Images of spring bring forth the idea of sunny days and fields of flora and fauna bursting to life.
The reality, when it comes to crops, is the opposite. Most of us would associate this time of year with new growth and plentiful fruits and vegetables. But in fact the UK has surprisingly few crops available for harvest between January and May.
So how can you allow for this, especially if you want to eat locally and seasonally? Can it be sustainable? Here we share our findings to help us all prepare for the UK hunger gap.
The hunger gap refers to the time of year in Britain when the range of produce on offer is very limited. The colder conditions are not optimal for growth. Plus, any stored produce is decreasing in quality and quantity. There are of course ways to overcome this with greenhouses and heating lamps. But on a large scale, these aren’t planet friendly or sustainable.
We Can Still Buy Imported Produce, Right?
If you don’t grow your own vegetables or aim to eat locally grown produce, then it’s easy to miss this problem altogether. Our supermarkets are full of produce that wouldn’t be available if we relied on British growers alone.
But buying these items comes at a price. Imported food incurs thousands of air miles which impacts on our environment. The gases used to preserve fresh food in transit can have an impact on vital nutrients.
Fruits of Your Labour: How to Make a Difference
Before supermarkets made produce available all year round, the hunger gap would have been a difficult time. British diets would have consisted mainly of potatoes and cabbage, plus a few preserved fruits and vegetables prepared during fruitful seasons.
Since then, the availability of exotic fruits and year-round summer crops has become the norm. But now, more of us are taking a mindful approach to food shopping and aiming to reduce our impact on our environment.
We can make sure we are eating in season by shopping at local farm shops, greengrocers or farmer’s markets. We can also check the labels of fresh food in local supermarkets to ensure we’re not eating imported foods.
For example, salad leaves are one of the many items that are difficult to come by during the winter months. Unless of course they’ve come from some far off place. But we can choose to fill up on winter greens instead.
Vertical farming provides a carbon neutral, sustainable solution to this problem too. At GrowUp, an urban farm in London, they grow salads all year round in a shipping container using hydroponics and LED lighting. They also farm fish and use the nutrient rich water to make fertiliser to feed the plants. This circular ecosystem is one innovative solution to bridging the hunger gap.
Think Ahead: How to Prepare for The Hunger Gap at Home
Sticking to food that is in season can be limiting during The Hunger Gap. But there are ways you can bridge the gap by being prepared and thinking ahead. Arming yourself with information about what is in season is invaluable.
If you have somewhere to grow your own then Grow Veg have some great tips. Grow some perennials that can be planted once and then need very little care and attention.
Examples of great veg you can harvest during this time include kale, turnips and radishes. You can also make salads with ‘baby leaves’ from salad plants still in their infancy.
Freezing fruits and vegetables during the productive summer season is a great way to plan ahead. It will keep you stocked up for lean times and freezing locks in vital nutrients. Freezing root vegetables will see you well prepared for comforting winter soups or stews when supplies become thin on the ground. Make the most of leftover fruit and veg that aren’t at their best by fermenting, making preserves, chutneys and sauces.
Now is the time to be inventive. Having fewer ingredients can encourage more creativity in the kitchen. It can teach us to appreciate the fresher, local food and produce available to us. Buying locally at this time of low productivity, we’re supporting British farming. Plus we’re significantly lowering our carbon footprint. And that’s warming in itself!