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hands with just picked radishHow did it happen? That food grown simply and naturally, without the addition of synthetic chemicals, has become a premium commodity that so few of us can afford to buy? That it costs money for a farmer to earn the right to label his produce organic. In the name of  “progress” we allowed substances- toxic to the environment, our health and the fertility of our planet- to permeate our food sources. These pesticide and herbicide laden ingredients are processed, packaged in plastic, and placed on shelves to be bought at a low price to feed our families. How has this become the norm? Organic food should be the norm. Would it not be fairer to penalise those who are placing poisons in our food chain rather than those that farm naturally? But it’s not even a case of organic verses non. We shouldn’t be having that conversation. It’s a case of placing economic and social value on food that is ethically farmed in an organic manner by people that we know and trust.

How easily we were seduced by the convenience of large scale, internationally controlled supermarkets. Operating a system of high volume turnover and market price fixing enables them to offer flexible opening hours, low prices and a huge range of fashionably exotic foodstuffs. This universally accepted model sees Ireland import 70% of our food. Yes, that’s SEVENTY PER CENT…., while Irish food products to the value of €4…wait for it…BILLION leave the country annually. Does any of that make sense? Something tells me we need a collective slap about the face with a wet fish…

Long term, there are not many who benefit from this arrangement. We’ve got to peel back the layers and ask ourselves – who controls the market prices? How are the large pharmaceutical companies infiltrating so many aspects of our lives? The answers to these questions will invariably lead back to a small group of very wealthy people whose sole focus in life is to remain that way. Our passive shopping habits make them richer while our communities are silently robbed of their independence and natural resources. Society has been deliberately constructed to distract us from the absurdities happening beneath our noses, as zillions of us worldwide labour on the hamster wheel of modern day living. And we, my friends, are the lucky ones. There are many around the globe that are less fortunate, already stripped of their natural capital and human rights.

I don’t have the solutions but I do know that we need to start caring about how, where and by whom our food is produced. Supporting our local small growers and producers that farm in an organic manner is one of the most profound things we can do for our families, communities and the future of the planet. We are infinitely more powerful than we believe. Collectively, we can change. And you can start by signing the Irish Food Sovereignty proclamation here, and help “build a vision for a better food and agricultural system for Ireland and our world.” It’s a good place to begin.

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Rita-Wild-Illust_2017-05_WEBRita Wild stresses that she is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a capitalist. Shaped by several decades working in the community sector, Rita has long been an advocate for social change. Recognising economic viability, however, as a major key to sustainability has led Rita down a more entrepreneurial path. When Rita, a former vegetarian, began eating meat again she found it difficult to source affordable, organic produce in Northern Ireland. That’s when the idea for the organic box scheme, BOXA, began to form. It wasn’t an immediate transition and a lot of soul searching went into the best format to adopt for the business. One thing Rita was certain of – she would run it as a “benevolent dictatorship”. Many years of serving her fellow citizens through committee consensus convinced Rita that her new venture would best perform with an individual at the helm.

Rita has been delivering organic and ethically-reared beef, wild venison, lamb, chicken, pork and fish directly from producer to plate now for five years. By bulk buying and eliminating the middleman it means the farmer or fisherman earns a fair price while the consumer pays competitive rates for food that is local, traceable, and of the highest standard. Flying in the face of conventional business, BOXA has minimal overheads. No fancy website (a facebook page does very nicely thank-you), no admin or marketing costs, no branding or packaging, just a simple monthly email to the 400-plus customers, outlining what’s on offer. This ensures that the organic produce is reasonable priced and more accessible than its supermarket counterparts.

The enterprise started cautiously. With a side of organic beef in hand Rita picked up the phone and found 10 people willing to share it. It is with the same personal engagement that Rita runs her business today, earning her a great deal of trust from both producers and buyers. The meat is flash frozen in large family packs, insulated with sheep’s wool and delivered to a single collection point for pick-up. “potential BOXA customers must be prepared to change their eating and buying habits. It is not like going to the butcher to buy a single lamb chop. You have to take it as it comes. We’re talking, for instance, half a lamb. There is no convenient solution.”

Her buyers travel on a given day each month to collect their BOXA goodies from Ballylagon Organic Farm, located 20 minutes outside Belfast. Up to now payment was only made on collection and Rita has rarely been let down by a non-showing customer- testimony to the success of her hands-on customer relations. The option to pre-pay online has since become available. The price of a box of meat has been sensibly calculated by totting up the precise cost of rearing, caring for and slaughtering the animal and then adding a fair mark-up for the farmer to cover their labour, time and investment. Rita then charges 10% commission to the producer and 10% handling fee to the buyer. No hidden costs.

It’s all about making organic food mainstream. It’s also about keeping food local, accessible and simple. Farmed as it was in our grandparents’ day without the intervention of chemicals. We need more inspirational food rebels like Rita Wild to fight the system, question bureaucracy and remind us what real food tastes like.

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It’s hard to eat salad this time of year when a hot bowl of hearty soup is infinitely more appealing. To get the beneficial antioxidants from fresh greens I like to harvest bean sprouts in the comfort of my own kitchen. Years ago I first tried to sprout seeds by way of a large jar with muslin tied over the opening. I never had much luck with this method – it usually resulted in dingy looking sprouts with a faint musty whiff. This may have had something to do with me forgetting to rinse out the jar on a very regular basis. Anyhow, after several failed attempts I abandoned the process altogether.

bean sproutsThat is until a month ago when I took another stab at growing sprouts. I was at a friends house where she introduced me to her favorite new kitchen gadget- a home sprouter. A lidded perspex unit with several tiers to it. It’s easy-peasy she said. Just pour water into the top layer twice a day. It’ll drain down through the tiers into the base tray. You can feed your plants this residual water as it’s full of nutrients. After 2 or 3 days you will have a lively crop of wholesome sprouted beans or seeds. Bigger sprouts like those from Mung beans take about 4 – 5 days to grow to size. I was eventually seduced by the vast array of vitamins and minerals packed into those little mini plants and off I trundled to my local health food store to bag myself a home sprouter.

It sits on my kitchen top, pride of place. We now get to enjoy fresh alfalfa sprouts on our sandwiches or in our soup. A convenient and natural way to get our daily multi vitamin boost. And full of tasty cruchiness to boot!

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