Thirty-seven thirsty volunteers joined the Waitrose team and HEOG for a very special evening at the Kenilworth supermarket. The evening started to feel special as we signed in and were ‘badged up’ before being taken behind the scenes to our meeting place in the staff restaurant. The evening was a ‘first’ for both Waitrose and HEOG, and we thank Katie for her advance contact and preparation. We were broken into two groups for the opening activities. The store tour shared the logistic complexity of keeping the shelves stocked, fresh food stored and bread baked in a safe and hygienic way. Seeing the departments we understood the level of influence the local store has in selecting produce for and from the local market. Upstairs the group were shown the Waitrose partners very own training videos covering animal husbandry, for both their normal and organic ranges - an open and honest gesture. It was clear to all that employees at the store have pride in the food they serve.
The collective memory becomes more foggy from this point forward, as host Teresa opened the first of twenty three bottles we consumed. Teresa had done a great deal of research into the ten organic wines she presented to us; including one champagne, three whites, a rose and five reds. The value of the wines ranged from £3.74 to £22.49 per bottle, and the audience estimates varied even more widely! Teresa’s colleague Sue meanwhile ensured that we had plain organic crackers to clear our palate and an ever improving range of cheeses to taste with the wines. Everyone had a different set of favourites (the author would happily take Bonterra Zinfandel and Cropwell Blue Stilton to his desert island!).
Thank you Waitrose team, especially Teresa and Sue, for an informative and riotously enjoyable evening!
Around 15 people turned out for this talk at our new venue, the Kenilworth Senior Citizens’ Club. The evening started with a celebration in honour of John Sargent’s 90th birthday (left) with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday and a piece of Gillian’s wonderful Wellington Boot cake each before the talk by Barbara Staples.
Permaculture is an approach to living and to agriculture which seeks to create the diversity and resilience of natural ecosystems. “Perma”; permanent or sustainable systems with an approach which encompasses recycling, green energy, multiple land use (eg. an orchard, with chickens eating the fruit, pigs turning the ground). “Culture”; agriculture or the way human beings live in different groupings. It has a design system with a strong emphasis on ethics, which was developed in the mid 1970s by two Austrialian ecologists, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. By the late 1970s Bill and David had produced their first book, Permaculture One, which has since been followed by Permaculture Two. Barbara also recommended Graham Bell’s book, My Forest Garden.
Barbara has been practising Permaculture for 16 years having followed her initial interest in with a 2 week course at Redfields www.redfieldcommunity.org.uk. Barbara showed photographs of the work which has been done on her Birmingham garden. She has been in the Birmingham area for 10 years and has recently bought a house next-door to her partner Harry. They are busy combining their gardens into a bigger growing area - the gardens of 2 "semis" combined. Raised beds were constructed with thick copper strip around the vertical surface of the raised beds to deter slugs (as another control measure they go out at night with a torch and collect slugs and snails). As vegans they are great believers in the use of green manures. Mirrors have been placed in sunnier parts of the garden to reflect light into the shadier bits, although this does involve moving the mirrors around during the year to take account of the changing sun position through the seasons. Thank you Barbara and Harry for an interesting talk!
We have more detailed notes of Barbara and Harry’s talk available on request.
The project has a 3½ acre field in Knowle where plants are grown organically in a sheltered, pollution-free environment. We were shown around by Julie Bennett who has run the garden for 14 years, providing open access to people to help them take control of their mental health. Over the years the garden has been entirely developed by the project’s members. Julie, with an environmental science background, wanted to use the space to provide wildlife habitat, horticulture and sports. They take manure from nearby livery stables and allow it to rot over two years. They sell plants in a sale over a few weekends in May.
The football pitch is a great example of how Julie has managed the different uses of the site. She lifted top soil to make a level pitch and then planted extensive wildflowers in the exposed subsoil. As a sign of the respect that the site is held in, Julie showed us where local vandals held weekend parties. They cut away turf, had a bonfire, replaced the turf and left their rubbish bagged-up! Julie’s main fight is against rabbits that have ravaged many parts of the garden. We finished in the polytunnels and overall the afternoon visit was very inspiring. Thank you Julie!
If you would like to make a donation to the project please send a cheque payable to "Solihull Mind" to: Nick Woodman, Solihull Mind, 14/16 Faulkner Road, Solihull B92 8SY. If you pay tax please include the Gift Aid form attached
Those of us with a few years experience of HEOG had come to expect reliable sunshine on all our visits. A sure sign of climate change is that in 2009 we have learned to expect cold and damp days! We have had a long relationship with Elmhurst Farm at Withybrook, so we were pleased to be able to visit again just before the “For Sale” sign announces a well deserved retirement for Rod and Ann Pattison.
Despite the rain we had a strong group of fifteen turn out for our wildflower walk and picnic. Rod was at the farm to meet us and shared his recent experiences of the TV show Countryfile being made on the farm. We expected him to be too busy to join us on the walk, but was kind enough to give Katie a detailed map of the farm to lead us around.
Elmhurst Farm is a successful organic livestock farm with a difference, Ann and Rod Pattison have created a farm with carefully created wildflower meadows, woodland belts, ponds and hedges. We chose the timing of our visit carefully to ensure that the impressive meadows would be in full flower. As we walked around the top fields we were impressed to find the meadows dominated by yellow rattle and buttercup with the blue of self-heal just beginning to show through against the red sorrel. In the damp we could not stay for a picnic here so we walked on into the well established woods around the field edges.
Of course once in the woods our way was less clear, and our navigator Katie was presented with a different opinion by Dad Steve so dispatched husband John to scout out a path. Luckily the electric fences were off as we climbed the gate and followed the fields back to the farm shop. Finally Rod kindly lent us some shelter so we had our picnic perched on the bales under the barn roof.
