Learning through Lent

A year ago one of our co-founders, Ruth Murray, embarked upon a challenge.  An organisation called Living Lent presented a choice of 6 ways to do Lent differently in order to benefit the planet. 

Ruth chose the ‘Local Living’ challenge – to eat food only produced within 30 miles for the duration of Lent. This was indeed challenging, but has had a longer term impact too…

Sourcing local food makes sense to me, it’s good for local jobs, food is fresher and it reduces carbon emissions from transport and storage.  Over 50% of the food we consume in the UK is imported from abroad. A staggering 95% of fruit consumed in Britain comes from overseas, and whilst only 1% of food is transported by air, it accounts for 11% of carbon emissions from food.

But Lent is a tough time to take up this challenge – the seasonal foods that are available in February, March and April tend to be root veg and brussels sprouts – not in our kids’ top 10.  However, after some happy exploration of the amazing food producers and sellers nearby it became apparent that we were going to be okay!

At Maxeys Farm Shop all the veg and cheese are clearly labelled with the place of origin, with lots of local varieties, and they even sell Tuxford Mill flours, opening up the world of baking for us – we made our own biscuits, cakes, scones and even pasta and pizza.  Both Maxeys and Gonalston Farm shop sell locally sourced meat, and local eggs are available through farm gate sales from Hockerwood farm among other places. The Real Milk Co. in Halam was a wonderful source of milk, butter and cream. There were things we missed though – chocolate, tomatoes and fruit were top of the list.  

Since the challenge, we’ve been more aware of what is available when.  I’ve always enjoyed preserving the surpluses from our garden, but this year we’ve preserved other local foods.  We have a freezer full of soups and apple compote, frozen Starkeys berries and stewed rhubarb. And most importantly we roasted and froze the surplus tomatoes from the greenhouse so now we can have local tomatoes for much of the year.

Another thing I found very interesting was noticing the two things we didn’t have during that period.  Firstly – waste. There were very few packaged goods for us during Lent, meaning that our waste and even our recycling were much reduced.  Most of the kitchen waste was compostable. And because preparing food was more effort, we really didn’t throw away much actual food at all.  Everything not eaten went in the fridge/freezer for another occasion.

And secondly – palm oil!  The issues with rainforest clearance and the loss of habitat associated with palm oil have been well communicated by the likes of Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network and I’ve done my best over the years to exclude it from my shopping basket, but it’s in EVERYTHING, from breakfast cereals to biscuits to soap to confectionery to spreads.  I’d always just assumed that it was basically impossible either to avoid or to ensure that all the palm oil that came into the house was from a sustainable source.

However, during this Lent challenge, there was no palm oil in the house. We weren’t buying any of these packaged goods and avoiding it was easy. As Lent came to an end and the family rebelled, we of course went back to many of the foods we had previously enjoyed, but I tried to take note whenever the palm oil crept back in, and to find alternatives.  Suddenly the task was much simpler as I was only trying to replace one thing at a time. And I even managed to find a green alternative to Nutella – Vego Hazelnut Chocolate Spread – now available at the Coop!

Living Lent are running the same challenges this year, and this year we are going to do the ‘Energy Use’ challenge and try to reduce our energy use by 10% during Lent.  Already we are learning, as we have to measure our energy use now to get a baseline.  

Challenges such as these and Veganuary are very valuable.  It’s not always possible to sustain all the changes beyond the ‘challenge’ period, but the things you learn along the way are incredibly helpful, and keeping some of the changes makes an ongoing shift in our consumption of the earth’s resources, which is exactly what we need.

If you’re interested in the Lent challenges for 2020 visit www.livinglent.org.  If that isn’t for you, I’d recommend finding and enjoying the wonderful range of local foods that are available to us here in Southwell all year round.

Top 10 local food sources:

  1. Maxeys Farm shop for cheese, meat, veg, flour
  2. Halam Real Milk Co. for milk, bread, veg, butter, cream, ice cream, eggs
  3. Tuxford Windmill for every kind of locally produced flour you could possibly imagine, and a lovely day out
  4. Gonalston Farm shop for meat, bread and some veg
  5. Starkeys products from Southwell Garden Centre, the Cathedral Shop, Mr & Mrs Fine Wine, and the Parlour at the Deli.
  6. The veg trailer on the road between the Real Milk Co and Halam – pot luck here, but there are some real gems!
  7. Country Market at the WI Hall on Saturday morning for veg, jams and preserves and baked goods
  8. Newfield Ice Cream Parlour – whilst they don’t produce their own milk any more, they do source it locally
  9. Chilli Bob’s – for local chillies and cooking sauces (to be mail order this year)
  10. Grow your own with help from Southwell Garden Centre or Reg Taylors – cress and pea shoots grow indoors at pretty much any time of the year!

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