I am not surprised Defra has ditched its plans to co-produce a strategy to support and grow the UK horticulture sector.
For some crazy reason, Britain doesn’t believe in its ability to cultivate great fruit and vegetables. Defra must urgently rethink this serious mistake and make it a priority to raise our country’s self-sufficiency in this sphere.
Where is the UK equivalent of the effective co-ops of market gardeners and independent growers, such as the French Prince de Bretagne, which promote the brand and chase public and private resources for experimentation?
Why should Breton cauliflowers, carrots and radishes have higher visibility with British consumers than our homegrown equivalent?
With the exception of Yorkshire rhubarb, which stimulates a flutter of interest in February for seasonality-driven shoppers and retailers, there is next to no excitement about home production. Compare that with the fuss the French make over the arrival of Gariguette strawberries. The UK grows strawberries as good or better, yet we rarely know them by their varietal name, let alone celebrate them.
Europe is studded with horticultural events, for instance the Venetian Sant’Erasmo purple artichoke festival and multiple German asparagus ‘Spargelfests’. These might sound arcane, but they drive sales. The Austrian Wachau region holds an annual festival for its famous apricots, and Austrian consumers look forward to buying them.
Back in Blighty, I’m sad to see Westmorland Damson Day was cancelled this April. Let’s hope Apple Days perk up this year from their disabling post-lockdown chills.
I don’t blame the growers. They are heroes for keeping going in the face of government neglect.
How Britain’s aspirations in the horticultural sector have shrunk! Way back in 1699, when the English gardening writer John Evelyn wrote Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets, he listed 73 home-grown leaves, herbs, and roots that could be eaten in salads.
Nowadays our salad growers struggle to remain viable, let alone explore their potential biodiversity, because neither government nor supermarkets are bothered if the population relies on deeply average imported produce that we could grow at least as well in these isles.
There are some problems you can throw money at and get results. Investing public funds to plant the seeds of our future horticultural food security is one of them.