Thanks to Katie and John for organizing and leading us on a wonderful afternoon and best wishes to Ann and Rod for their support over the years and for their next adventures!
In Warwickshire and the West Midlands we are very lucky to have the resource of Garden Organic’s Ryton Gardens so close at hand. The Gardens provide demonstrations of many organic planting, pest-control and nutrition techniques for both the novice and the experienced organic gardener. The site also hosts Garden Organic’s headquarters, their seed library and research facilities, the Vegetable Kingdom visitor centre together with a shop and café.
Our popular visit on a damp and chilly Sunday afternoon was a very special tour with a very special guide: our own John Sargent. John is President of HEOG, a founder member and continued inspiration who was a contemporary of Lawrence and Cherry Hills as they first founded Ryton Gardens for the then HDRA (predecessor of Garden Organic) in the early 1980s. John still provides guided tours on a regular basis but gave us a unique tour with the opportunity to see the research fields, bee hives and poly-tunnels as well as popular gardens such as the allotment, biodynamic garden and fruit orchard.
John (left) never ceases to amaze with his knowledge of plants and their pests and friends. It was so timely to spend time in beautiful gardens with an expert guide and the collective knowledge of the group at the height of the planting season. After our tour John had kindly arranged for us to have the marquee to ourselves to shelter from the weather with a cup of warm tea and a picnic.
Thank you John for this tour and your continued service to the Group! The tour proved as special as it had been billed; pushing past so many “Staff Only” signs this tour was “Ryton: Access All Areas”!
On the group’s 25th Anniversary meeting, Julia and Tony kindly let us host our evening of organic cookery in the fabulous kitchen of the The Elms in Balsall Common, and 22 members duly crowded in. See the recipes (pdf) .
Our celebrity chefs for the evening were David (right, one time hotelier of Mid Wales) and Ross (left, sometime picnicker in Kenilworth allotments), and their chosen topic was la cocina d’España. David started off by roasting vegetables to make a sauce for grilled lamb, whilst Ross started with a very slow cooking Tortilla. It became clear that a good quality pan is important in the pair’s Spanish cookery as they relentlessly fought against their Tortilla and Paella sticking. Ross even resorted to talking to his dish, repeating “trust your pan” zen-like as he stirred.
The true flavours of Spanish cooking include ample use of garlic, paprika, olive oil, sherry and wine vinegar. Ross combined most of these variously in a cold tomato gazpacho soup, olives and vegetable dishes of mushrooms and then chickpeas with spinach. Later he would learn that he delighted the audience on the two back rows by mixing up the chilli and paprika for one batch of soup! David (with the audience now stirring his paella) went on to grill lamb and serve squid on a salad base.
The finale, with minutes to spare, was a shocked Ross flipping his tortilla whilst David quickly grilled bread under pricked tomatoes for a sticky and delicious pan con tomate.
After dinner Steve added a stirring speech celebrating 25 years of HEOG. This was duly commemorated by cutting Gillian’s fantastic birthday cake (iced with vegetables atop a map of Spain) and John blowing out the candles. Two chefs, seventy five minutes and dinner for twenty two!
Thanks Tony and Julia for warm hospitality, Gillian for a birthday cake to remember and David and Ross for proving that preparing organic food gives a guarantee of real energy in the kitchen! Recipes .
Beekeeping with Peter Spencer,
Peter gave us an insight into the techniques for keeping bees, together with the history and variety of different methods. With 42 hives of his own in Warwickshire it was interesting to hear about the annual beekeepers trips to the Scottish heather moorlands for beehive summer holidays, and great to see and sniff the resulting honey!. He also shared photographs from his trip to see the Himalayan giant bees of Nepal which build huge combs hanging off mountain cliffs.
During the talk Peter explained interesting topics including the dramatic reduction in the bee population due to Varroa parasites, and also the complex relationship between beekeepers and local landowners who spray their crops. Thanks Peter for sharing your passion with us!
The grand plan for an environmental film showing collapsed after Al Gore’s discount expired and we lost our trade contact with a large screen. Undeterred, fourteen people turned out at St Barnabas to discuss the group’s plans. Gillian proved a star by bringing along tea and coffee and everyone helped out with the three guests who found their cars stuck in the mud in the car park!
The introductions to new members included memories of John’s conversations with movement founder Lawrence Hills, and David’s surprising depiction of how his new eco-house is heated by three towel rails!
When we got onto business we discussed the group preparing a directory of local organic suppliers; including food, meals out, gardening supplies or indeed anything. The format will be to have it on the website, possibly with an option to download it in pdf format. The qualification for entry is recommendation by group members. The directory will be created and updated by the group, and those present agreed to have a first go at those suppliers they had volunteered. After the last car was pushed clear of the car park, the final few tested the Wyandotte. Thanks to everyone for contributing to a successful meeting!
Sixteen people turned out for the AGM at Ross and Karen’s home on a cold and very wet winter’s evening, including two new members who were welcomed into the group. As with all gatherings, it was noticeable how people tended to congregate in the kitchen where the drinks were served! The AGM started at 8:00pm and cleared the business quickly to move on to a good discussion about the group’s activities and objectives. People would have been really hungry had Rosie not cleverly drawn the formal conversation to a close at 9:30 pm so that everyone could tuck into the supper which had been assembled.
As at all HEOG events, the organic dishes were wonderful, including breads, vegetable dishes, samosas, bakes, spreads, salads, cakes, ice cream and trifle! Gillian’s home made fruit liqueurs were being tasted well into the night.
Thanks to Ross and Karen for their hospitality. After this evening HEOG start 2009 with their business in order, some interesting seeds shared and in the knowledge that they can still turn out a great organic social evening!
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