Postcard from Sheffield
I am 'staycationing' in Sheffield this summer, getting in the first harvest from the Sheffield Organic Growers site on Hazelhurst Lane on the edge of the city. This is the first year in several generations that Sheffield has produced a significant quantity of its own market garden produce. We are now supplying several local box schemes, cafes and shops, including the fabulous 'Sharrow Marrow', which has set up a special section for our 'super local' produce.
Despite this summer's extraordinary rainfall, we have produced unexpected quantities of crops, especially from the courgettes, which are yielding about 80kg every couple of days, so that just keeping up with picking them is a challenge. The bright yellow 'Soleil' courgettes have proved especially popular - I have told my children they are 'Sheffield bananas', which have gone down much better than the dreaded green courgettes at dinner-time.
The most encouraging lesson we have had from this summer is how keen local shops are to buy from us. There are almost no other local fruit and vegetables growers, so by stocking our produce retailers are able to replace long-distance produce from Lincolnshire and Norfolk. The plan for next year is to be able to supply some of our favourite shops and cafes with a large proportion of their stock for as much of the year as possible.
The still-unresolved question is whether the business model can break even, given the huge number of labour hours needed even just for harvesting produce, let alone all the months of cultivating, manuring, planting and weeding that we have put in already. Obviously commercial growers make a profit by using a combination of capital-intensive mechanization and very low wages, mostly using migrant workers (I'd recommend the novel 'Two Caravans' by Marina Lewycka for an insight into the world of migrant agricultural labourers). It is hard to see how less mechanized, smaller-scale food production can become financially self-supporting while paying living wages, at least until the price of food increases substantially.