away. Examples of these birds include warrens and black rocks although some breeders make up their own names for their particular strain. Some magazines and web pages will be a little sniffy about these birds, as they might be considered a little boring, but they are ideal for the beginner.

A cockerel is not necessary for the hens to lay eggs, and keeping one may be against local by-laws. They can also be aggressive so are best avoided by the beginner. Stick to hens; this is a term for female birds. They might also be called 'pullets' which means 'young hens'.

Where from?
I must implore you not to join the fashion for rescuing battery hens. I'm as against the battery system as anyone, but when the producer has finished with the birds, he has to pay to dispose of them. Except if someone offers to 'rescue' them - usually these organisations pay the producer to rescue the birds. This only adds to the profitability of the operation and helps the battery chicken farmer stay in business. Rescuing them may be good for the individual hen, but it condemns thousands more to the suffering of this inhumane system.

Hybrids are often supplied with housing from large companies like Eglu and Forsham Arks. These companies may supply birds only, so contact them and ask. Large suppliers like The Domestic Fowl Trust supply hybrids and rare breed birds. Many breeders of rare breeds will also supply hybrids. Contact ones near you and ask. Breeders advertise in magazines like Practical Poultry, Smallholder and Country Smallholding - usually available from large newsagents like WH Smiths. There are also some breeder listings on the magazines' websites. It's also worth checking the small ads in feed merchants; see the section below on feeding your hens.

When to replace?
When hens stop laying: Hybrid hens will lay well for about 2-3 years but can live significantly longer. They will continue to cost money in feed but give you very little in return. Many books and articles will advise you to cull them at 3 years old and replace with younger stock. I know this idea is unpalatable to many people, but you should be aware of this before you buy in cute little hens and give them all names.

Where?

Where to house my hens?
(Some basics on their housing requirements).

  • Build or buy a hen house and run:
    • You can build a special run and put a small hen house or shed in it. Or you can buy a house and run combined. These house/run combinations are often on wheels and designed to be moved to fresh grass every week or so.
    • Depending on the size of the house and run and how often you move it, you may need to mow the grass in the run. At the other extreme, the hens may eat all the grass and turn the run into a mud bath and you will need to regularly add straw or bark chippings to keep it healthy for them. Either of these extremes is fine so find a way that works for you.
  • Perches: The housing needs enough perches for your birds
    • at least 15cm of perch for each hen: That doesn't sound like much, but they do like to cuddle up to stay warm.
  • Nest boxes: It will also need nest boxes, ideally ones you can access from outside to collect the eggs. The nest boxes should be lined with straw or shredded paper (but not hay as it can harbour moulds which can make hens ill) and be dark; you may have to fashion some curtains.
  • Suitable housing can be bought: search online for suppliers, including Ebay. It is also fairly easy to make a chicken house. Look online for plans.

How?

What to feed them?
Laying birds are usually fed on 'layers pellets', available online or from feed merchants such as Smiths Poultry & Bird Supplies on West Leyes in Rugby. Organic versions of these feeds are available. This can be supplemented with mixed corn from the same supplier and also garden weeds and spare vegetables. However, once you take garden produce indoors it becomes 'food waste' and it is illegal to feed it to your birds - but you can pick it in the garden and give it directly to your birds. Some keepers will grow crops especially for their birds.

When to clean the hen house?
How much work can you expect?
The hen house will need cleaning about once a week. This involves removing droppings (they are an excellent addition to the compost heap), and freshening up the bedding. It is not necessary to replace all the bedding every time - only that which is soiled.

If you keep a few birds in a large house, you might find that you can get away with a fortnightly clean.
Conversely if you have quite a few birds in a small space you may need to clean up every other day.

When you clean the houses give the water container and feeder a good scrub too.

What to watch out for?
Chicken health: When a chook (chicken) gets ill, it can be very difficult to treat. Domestic vets tend not to know too much about hens, and commercial 'farm' vets will usually recommend culling as they take an economic view of the situation. The best thing you can do as a poultry keeper is to try and keep your hens healthy:

  • Make sure the house is well-ventilated but not draughty.
  • Never use hay as bedding because it can harbour moulds.
  • Check your stock daily and make sure they have adequate food and water.
  • Worm your birds regularly; you can get herbal treatments as well as chemical ones.
  • Get to know your birds; watch them regularly. You are in a good position to notice any change in appearance or behaviour.



Photo of warren chicken taken by CP

So how much work is it to keep chickens?
Well, as I hope I've made clear, it depends on just how you do things but here's an attempt to answer that:


Find out more

Find out more about what you can do to end factory farming at Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

Follow my adventure in chicken keeping: To see how I get on in raising birds for meat as well as eggs, and follow my adventures in chicken keeping, visit my blog.

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