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Seeds of Hope

Covid, Brexit, weather changes… what’s it like to be in the vegetable growing business right now? asks Martin Hesp on behalf of Food Drink Devon

As HGV queues continue to clutter roads around the channel ports of Northern France and South East England, many people have found themselves questioning the future of food supply in this country – and whenever there is a query over how this nation feeds itself, there is always a knee-jerk reaction which says: we should grow more of our own!

When it comes to meat and seafood, the UK is capable of at least some degree of self-sufficiency, but providing the wherewithal to feed 66 million people with fresh vegetables poses a bigger question. That is especially the case in winter and even more so in these times, when there is a massive trend toward a more plant-based diet.

So what is it like to be in the business of growing vegetables in a county like Devon? We asked experts from two well-known companies for their views on the latest trends and what they regard as major challenges.

Anna Elliot works at the award-winning Eversfield Organic, a company which offers high-quality meat and vegetable boxes. “Our farm is on the edge of Dartmoor and can be a challenge with its changeable weather – but our polytunnel is a year-round haven for seasonal vegetables to flourish,” says Anna. She believes regenerative and organically farmed products will be big players in the nation’s future food scene.

She also says lockdowns have made a big difference to how we’re all thinking about food: “People re-discovered, or discovered for the first time, a love of cooking. We think this is a trend that is going to soar in 2021 with people enjoying simple ingredients and wholesome cooking to recreate restaurant-quality meals at home,” Anna declares.

“At Eversfield, we’re launching our campaign to Eat Well, Live Well because we believe a great ethos for this year is to look after yourself and each other. Whether that is through mindfulness, experiencing the great outdoors, or eating nutritious and sustainable organic food. We also think world cooking will be another trend, with people becoming more experimental with unusual ingredients.

Anna believes issues around Brexit will probably dominate the food scene for the near future, but also that there will be a greater public awareness when it comes to subjects such as soil health and the benefits of an organic diet.

On the other side of Dartmoor, Heather Waters is a director at the South Devon Chilli Farm, another business which survives winter thanks to its polytunnels. “We’ve been known to get snowed in but, as long the electrics don’t fail, the plants seem happy with their electric blanket on the inside and the snow blanket on the outside,” says Heather.

“Spring is probably the best time to be farming chillies, with lots of cheery new growth, chilli seedlings getting stronger by the day and ready to be transplanted into the large main crop tunnels. We just hope for lots of sunshine to speed up the growth. Summer is lovely too, with fresh chillies to be picked – and autumn sees us harvesting all the varieties with their vibrant colours.

“We have some exciting new chilli seeds in 2021 for customers to buy and grow at home, including: Bangalore Whippets Tail, Kung Pao, Erotica and Cumari. Fun names and interesting shapes, sizes and colours – not your average supermarket chilli!

“We saw a big increase in seed sales last year as lots of people took to growing their own fruit and veg during lockdown. There was also a big increase in people baking at home and lots of interest in using chillies in recipes – including chilli chocolate in cakes and muffins, and using chilli sauces and ketchups to spice up everyday meals,” adds Heather. 

“With possible initial import and export difficulties after Brexit, we think there may be a bigger demand for Devon-grown fresh chillies this year.”

So, there is a lot of positive thinking out there among the county’s growers at present – but like everyone whose livelihood relies on good plant growth, they will be hoping for plenty of sunshine to help ripen crops.

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