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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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From the Garden: Food could be the biggest asset of all if climate change worsens

Growing your own food could be even more important in the future, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

I ATTENDED A sustainability conference in recent days for Climate Finance Week that brought former UK government chief scientific adviser David King to Dublin.

The weather during the event was biblical, which was appropriate given that what we heard at the conference inside Dublin Castle was utterly, utterly terrifying.

We can become somewhat numb to the endless bad news about climate change, but it could be about to get a whole lot worse as feedback loops create an acceleration of the worst effects.

Melting water sitting in lakes on top of arctic ice are absorbing sunlight, heating up further and causing more rapid melting.

In Siberian Russia, methane gas that was locked in the permafrost for millennia is literally exploding out of the earth, blowing huge craters in the ice.

The arctic vortex which generally sits in the atmosphere above the arctic, keeping it cold is meandering, causing unheard of minus 18 degrees Celsius temperatures in Texas.

The final speaker, US film producer Mick Ebeling is a man who could inspire you to believe that there’s no problem that can’t be solved by human ingenuity and a commitment to change.

I’m naturally optimistic about the ability of citizens, chefs and companies to effect change, but it couldn’t stop my sense of foreboding that the next decade could be a horror show.

The lack of tangible action in the face of the scientific consensus that this is our last chance is made all the more frustrating by the fact that we know what to do to improve it, but we simply lack the political will globally. 

As if to reinforce that point, earlier this week US President Trump confirmed the US has started to exit the Paris Agreement and, not to be out-Trumped, our own Taoiseach said that climate change may have some upsides and a ledger of pros and cons to be considered.

Improved winter temperatures in Ireland will not be of much benefit to us as a species if we no longer exist, Leo. 

Of the many terrifying things David King had to say, the most terrifying of all was that China is allegedly hatching plans to buy up global supplies of rice to protect their citizens in the event of a total rice crop failure in the country due to flooding.

It’s a reminder in case it’s needed that if things get much worse, it could be food that is the most important asset of all.

In that context the continuing challenges faced by our own commercial growers and farmers and our lack of appreciation for the value of food is all the more alarming.

Over 15 years ago we had over 400 veg growers in Ireland. That’s now down to around 150.

These growers and their generational knowledge continues to be lost in the face of aggressive supermarket discounting, competition from imports and consumer apathy about the value of having an indigenous veg industry.

In the garden it’s been a frustratingly wet couple of weeks, and while I slosh around the veg patch in ever muckier wellies, I’m feeling worried for our commercial vegetable growing friends.

Climate change makes their already enormously challenging commercial environment all the more precarious and we have to face the reality that if things don’t change we won’t have Irish veg to buy.

One third of the national potato crop is still in the ground where it must remain until things dry up a little. IFA horticulture executive Pat Farrell said that cabbages and Brussels sprouts are becoming “moisture stressed”, The Irish Times reported. I think I know how they feel. 

The Basics – Sow 

In the face of such alarming news, growing your own food – as always – offers solace and positivity and the chance to make a statement about how sustainable you want your food choices to be.

Though you might not think it, there are still some things you can sow at this time of the year. This is the ideal time for sowing garlic but you can also sow over-wintering onions, peas and broad beans.

Broad beans are best sown directly in the soil. Level out the soil with a rake and then using the end of the rake, mark out two shallow rows (45 cm apart).

Place the broad beans on the surface of the soil in the rows, 15 cm apart. How many beans to sow, really depends on how much you like broad beans and how much space you have available – I find 15-20 plants or so is more than enough for a serious crop.

Using your finger, push the beans 5 cm down into the soil and then rake the bed again to cover the holes. 

Recipe of the Week – Traditional Shepherd’s Pie 

In the olden days, meat pies were done with leftover stew and not with mince. The reheated stew was then topped with pastry or with mashed potato (more traditional in Ireland).

The diced lamb in GROW HQ’s Head Chef JB’s Traditional Shepherd’s Pie gives this a fantastic texture and it’s full of in-season vegetables – garlic, carrots, parsnips and onions. 

Ingredients

  • 500g diced lamb
  • 4 large tomatoes or 1 small tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 large onion
  • chopped rosemary leaves
  • 200 ml good homemade chicken stock (made from the left-over bones of a roast chicken)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 700g nice buttery mashed potato to cover the top 

Directions

Fry off the diced lamb with a little cooking oil in a wide stock pot for five to six minutes until golden brown.

Peel and slice the vegetables. Add the vegetables to the meat and fry off for three to four minutes.

Add the chopped garlic, rosemary and salt.

Add the chopped tomatoes and the chicken stock and simmer on low heat for two to three hours until the meat start to become flaky.

Pour the lamb stew into a pie dish, cover with mashed potato and bake at 150 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes. 

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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